Give Me Death, Not Reform

Text:  Romans 8:12-17 and Galatians 2:15-21

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

What Jesus did and accomplished on the cross gives us peace with the Father.  St. Paul writes in Romans the fifth chapter, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  This is indeed very good.  However, what are the implications of having peace with God?  Otherwise stated, peace with God has repercussions.  Consider this for a moment, being at peace with God puts us at odds with the enemies of God, namely the devil and the world. When we call the Lord our friend, we call the world and the devil our enemies.

Yes, Jesus warns us about the tension with the world when He says in the Gospel of John, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

The Apostle Peter warns us about the conflict with the devil saying, ““Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

Indeed, the tension between the devil, the world, and all of us as Christians is the mark of the Church.  It is a battle.  In a sense, the Christian is a soldier engaged in a war against the world and the devil.  However, do we only war against these two adversaries?  In other words, is our war only against things like: the Secularists, the Atheists, Moral Relativism, the devil and his schemes, and so forth?  While the world and the evil one are truly in opposition to the Lord, it is easy for us to forget that we war against a much sneakier adversary, an adversary that is much closer to you and me than we realize.  That close and sneaky adversary is none other than ‘self.’  Yes, ‘self.’  In other words, the tendency for us is to see our war with things out there like the world and the devil but fail to see the war going on right here in our midst; the war with ‘self.’

My friends, being at peace with God through the blood of Christ puts you at odds with your sinful flesh, otherwise known as the old Adam or the old man.  This war is because the Christian, you, has two opposing wills, the sinful will of the sinful nature and the will that desires to please God which is called the new man.  This distinction is most evidently seen in Romans the seventh chapter where we read,

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.  So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

This battle rages on with the Christian throughout a lifetime.  It wages on for you as you are simultaneously a 100% sinner and 100% a saint. It wages on because “the sinful nature is like an old man’s beard that keeps growing back.”[1]  What this means is that until your death, you will always have this sinful nature that is at war with the Word, at war with the Holy Spirit, and at war with your new nature.  This sinful nature is like a stubborn donkey, unwilling to do anything from a free and cheerful heart towards your neighbor.  The old Adam, this sinful nature grumbles against the 10 commandments; has never believed the Gospel and never will.  The old Adam won’t perform anything through the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit.  The old Adam is a Saint of Cain and only performs apparent good works out of respect and to the benefit of the unholy trinity of Me, Myself, and I.  Yes, this sinful nature does nothing out of the context of the fear and love towards God. 

This sinful nature, your old Adam, is an enemy of the Gospel.  This is why we acknowledge each and every Sunday in this church our sinful condition when we confess our sins.  When we say, “Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean.  We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone,” and so forth, we are not saying this to simply heap on guilt to produce false humility.  We are actually affirming the reality of who we are and the way things actually are with us.  By confessing that we are sinners, we are bringing to light that we have this old sinful nature that has had its way with us throughout the week.  By confessing that we are sinners we are not allowing the old Adam to go into hiding.  Yes, our confession of sin brings the enemy to the light, lays the old sinful Adam and his fruits before almighty God.  Yes, in our confession of sin and the absolution it is as if the old Adam is being drug out of hiding, presented before God, and then is exposed, damned and killed.  Yes, through contrition, repentance, and faith from God’s Word the old Adam is killed and we are made different people in heart, spirit and mind.  Is this not what needs to happen to our sinful nature? 

I am reminded of a story from Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller.  Imagine your uncle has a pit bull, a mean pit bull, and every time you visit things are in a desperate state of disrepair. The curtains are ripped off the wall, the couch cushions are shredded; food, filth, and blood cover the floor. That blood is the blood of your cousins and your aunt. They're all in the hospital because this pit bull attacked them. And your uncle also has wounds from this mad dog, a missing finger, gashes on his face, stitches in his leg. You know that if your uncle lives much longer with that dog that he'll die. “This is insanity”, you say to your uncle through the front window of the house. Shouting over the dog's growl, “That dog's going to kill you!”   “Nonsense,” he shouts back, “I've just got to work harder training him.” Your uncle holds up the books that just came in the mail, Forty Days of Dog Training Purpose, Your Best Pit Bull Now!, Become a Better Pit Bull, books that will soon be eaten by this mad dog.  Now, anyone, observing this situation from the outside, can see the insanity. You can't train a dog like this. And yet this is how most Christians treat their old Adam, their sinful flesh. They are busy trying to train and reform the sinful flesh. Insanity! You can't teach the old Adam new tricks. There is only one thing to do with our sinful flesh: put it to death.  Paul tells us, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24)  He also says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)    Simply put, our sinful nature does not need to be reformed; rather it needs to be put to death.

My friends, challenges, encouragements, 10 steps, formulas, and principles may push the sinful nature along by manipulation and they may curb the sinful nature, but they do not solve or eliminate the sinful nature.  Think about this, are we to merely manage and reform glutton desires of food, drug abuse, abusing alcohol, pornography, sexual deviance, greed for money, need for the praise of man, fear of needing approval of others, need for power, desire for fame, selfishness, love of self, and idolatry of comfort.  Of course not!  These things do not need to be reformed, so that we have a little less gluttony, a little less pornography abuse, and a little less need for approval in our lives, and so forth.  Rather the root core of this sin is our sinful nature, and that is what needs to be crucified. 

Yes, the end of sin is not reform, but thanks be to God it is death.  But you may ask, “Is this death something that I need to now accomplish?  How shall I die?”  In Romans chapter six Paul does not tell us that we have to get busy and die, but announces something so profound and so astounding that we need to hear it slowly.  He announces that we have died.  It is not a task for us to accomplish.  Through baptism we partook of Christ and the fruits of His death.  In Christ Jesus you died.  In Christ Jesus you are raised anew.  What this means is that this Christian life is nothing other than a daily baptism, it is a continually putting to death of the old Adam for our baptism stands forever.  Yes, the old Adam that continually comes forth should be drowned and die with all sins and evil desire and daily this new man can rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.[2]

My friends, we are baptized into Christ thus we don’t live embracing and making peace with the sinful nature, for we are at war with the old Adam.  My friends, we are baptized into Christ thus we don’t live trying to befriend and reform the sinful nature, for we are at war with the old Adam.  This old sinful flesh no longer lives for it has been crucified with Christ.  You died.  Rather, we live by faith in the Son of God who died and gave Himself for us – for you.  You were “buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”[3] 

Now, the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Quote that is apparently attributed to Luther.
[2] Paraphrase from Luther’s Small Catechism.
[3] Romans 6:4

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