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Face to Face

June 26th 2011 by Joshua Simons

The hymn write penned: "The law of God is good and wise..." God's law is indeed good for it shows us our sin and leads us to repentance and trust in Christ's forgiveness. Listen or read to find out more...

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Pentecost 2A - "FACE TO FACE" - Romans 7:1-13 - June 26, 2011

It’s a common theme in literature, movies, and songs; the idea that “I am my own worst enemy” or “your greatest enemy is yourself.” In the movie, The NeverEnding Story (one of my favorite fantasy movies as a child), Attreyu, the warrior-hero, has to face two challenges, the second of which is heralded as the worst. But it is simply a mirror, in which he must face his true self. It is said that most – when confronted with their true selves – run away screaming. So . . . do we have that same experience when we come face to face with our true selves? Probably yes, to some extent. But there’s more to our story. In our text today from Romans chapter 7, Paul speaks largely of the Law, but as it relates to the Gospel. There is actually a lot to discuss in these 13 verses, but we’re going to focus mostly on part of verse 7, Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. Paul describes the chief purpose of the Law, which is to act as a mirror. It shows us our sin. Paul continues, For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
So the Law brings us face to face with our sin; it condemns us. So the Law is bad, right? Not so! Paul later says in verse 12, So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. God’s Law is good, righteous, and fair. In fact, if we were able to follow the Law perfectly, then we would be saved by it. But we can’t, so we’re not. So the condemnation that we see in the Law is related to sin. Sin works through the Law. And as sin works through the Law, this is the Law’s goodness – that it allows us to see our sin. Back to the “covet” example. If I covet, but I don’t know that that is wrong, then I don’t know that I am sinful. And ignorance does not excuse us from our guilt. So the Law brings us face to face with our true selves – that we are by nature enemies of God. But the purpose of this is blessed – that having our sin revealed, we are brought to repentance.
And having repented, we may receive the Gospel – that only by faith in Christ’s death and resurrection can we be counted righteous before God. Seeing our sin, we know that we are not capable of earning our own salvation by following God’s commands, so we look only to Jesus, the way, and the truth, and the life, for our salvation. This cohesive working of Law and Gospel in God’s Word is paramount. The Law brings us face to face with our sinful selves in order that we repent so that we receive forgiveness by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So to illustrate this today, we’re going to look at Paul’s walk of faith, and then our own. And what we’ll find is that we’re not all that different from Paul as all of us come face to face with our sinful selves, our Savior, and our new life in Christ. Paul, also known as Saul, believed he was doing the Lord’s work. He was a Pharisee, raised in the Law. He believed that salvation was earned by following God’s commandments. Therefore, he did not feel the desperate need for a Savior. So he did not see Jesus as the Son of God, as Savior. And he believed Christians to be heretics. He persecuted them, viciously. And he did it because he thought he was serving God.
But that changed quickly on the road to Damascus, on his way to bring Christians to justice (as he saw it). It was on this road that suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And then the words of Jesus himself, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? . . . I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” Paul came face to face with his sin that day. Ironically, blinded as he began to see that he was not serving God, but rather serving Satan.
But this was necessary. Paul needed to be indicted for persecuting Christians and therefore persecuting Christ himself. Paul needed to be hit with the entirety of God’s Law to come face to face with his sinful self and to see that he could not earn his righteousness by that Law. Because over the next few days in Damascus, having come face to face with his Savior, he came face to face with the Gospel, through the teaching of God’s Word by Ananias and other disciples of Christ. His sight was restored; he was baptized, and he received life giving faith by the Holy Spirit.
From then he began his ministry and, as we know, became a zealous witness for Christ. But it would not be a life of perfect ease. Coming to faith was the greatest thing that ever happened to Paul, but that didn’t mean that each day was all hunky dory. Paul became the victim of persecution for the name of Christ. But even more than that, the peace he received by the Gospel of Jesus, the peace and joy in his heart by his faith, was daily challenged by the devil.
We hear pieces of Paul’s personal struggle with guilt in his letters. 1 Corinthians 15:9 – For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. And 1 Timothy 1:15 – The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. Paul, even under God’s grace, still considered himself chief among sinners. He faced his guilt daily.
How blessed the Gospel was in his life! Though Satan would attack him each day with accusations of sin, Paul knew his Savior! He was able to go to him each day to receive daily forgiveness, freedom from sin, a release from the Law that, because of sin, offers no peace. And so from his Baptism, to each day approaching his Lord, Paul had new life. He would include himself in this statement; verse 4 from our text – Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. And verse 6 – But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
God’s commandments had new meaning for Paul. He followed them with a new Spirit. His works flowed from his faith. It is why he says we serve in the new way of the Spirit. Because once he came to faith, his works flowed from a joyful heart, a heart on fire for his Savior, Jesus. His works were no longer done out of obligation or because of guilt. They were done in an effort to show the same love for others that Jesus had shown him. This is what he wrote about in 1 Corinthians chapter 13, those well-known verses that so masterfully tell the attributes of a truly selfless love. But he also knew that this new life in Christ is not the complete new life. It was in part the new life, but not fully. From 1 Corinthians 13, verses 9-10 – For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. And verse 12 – For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. Paul speaks in these verses about the coming day when he will be with his Savior forever, that he will fully know God face to face. Nothing will be hidden. And his faith in that promise would grant him the strength and endurance to face this life, and this world, as a shielded child of God. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18). So that’s Paul’s story. What about ours? Is it much different?
Like Paul, we must come face to face with our sin. So how does that happen? Well, it begins at our Baptism. Because it’s the whole reason we come to be baptized. Or why our parents brought us to be baptized. If not for our sin, Baptism wouldn’t be necessary. So we come to the waters of Baptism dirty with sin, lost, separated from God, repentant. We seek the washing; we seek the forgiveness of sins that comes through the water with the Word; we seek the Spirit and life giving faith so that we are no longer separated from God. But like Paul, we don’t just come face to face with our sin once and then it’s done. No, we come face to face with our sin each week as we confess our sins here in worship. But we should also come face to face with our sin each day. I mean think about any given day in your life. Is there ever a day in which we should not bow our head at night in humble prayer saying, “God, I am sorry. Please forgive me – a poor, miserable sinner!”
From Luther’s Small Catechism, Part 4 of Baptism, it indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
The blessing, then, is the forgiveness that follows repentance. In our Baptism we are washed clean, made new; we become children of God. We are forgiven and the Holy Spirit grants us faith. God’s free gift of grace is poured onto us through God’s Word in and with the water. We come face to face with our Savior as Christ’s sacrifice makes Baptism more than just a ceremony. It is a life changing event as we are born again by water and the Spirit. And we receive that same grace and forgiveness each week during Confession and Absolution as we worship. And when we daily go to the Lord with a contrite, repentant heart and ask for forgiveness, he freely gives it. We receive that grace for the sake of Christ because he paid our penalty so we are freed from our deserved judgment.
We get to take our sins to the cross and leave them there. We come face to face with our Savior, Jesus, hanging on a tree by the nails in his hands, whipped, beaten, a crown of thorns jammed onto his head, suffocating, and painfully dying. We come face to face with how much he loves us. And by our faith in his death and resurrection, we too receive a new life. And in this new life, we are the same as Paul, good works flow from our faith. We take to heart God’s commandments, but not because of guilt or obligation. But because we can’t help it. We are under grace. The Spirit in our heart sanctifies us by our good works. The amazing love that Christ showed us on the cross is in our hearts. So we now love others to the glory of Almighty God. And sure, we’re not perfect, we still find ourselves feeling guilty for the good works we failed to do. And yes, we should always look to do more. But we don’t have to carry that guilt. Just like Paul, Satan will continue to attack us with his accusations every day. But the price has been paid, punishment served, by Jesus, our eternal Champion and King. We’re forgiven of our sins. We don’t need to beat ourselves up. Instead, with peace in our hearts, we look forward. We look for opportunities to serve our God. And now saved, we look at ourselves in the mirror face to face . . . and smile. Because we can say, “I’m a child of God. I’m saved. I’m washed. I’m new. And I’m going to live that way . . . today and tomorrow.” And like Paul we also look to that ultimate “tomorrow” when Christ comes and we are made completely new and perfect. When we will know him fully. When we come face to face with our “NeverEnding” story – an eternity in heaven, with all the saints, all the angels, and our Holy, Sovereign, Righteous, Beautiful, Loving Lord . . . face to face.
Amen.

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