A Sermon for Sunday: Sunday VII Post Pentecost; Revd Dr Robert Wilson

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from justice. What fruit therefore had you then in those things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of them is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end life everlasting. For the wages of sin is death. But the grace of God is life everlasting; in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Today we hear from St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, in which he contrasts the way of sinful man that leads to death, for the wages of sin is death, with the way that leads to righteousness and life eternal, made possible by the grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. In their past sinful life they have yielded their members to serve uncleanness and iniquity, so now they are to yield their members to serve righteousness unto sanctification. When they were slaves to sin they were free from righteousness. But now they have been baptised into Christ and made free from sin they have become servants of God, bearing fruit unto sanctification. For the wages of sin is death, but the grace of God is life everlasting in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But what was the context in which St. Paul wrote these words? St. Paul wrote to the Romans in anticipation of his future visit there. Since it was a church that he did not found and had not previously visited it was necessary for him to provide an introduction to himself in which he sought to explain the gospel that he proclaimed and address misunderstandings of his message that had arisen. St. Paul’s letters are not systematic treatises of theology, but are written in response to problems that had arisen in churches that he had founded. The Epistle to the Romans was also written in response to a specific context, but in introducing himself to the Church at Rome St. Paul provides a more systematic presentation of his message than in his other epistles. In many ways the Epistle to the Romans provides a calmer and more measured exposition of what he had previously written in the heat of the moment to the Galatians.

The Epistle to the Romans expounds the gospel which he believed to be the power of God unto salvation, both for the Jew and for the Gentile. As a Jew he had always believed in one God who had created all things and had chosen Israel as a light to the nations. In the fullness of time the Gentile nations would renounce their idols and worship the God of Israel, God’s Kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven, the Holy Spirit would be poured out on all flesh and the dead would be raised. But when he saw the light on the Damascus Road he came to believe that whereas he had expected the dead to finally be raised at the end of history, the resurrection had now come through one man, Jesus, in the midst of history. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the new age had already dawned in the midst of time, though the present age of sin and death was still very much in operation. It was therefore time for the Gentiles to renounce their idols and worship the one true God of Israel who had finally fully revealed himself in Jesus. Salvation was now freely available to all who repented of their sins and were baptised, whether they were Jews or Gentiles. There was no need for the Gentiles to become circumcised Jews and observe the Law of Moses. All that was necessary was for them to believe and be baptised and they would be justified by faith. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but God in his love and mercy had provided a means of salvation through the atoning work of Jesus upon the cross. All who believed and were baptised were now members of the new covenant people of God, in which sins were forgiven.

His message therefore was that Christians, members of the Body of Christ, should become what they are. They had been buried with him in baptism and had died to the old self. As Christ had been raised from the dead by the glory of the Father so they should too walk in newness of life. Since they had now shared in his death they would also now share in his resurrection. The old man had been crucified with him, that the body of sin may be destroyed and that they may serve sin no longer. For Christ having been raised from the dead dieth no more. Death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died to sin he died once. But in that he liveth he liveth unto God. They should therefore reckon themselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Jesus Christ. They all shared in the curse of sin and death which had come upon humanity through the sin of Adam, the sin of pride. But as sin and death had come in Adam, so righteousness and salvation had come through one man, Jesus Christ. Salvation was made available to all through incorporation to him. Hence, when St. Paul speaks of Christians being members of the Body of Christ, he is not referring to a supra- personal collective, but a single personal organism. For Christians not to allow the Holy Spirit to bear fruit in their lives is not simply wrong in itself, but is a denial of their very identity as members of the Body of Christ. It is the same point as the one that is made in today’s Gospel about the good tree being known by the fruit that it produces.

The good news of the gospel is that God in Christ has done for us what we could not do for ourselves and has reconciled the world to himself. All that is necessary for us is to recognise our own fallen nature, and repent of our sins and be baptised into the Body of Christ. The Christian life, the life of holiness and sanctification, is not something that we do for God, but rather it is what he has done for us. We need to renounce our pride and ego centered way of life and allow the Holy Spirit to enable us to become what we are.

St. Paul’s point was later developed by St. Augustine when he said that the real freedom is not to sin, for it is in service to God that perfect freedom is to be found. When we were the slaves of sin we were free from righteousness, but there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the spirit of life has set us free from the law of sin and death. For the wages of sin is death, but the grace of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit may pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity that we may become what in Christ we now are.

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