July 15, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
I talk in a human way because you are naturally weak. But just as you once let uncleanness and wickedness use the parts of your body as slaves to do wrong, so now let righteousness use the parts of your body as slaves in order to live holy. When you were slaves of sin, you weren’t free to serve righteousness as your master. What was your advantage then in doing the things that make you blush now? For they end in death. But now that you’ve been made free from sin and have been made slaves of God, your advantage is that you live in a holy way and finally have everlasting life. The wages paid by sin is death, but the gift given freely by God in Christ Jesus our Lord is everlasting life.
In the name of + Jesus.
There are four conditions in which we can consider the human will—before the fall into sin; after the fall, but before conversion; after conversion; and in the resurrection and new creation. But since we can’t go back to Eden, and Genesis gives us precious little information about what life was like before sin, and since the resurrection is something we hope for, but has not yet been revealed, it is profitable for us only to speak of the the human will in the middle two conditions—the human will after the fall and before conversion, and after conversion. This is what St. Paul writes about in today’s Epistle.
And he pulls no punches. When you were slaves of sin, you weren’t free to serve righteousness as your master. What was your advantage then in doing the things that make you blush now? For they end in death. Sin isn’t just an occasional misdeed, a few little slip-ups here and there. Sin isn’t a minor, superficial flaw that can be buffed out with a little elbow grease. You were slaves to sin. The natural state of the human will since Adam’s fall into sin is complete and utter bondage. There is no such thing as a free will for a slave.
Now it’s at this point that we must make another distinction in addition to the four conditions, and that is of the human will in relation to what it is able to do. In things that are below it, the will has some measure of freedom. High schoolers are free to choose what college to go to. People can consider whether to accept a new job offer or not. You make decisions all the time. And you are free. There is no fatalistic, deterministic force pushing you to choose Cheerios over Frosted Flakes.
But at the same time, much of your conduct isn’t a result of your will, but of habit. Did you will yourself to brush your teeth this morning? Not likely. You probably ran on autopilot. It’s something you do almost by nature. There is a pre-conscious part of you that does things seemingly apart from your will.
All of this is to say that the powers of the will are not as far-reaching as we’d like to believe. Because we have the ability to choose Cheerios over Frosted Flakes does not mean that we have freedom to choose every single outcome of our lives. And this is the second part of this distinction. In spiritual matters, the human will is completely bound to sin, unable to make even the slightest move towards its own improvement, since Adam’s fall into sin.
Yet the illusion of freedom remains. People think that, because we have some measure of freedom in smaller things, then we must also have freedom in higher things, things that are above us. But the bondage of the will means that even when the natural person does good works, they are evil and utterly corrupted by sin. They are done for selfish gain, out of pride, at the expense of others. There is no advantage in doing any of these things. They end in death. That’s the trajectory of the human will’s every move. Every time you exercise your will, you are taking one more step toward the grave.
And then the will ceases. Dead mean can’t make decisions, not even in thing below. They can’t choose Cheerios over Frosted Flakes, they can’t choose to accept a new job, they can’t choose which college to attend. And they certainly can’t choose to life again. So, there need to be a change to the human will that doesn’t involve the human will at all. We need a will that is able to be done in heaven even as it is done on earth.
But now that you’ve been made free from sin and have been made slaves of God, your advantage is that you live in a holy way and finally have everlasting life. The wages paid by sin is death, but the gift given freely by God in Christ Jesus our Lord is everlasting life. Now something has changed. You’ve been set free from your sin! But don’t mistake this freedom for an absolute freedom. You have been set free from sin and have been made slaves of God.
After conversion, the human will is bound to God’s will. In spiritual matters, it is God who wills and works salvation. This is the paradox. If there is salvation, it is completely God’s work, given as a gift. If there is condemnation, it is completely the work of the human will. Death is the wage, the earnings of sin. But life is the gift of Jesus Christ.
So, being united with the will of God, the human will also begins to change in the things in which it is capable of acting, in the lower things. But this is in very great weakness. This is on account of the sinful flesh, which still hangs around the neck.
So St. Paul begins this section, I talk in a human way because you are naturally weak. Actually, the better translation would be, “I am speaking to you in a human way, because of the weakness of the flesh. He’s writing to Christians, those who have been baptized, those who have the Holy Spirit, those who have been converted. The new man and the new will has begun in them. But he still has to remind them of the flesh, which is the term Paul uses not for the material stuff of the body, but for the corrupt nature of sin. The flesh is contrasted with the spirit in a person, which is born of the Holy Spirit.
So even with the new creation and renewed will, there is a battle between it and the desires of the flesh. This is the topic of St. Paul’s next chapter. The good that I would do, that I do not. The things I do are the things I don’t want to do. It’s a paradox, that a person can be saved from their sinful flesh, yet continue to go on sinning. The tension of flesh and spirit continues throughout this life until the flesh is put in the grave.
Death is the only thing that can put an end to the corrupt and sinful will. And death is what Jesus delivers. In the verses just prior to this, St. Paul writes his marvelous theology of baptism: For we know that whoever is baptized into Christ Jesus is baptized into His death. We were therefore buried together with him, through baptism, into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we would in this way also walk in a new life.
Baptism is the death of the old will and the birth of the new. It is liberation from slavery to sin, and a new bond to God in Christ. But, as we learn in the Small Catechism, it is a daily death to sin and a daily rising again to new life. And this happens through confession and absolution. As the Large Catechism says, confession and absolution is simply a return to baptism, a remembrance of baptism, a renewal of baptism.
Renewal isn’t a once and done event. It is ongoing, day by day. Death and resurrection. Old will giving way to the new. Flesh giving way to spirit.
You were once a slave to sin, but now you are a slave to God. This is more than a metaphor. Sin has a price—the wages of sin is death. But you did not have to pay it. Jesus shed the blood that is more precious than silver or gold, which purchases you from your captor. You are not your own, you were bought for a price. You are God’s own special possession.
Jesus Paid the Wages of Your Sin, and Gives You the Gift of Life
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard