Two types of people
There are two types of people sitting in the pew on Sunday morning. Both of them will struggle with Romans 8:1-10 – but their struggles will be with different parts of it.
The apostle Paul writes: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. 5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. 9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness (Romans 8:1-10).
One struggles with verses 7-8, even if they don’t want to admit it. Certainly, they sin. They would never claim to be perfect. But it seems like God goes too far in these verses! To say that we cannot please God apart from faith? To say that our unbelieving friends and family members can’t?
A former slave, Frederick Douglass, once said that he never realized that he was a slave until he tried to do something that he wasn’t allowed to do. But when it comes to the slavery of the sinful nature, we can deceive ourselves even more than he did; we truly do believe we’re pleasing God! There’s no proof the preacher can give to convince a hearer of this; only God’s Word can do the convincing.
The other type of hearer struggles to believe verses 1 and 9ff. When hard times come, part of him is convinced that it is God’s punishment for a sin. When he struggles with temptation or reflects on his life, he isn’t certain that he really is controlled by the Spirit – it seems like the sinful nature so often has the upper hand.
Paul preached to both of those hearers with this text, and both those hearers will be in our pews on Sunday. Because both of those hearers live in each of us. In the book of Romans, this section serves the purpose of encouraging those who struggle with sin. In the midst of our battles, comfort and reassurance should be the dominant themes. Paul preaches clear law against those led by the sinful nature, but to serve his purpose of assuring the Roman Christians that that wasn’t who they were.
It’s a tricky balance to strike. We do struggle with sin. We do at times place our confidence in our works. We do wonder if God is bringing some condemnation into our lives. But there is a place of comfort and confidence. How do we know that God’s Spirit lives in us? Two ways:
· The struggle that we feel gives witness to the fact that even though our sinful natures are alive, they are not controlling us.
· Jesus’ Spirit comes to us through Word and sacrament. Run back to them. His truths will continue to strike down the first hearer and build up the second!