There Is No Middle Ground

Text: Romans 6:19-23

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

If you have not noticed it yet, our culture struggles with the idea of binary opposites.  Now, please forgive me for this technical word and permit me a moment to explain. 

Our current culture gets frustrated with having only two choices that are opposites of each other.  For example, our culture is currently resisting the idea of there being only two options for gender, options such as male and female.  Having just these two choices is seen as being too oppressive and too black and white for many.   

Our culture is also resisting the idea of there being only two categories for morality, categories such as right and wrong. 

And what about truth?  Regarding truth, our culture currently struggles with the two alternatives of true and false. 

Indeed, our culture is repulsed by these examples and situations where only two choices are available.  Our culture does not like binary opposites because having only two options for things like gender and morality forces people into having to choose one or the other.  That is to say; our culture hates having only two choices, for it is considered oppressive, mean, and controlling. 

So, as a result, our culture is now trying to eliminate those situations where only two options are presented.  People are busy trying to blend and eliminate the distinctions between male and female.  And others are working hard to break down the categories of right and wrong, so that people can pick and choose whatever is right for themselves.   

Now, why do I mention all of this today?  Are we going to have some philosophy session or sociology lecture?  No, we are not.  This is neither the place nor the time for those subjects.  But rather, I mention this briefly today to point out just how countercultural the Apostle Paul is in our Epistle lesson from Romans.  In other words, the Apostle Paul says in our Epistle reading that humanity has only two masters.  Not three or four masters, but only two masters.  They are: sin which belongs to the devil and righteousness which belongs to the Lord.  Indeed, contrary to the desire to eliminate binary opposites and contrary to the wish of our culture to have more than two options to choose from, the Apostle Paul is very clear that mankind has only two options, the devil or the Lord. 

And to make things worse, the Apostle Paul shows that mankind is not independent and autonomous – master and commanders of the universe – but slaves who are ruled by either the devil or the Lord.

Now, the idea of there being only two masters is tough to accept in our day and age.  It is offensive to say that we only have two masters – either the devil of the Lord.  Our society squirms at this either-or choice, for it leaves no 3rd or 4th option for people to wiggle into.  It also excludes all the other religious entities; it exposes that gods like Allah and Buddha are nothing – fake – or at best, puppets of the devil.    

Regardless of our culture’s desire to create options so that everyone can be happy and get along, the Apostle Paul shows us that we can only have two masters.  He shows us in his letter to the Romans that it is either the devil or the Lord who is riding us.  That is to say; like a horse, we either have the devil on our back or the Lord on our back.  And because the Lord and the devil are not on the same team that means that we are either a slave to sin or bound in righteousness.    

I say this not as some subtle attempt to preach a fire-n-brimstone sermon to you but because there are only two outcomes to this life.  We either have the devil on our back resulting in us being enslaved to sin while riding towards shame, death, and condemnation or we have the Lord on our back with mercy and forgiveness while riding towards eternal life. 

Dear friends, there is no middle ground on this!  There is no third or fourth master.  There is no gray area. There is no neutral position.  There is no independent party.  In fact, people are not independent or autonomous at all, which means that if a person does not belong to Christ, they belong to the devil.  And if they do not belong to the devil, they belong to Christ. That is how it works, as Paul states in Romans chapter six.  No exceptions.

So, I ask you this day, who is riding you?  Who is your master?  Who do you belong to? 

Now, if you are like me, these questions can make a person a bit uncomfortable.  The reason why? Well, there are only two answers, and frankly, when we look at ourselves we often see sin and its effects on ourselves and others. As a result, we can become worried and doubt whether or not we are servants of the Lord.  Otherwise stated, when we look at our sin in thought, word, and deed, we begin to wonder if the devil is riding on our backs or at least pulling on our pant leg more than the Lord.

Dear friends, we must keep in mind that after our baptisms we still have this sinful nature and that is the reason why we still can see our sin.  It is true that we have this sinful nature until the day that we die.  We will only be completely free of this Old Adam at our death. 

So, what this all means is that we have a sinful nature just like the pagans and just like unbelievers.  In fact, the same anger and same evil desires that unbelievers and pagans have, well… we will have that too until the day that we die.  However, we must make sure to know that there is a vast difference between you and the pagans – between you and unbelievers.  You see, you are baptized.  When you were baptized, you were made a member of Jesus’ kingdom.  When you were baptized, you were numbered with the saints.  When you were baptized, you were snatched from the kingdom of darkness and placed into the kingdom of light.  The devil was kicked off of your back, and you were made to be a son and daughter of Christ in Holy Baptism.  In the waters of your baptism, there was a change in lordship for you – Christ now holds you. 

Now, because we belong to the Lord, we confess sin as Christians every Sunday.  In other words, the reason why we beat our chest and confess our sin with sincere repentance and hearty sorrow is because we do not belong to sin – sin is not our master.  It is not the way that it should be with us.  We confess sin because we belong to Jesus.  Only pagans and unbelievers celebrate sin, and they do so because sin is their master.  You see, unbelievers and pagans believe that it is their absolute right to do whatever makes themselves happy regardless of what anyone says or commands.  But not you! You are not a servant of lawlessness.  You are not a servant of chaos. You are not a servant of your appetite to sin, for you are baptized!  There has been a change in your master.  In other words, you have not been freed to sin but freed to serve.   As a Christian and a servant of Christ, you are just as free as Christ was; however, as Christ was bound in love to serve others, you too are bound in His love to graciously and lovingly serve your neighbors as well.[1]

So, while you still have this sinful Old Adam at work within you, you must never forget that you belong to Jesus.  That is right!  You do not belong to sin; you do not belong to the devil; you do not belong to the ideologies of the world.  Therefore, what this means is that your daily life is one where you will struggle and this struggle is evidence to the power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit at work within you.  Indeed, you will struggle with your sinful nature precisely because it is not your master.  If sin was your master, you would not fight against it but worship it, celebrate it, and rest in it.    

Indeed, Baptized Saints, when you were baptized the war between you and your Old Adam began.  When you were baptized that was the day that you began to struggle with the devil and the ideologies of the world.

This should not come to a surprise to us though, for this is what we pray against each time that we speak the Lord’s Prayer.  When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are actually praying against the devil, the world, and your sinful nature. 

So, today, take comfort knowing that you belong to Jesus for you are baptized.  Be at peace knowing that you will partake of the Lord’s Supper and be given His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of your faith.  And after the service today, know that you will once again be thrust into the battle to fight against the devil and his kingdom of darkness.  However, you will not fight alone.  But rather, you will struggle and war against your sin and the kingdom of darkness knowing that the Lord holds you.  You will struggle and battle with hope and faith, knowing that the battle only lasts for a moment.  Indeed, dear Baptized Saints, you will fight and struggle knowing that the Lord has already conquered sin, death, and the devil; knowing that you have one and only one master, the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. 

Today, Baptized Saints, know that in Jesus you are no longer a slave to sin but have been freed and belong to God almighty.  Know the good news of the Gospel that Christ is your life, your strength, your hope, and your forgiveness.        

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

[1] For more on this topic, see Martin Luther’s book, “On Christian Freedoms.” (1520).

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