"Living as Christ's Person in Repentance and Faith"#84-45
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on July 9, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:The Historical Significance of Martin Luther)
Copyright 2023 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Romans 7:14-25
Our text for today is Romans 7 verses 14 through 25. So, Paul says, "I find this law at work. Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being, I delight in God's Law, but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am. Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Christ has risen. He is risen, indeed. Hallelujah.
A friend of mine told me about an experience he had at a grocery store while he lived in New York City. He and his wife were standing in the 10- items-or-less express lane. As they waited in line, a commotion began up front. Voices were raised. Hands waved and pointed. Two older gentlemen were getting into a fight. Apparently, it had to do with how many items one of them had-maybe 12 or 14 instead of the desired 10 items or less. That was it! Time to throw down! Time for one of them to drop the other one "in a New York minute," as they say.
The store manager rushed over to separate the fighting duo. Groceries were still spread over the conveyor belt as the men were hustled away and forcibly removed. Now, these two senior citizens were probably respectable people. Each one may have been a grandfather. I can't imagine that either one woke up that morning and thought to himself, "I sure hope I can deck a fellow codger today. One good punch is all I want." No, each one probably woke up, kissed his wife, had some coffee, and took a little walk. They probably decided to do their shopping that afternoon, perhaps, as a favor to their wives.
At one time in their lives these men were most likely responsible workers in productive careers. They were probably not wanted by the police or in any other kind of trouble. So why the altercation in the 10-items-or-less line? What happened? What led two normal septuagenarians to be totally out of control?
Now, I wonder if you can answer that question for me. Just think of yourself. What makes you lose control? Maybe you had a long day and someone cuts you off in traffic on the way home. Perhaps your kids pushed you to the brink. Is it a thoughtless comment? An annoying habit? The frustration you feel when you're in a hurry? Or perhaps a temptation that's too strong. Is that when your life gets out of control?
You don't wake up in the morning hoping that you'll totally lose your cool and embarrass yourself publicly. You don't plan to fall into temptation or anger or rudeness or thoughtlessness. But what happens? What causes life-your life included-to become harsh, ugly, or weak?
An insightful diagnosis from the apostle Paul in Romans provides the answer. "For I," he says, "I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." That's it, isn't it? You and I have lives that get out of control. In fact, we all lose control, all the time.
Let me say up front that if you are in control of your life, living every minute, every thought, and every action in a way that is completely loving towards others and totally pleasing to God, you probably don't need to listen to what I'm about to say today, but if you look at your life and you see that you don't always do what's right, you don't always have purity welling up inside of you, you don't always stand unswerving in hope, and you don't always remain strong in the face of temptation, then keep listening.
Verse 18 of Romans 7 says this: "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that's in my flesh, for I've got the desire to do what's right, but not the ability to carry it out." Well, that brings up the question: what can get control of your life when you get out of control? What can hold on to you-your heart, your soul, when you lose your grip on what matters?
How about time? Does it get naturally easier to take control of things just because you get older? As you get older, do you experience a natural process that increases self-restraint, that decreases the susceptibility to temptation, and that puts you in greater control during struggles and difficulties? Is time the key to a life that functions smoothly and well?
Well, St. Paul didn't see that happening. The guys at the grocery store didn't experience that. In fact, I've talked with a lot of older people and they tell me a different story. If time is the only factor involved in addressing your frailty, sin, and weakness, you don't necessarily improve. In fact, temptations grow in strength over time. Guilt can rage more wildly over time. Despair and struggles can descend on you with more intensity. Time does not improve your ability to control yourself.
You and I are not like fine wine. If left to ourselves, we don't get better with age. Time cannot overcome your fallen nature.
Okay. Maybe the answer then is just to stay busy, right? Can activity overcome your sin? If you get involved in a lot of things, become an active volunteer, and try to do a lot of worthy activities, will your life be brought under control? Once again, St. Paul didn't experience that either. He must have been one of the busiest guys of his day. Not only that, he was busy with God's work, but he still struggled.
You and I, we may be very busy. You may be involved in a number of worthy and wonderful causes, but you can't crowd sin out of your life. No matter how hard you try to suppress it or deny it, sin explodes. It will show itself in your life.
All right. This is the answer. How about this? Ready? Logic and reason. That should solve it, right? I mean can you reason your way out of a life that's out of control? Paul doesn't think so. Paul uses the Greek word for "will" seven times in these verses. He has a will to do what God wants. The problem is his will cannot prevail. His sinful actions defy his own logic. In verse 15 he says, "I do not understand my own actions."
The world may tell you otherwise, but God's Word lets you know the truth. You can't do everything you put your mind to. Many times you're doing what is totally against what you know to be true. Young people can graduate from drug prevention classes and know all there is to know about substance abuse and they can still get tangled up in addictions. Parents get into fights at sporting events. Husbands and wives sabotage their marriages, and people choose to live in completely destructive ways.
But if you ask them, "Was this the right thing to do?"-if it was constructive and logical? You would hear the answer in a great number of situations. "No way. No way. It was totally wrong. I know it's wrong. I just keep doing it." Logic cannot get control of your life, either.
So what can? What can possibly help when we can't deal with these things on our own? Well, Paul asked the same question in verse 24. He said, "Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?" And then he answers the question in the next verse. "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
What can get control of your life when it gets out of control? Not time. Not activity. Not even reason and logic. The answer is not in you. It's not by you. It's not with you. What can get control of your life? Jesus can. The Lord of life can. Because of His grace, His gift of new life-a forgiven life-the Master can master your life. The Master can re-master your life.
Jesus proved that He was the master over temptation when He defeated the devil in the wilderness. He showed that violence and name-calling did not sway Him from His mission to save you and me. Jesus proved He was the Master over sin that would destroy you. When being nailed on the cross, He took that sin upon Himself and overcame it in His death and resurrection.
You can't control life yourself, but Jesus took control when He came to rescue you. The blood of Jesus Christ was shed so that the issue of who's in charge of your life could be settled once for all. Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, Victor over sin, paid the price for you. He is the Lord of life. He is the Lord of your life.
The Master Jesus, the one who rescued you and me from this body of death, takes hold of our life through His Word and Sacraments. He is getting His gracious grip on you right now as you listen to this word from the Scripture. In Baptism and in Holy Communion, the Lord of life takes hold of you in a miraculous way. Only the grace of God can get control over the sin that rages in our lives and rages out of control.
Okay, well the question then is does this really work? Well, it worked for Paul. He struggled to the end, but God walked with him every step of the way. The grace of God brought him through. So, how does that work in your life? How does it work to have the Master as master over your life? How do you live as Christ's person?
Here's one way. Let God act before you do. That's right. Let me say it again. Let God act before you do. Remember, because of Jesus' death and resurrection, it's no longer you who live but Christ who lives in you. When you are Christ's person, you have the mind of Christ. The apostle Paul said, "Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh." Literally, that means walk by the Spirit and you will not bring the desires of your flesh to completion.
Walking by the Spirit means that the Holy Spirit is in the lead. Your Lord is out in front. So, don't jump out in front. Let the Spirit of God be out in front first.
But what does that mean? Well, first it means to have your heart and soul filled with the Word and the presence of God. Second, it means letting God have His say before you make your decisions. You may be in the habit of first going with your gut. You reply to that nasty e-mail too quickly. You fire off a text right away. You speak before you think or, even worse, before you pray. You pull up that website without considering the option not to. You go along with your friends because you always do. You veer into despair and pessimism.
Wait! What if you let God act before you did? What if you let the Spirit of God lead your decisions and guide your outlook instead of your gut?
As you know, we're in the thick of summer vacation time. You may be able to experience some down time at home, or you may be planning a trip somewhere. What if you asked Jesus to send His Spirit into your life to act before you do this summer? What if you paused long enough to let God use you to bless the people around you this summer? What if instead of grumpiness towards others, you offer God's grace? What if instead of launching out on your own, you listen to the people in your life first? What if, instead of seeking your own comfort, you decided to serve others for their comfort? What if, filled with the Word of God and the Spirit sent by your Savior, you saw your life refreshed and renewed this summer in Him?
Jesus gives you and me a gracious pathway of life. It's a lot better than getting into a grocery store fist fight. It's better than living in despair or anger. It's better than hurting people around you. You are Christ's person, a new creation. You've got a new identity by grace in Him.
That's why I want to end this message in a special way. I want to pray with you. I want to pray for you. It's a special prayer acknowledging your repentance before God. If you haven't heard of repentance, I'd like to introduce it to you. If you've been trying to be your own person, to live life under your own power and you've experienced frustration and failure, you may need a turning point, a new start. That's what repentance is. It means to turn around. It means to return to God. You may not be able to get control of your life, you know, one that's out of control, but Jesus did-and He will hold you in His grip of grace this very day.
I'm not going to give you a list of things to do, and St. Paul said it's a battle just to do what we want to do anyway. What we're going to do today is let God act before we do. By the power of His Spirit, we're going to pray a prayer of repentance. We're going to acknowledge that our lives are out of control and that the only way to have control is to be totally in the loving hands of Jesus Christ. Then after this message is over, you can face the future with the Spirit of God out in front, leading the way.
So, you ready? Just bow your heads. Fold your hands. Right with me, right now, wherever you are. Let's pray.
Oh, gracious Savior, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we lay our lives before You. Our whole lives. By Your grace and because of Your saving work and the power of Your spirit alone, we turn to You right now. We turn our lives back over to You. We confess that we have sinned. We've done wrong.
Lord Jesus, right now there are children listening who are rejecting You, disrespecting their parents. There are parents who are bowing out of their kids' lives and shirking their call to be loving, disciplining, and discipling. There are husbands and wives hearing these words who are checking out of their marriages and looking for fulfillment elsewhere in jobs, activities, even other people. But by the power of Your Spirit today, they are turning to You in repentance.
Today, then Lord, with that prayer in our hearts and minds, we are overjoyed that You speak words of forgiveness to each one listening at this very moment. We read in Your Word, we trust what You say that You are merciful. You are forgiving. Grace, Your grace, is what we receive through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Shower us with His grace.
We don't ask all this stuff because we are righteous. We ask because of Your great mercy. Take us into Your loving hands. Renew our lives, not just our words but our actions. You know each one of us listening today, Lord. Be Lord of our lives, master and re-master our lives, and as You make Your home in us, lead us. Give us the joy and power of living in Your grace, living life Christ's way for others.
Lead the way, Jesus, my Savior. By the power of Your Spirit we are in Your hands, and we pray all of this in Your holy Name. Amen.
Action in Ministry for July 9, 2017
Guest: Mark Eischer and Greg Seltz
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. This is Action in Ministry-your call to action in response to all that God has done for you in Jesus Christ.
Pastor Seltz, I think we all experience times when it seems life is out of control.
Gregory Seltz: You know, Mark, and then we try to make adjustments to figure out how to get life back in control until we realize we aren't the ones who have the power to change those kinds of circumstances.
Mark Eischer: That's right. Repentance and faith in Christ are actually crucial to getting our lives back in order, and it's important to understand that our faith is reasonable. It's something that makes sense, and that's the subject of this week's resource. It's a booklet titled, Reasons to Believe.
Gregory Seltz: It definitely coheres, and it's not only because it's the way we were taught, but there are facts that point to Jesus Christ as our Messiah and as our Savior.
Mark Eischer: It's fascinating to see how Christianity itself took root in a context that can be examined. Historical events are documented, not only in the Bible, but there are also other sources that confirm what we read in the Bible.
Gregory Seltz: Right. We should also mention that the Bible has a connection to archeology, the science of digging up the way things were. For example, did you know that a German excavation near modern-day Baghdad in 1899 uncovered evidence of King Nebuchadnezzar? It even included a notation of a food allotment he made to the king of Judah, and that supports the Bible's account of the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., which was recorded in II Kings chapter 24.
Mark Eischer: Right. I've also heard that there were scholars who doubted whether Pontius Pilate existed until all of a sudden a stone tablet showed up with his name on it.
Gregory Seltz: Well, and actually they doubted for a time whether Jesus Himself existed, and now we know all of those people were real.
Mark Eischer: Let's also discuss the role or prophecy. Why is prophecy important when considering reasons to believe?
Gregory Seltz: Well, when you think about it, first of all, when you read in this particular booklet, it talks about the existence of complex prophecies. I mean a lot of the Old Testament prophecies, how they came to fruition, once you examine the evidence, you have to just go, "Wow!" I mean, there's no way the prophet could have known exactly how this was going to come to fruition, but God gave this word to those people at this time and then hundreds of years, often times, it came to fruition. And that especially happened in the birth of Jesus Christ. When you start to see all the Old Testament prophecies and how they are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, it's just got to amaze you. If you're honest with the book as a historical record, which it is, and then you see these things come to fruition, there's no way one person or multiple people could have manipulated it towards that end.
Mark Eischer: Because you had prophecies that were made by different people over centuries that all came together.
Gregory Seltz: Right. We're talking about hundreds of people over 1,500 years, and all this thing coheres and it stays the same, but it comes to fruition in Jesus in this miraculous way. Even there-prophecy-if you just look at it and go "Wow! He said that!" and look how it came to fruition, it'll blow your mind.
Mark Eischer: Creation is yet another reason to believe. How can belief in a creator change the way we think about God?
Gregory Seltz: Creation is one of the most miraculous displays of God's beauty, His love, His care. I mean, we see it every day. Our universe is designed to support life perfectly. The alignment of the moon, the stars, the sun-all work in perfect harmony. Man himself has never created something living out of nothing. We're the re-arrangers. We can do some incredible things with rearranging God's creation. I think He's put all kinds of things that are potentials here that we can kind of, in some sense, mimic what He does, but He does it out of nothing. He does it with His mere breath, with His Word.
The thing that's really important here is we are the apex of His creation. There is dignity in being His created people. That's the one thing. Once you lose that, you will see how nasty things can get in this world.
Mark Eischer: This booklet goes on to tell how the disciples of Jesus believed so deeply that they were willing to face persecution and even death instead of denying what they had already heard and seen. Again, it shows ours is a faith based on evidence, and for more on this subject we encourage you to read Reasons to Believe.
Gregory Seltz: I think, Mark, we also need to say when it comes right down to it, what finally is unique about all of this is this Person Jesus-the unique work, unique Person, a Savior for the world. And then He even does things radically differently than we would, and so the Bible is just this page after page after page after-wow!-I can't believe God did it that way, and yet it's something we can look back on. We can see it in history and we can see it unfold also in our lives as well.
I would encourage anybody to get this resource; you'll be blessed.
Mark Eischer: To view or download this resource for free, go to lutheranhour.org and click on "Action in Ministry," or call 1-855-John316. That's 1-855-5646316. Our e-mail address is email@example.com.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for July 9, 2017
Topic: The Historical Significance of Martin Luther
Mark Eischer: And now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. A listener writes, "I'm hearing more and more about this being the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. That places Martin Luther at the center of the discussion. Why is Martin Luther considered to be a significant historical figure?"
Gregory Seltz: Yeah. Great question, Mark. 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Back in 1517 on October 31st, Martin Luther, a monk and professor in Wittenberg, Germany, posted 95 Theses on the castle church door in order to start a discussion about certain practices in the Roman Catholic Church, especially the practice of selling indulgences for the forgiveness of sins.
Mark Eischer: And that began a series of events that changed the entire world. This year, Reformation exhibits and celebrations are taking place all around the world. The city of Wittenberg in Germany is holding a summer-long festival called, "Gates of Freedom," a world Reformation celebration that focuses on the seven central topics of spirituality, youth, peace, justice, culture, and globalization.
Gregory Seltz: Well, it's important for everyone to remember the impact Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation had on the culture of that day. The movement that Luther began influenced education, language, literacy, music, politics and, of course, religious life.
Mark Eischer: I remember back in 2000, Time Magazine named Luther as one of the most prominent figures of the millennium. So, what was so significant about Martin Luther's historical impact?
Gregory Seltz: We'll continue to hear more about that this year and the many changes ushered in by the Protestant Reformation and Luther, but it's very important for listeners to understand that all of these changes sprang out of a central focus for Luther, and that focus is on the grace of God in Jesus Christ alone. Luther's most significant action in history was to redirect the church and the world back to a simple but powerful truth: that we're saved by grace through faith in Jesus. In other words, trying to be good people doesn't achieve the peace and wholeness that we crave.
Mark Eischer: Because we could never be good enough to meet God's righteous requirements.
Gregory Seltz: Right. So, Luther rediscovered God's truth in the Bible that we're dead and powerless in our sins and brokenness but that God has made us alive in Jesus Christ because He loves us. Wholeness, forgiveness, and peace-they're God's gifts through faith in Jesus Christ.
Mark Eischer: The message of the Reformation is "grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone."
Gregory Seltz: And that's the central significance of the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther. As the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is saying it this year: "It's still all about Jesus." I think that's an excellent summary.
Mark Eischer: Because Jesus, the Son of God, lived a perfect life for us, died on the cross for our sins, rose from the dead for our eternal salvation, and that's a message that changes us. Doesn't it?
Gregory Seltz: It does and that's why so many areas of the culture were affected by the Reformation. Jesus gives life in its fullness and when you believe in Him, you're free, really free, spiritually, emotionally. That freedom in the Gospel results in remarkable creativity, discovery, community, compassion. The gift of God's love-it really does change everything.
Mark Eischer: How can we build on the Reformation for the next 500 years?
Gregory Seltz: Now, that's the real question for today. This freedom matters today just like it did then. Martin Luther helped the world see that we can easily become complacent and corrupt. We can drift into focusing on ourselves and the preservation of our power and control.
Mark Eischer: And that's our fallen nature at work.
Gregory Seltz: It is, but when we're called back to walking with God's grace, we become servants again in Him to others. We remember to love others as God loved us. We understand that the church doesn't exist to make us comfortable but to risk reaching the hearts of troubled and broken people with the life-changing news of Jesus.
Mark Eischer: I've heard it said the church is always reforming.
Gregory Seltz: I think that's right.
Mark Eischer: Founded on God's remarkable gift of salvation by grace through faith in Christ, God's people need to keep learning and growing, reaching out to others, and stretching into new areas of sharing the Good News of Christ with others.
And if you'd like to learn more about Martin Luther and the Reformation, go to lhm.org, click on "Resources and Training" and look for the video series, A Man Named Martin. You can watch the video, download a discussion guide. It's all at no cost.
This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Lord, Help Us Ever to Retain" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)