July 19, 2020

Rev. Mark F. Bartels



Old Testament Lesson; Exodus 33:12-23

Psalm of the Day; Psalm 145

Gospel Lesson; Matthew 11:25-30                            

Sermon Text; Romans 7:15-25a



Our scripture lesson for our sermon today is taken from Romans, chapter seven, verses fifteen through twenty-five.  This is St. Paul.


For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not keep doing what I want.  Instead, I do what I hate.  And, if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  But now it is no longer I who am doing it, but it is sin living in me.  Indeed, I know that good does not live in me, that is, in my sinful flesh.  The desire to do good is present with me, but I am not able to carry it out.  So I fail to do the good I want to do.  Instead, the evil I do not want to do, that is what I keep doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who am doing it, but it is sin living in me.

So I find this law at work:  When I want to do good, evil is present with me.  I certainly delight in God's Law according to my inner self, but I see a different law at work in my members, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me captive to the law of sin, which is present in my members.  What a miserable wretch I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!


These are your words, Heavenly Father.  Lead us in the way of truth.  Your Word is truth.



Some years ago, I was at a youth convention for our synod.  There were high school, and college age youth there.  We had experienced a full day.  People were tired, and maybe even a little bit punchy.  It was a hot, summer evening, probably about eleven o'clock at night, and it was time for the evening devotion.

I was standing in the back, kind of watching the youth who were there.  I thought, “What a tough time to have to give a devotion to a bunch of kids who had a long day.  They are tired, and punchy.” 

So, I thought I would keep an eye on them.  Some of them were already looking like they were starting to nod off, and others were kind of jostling around with each other.  So, I wanted to make sure everything was going to be ok.

The lights were kind of dimmed in the auditorium, when the pastor started, amid sleepy heads, and kids talking to one another.  He said, “A couple years ago, a teenager from my congregation called me on the phone.  I could tell right away he was distraught over something.  His voice was shaking and quivering.  I could tell he was just about to cry.” 

“He said, 'Pastor, I have a problem.  And, I have to talk to somebody.  Can I come and talk to you?'”

“Of course I said, 'Please come to my office.'

“Very shortly after that, this young man showed up at my office.  I invited the young man in.  The young man came in with his head down, obviously very troubled over something.  He started to tell me, 'Pastor I did something that I am so ashamed of that I don't even know if I can tell you what it was.'”
“Then the young man said, 'That is not the worst of it.  I hate what I did.  I wish I had never done it.  I am really troubled over it.  But, Pastor, here is the worst part.  I did it again.  I felt terrible, but Pastor, I did it again, and again.  I feel like I can't stop doing what I don't want to do.'”

I looked around the audience, at that point, and there was not a sleepy head in that room.  Every head was up.  Every eye was focused.  You could have heard a pin drop in that room.

I thought, “You know what?  This has touched a nerve.  Every one of these young people gets what the pastor is talking about right now.  They understand what he is talking about, and they want to hear the outcome of this story.  What would a pastor say to a person like that?”

Now, you may think to yourself, “Well, that was a bunch of teenagers.  And yeah, teenagers go through lots of struggles.”

But, I want to tell you something.  Think about the most strong, Christian person you can possibly imagine…someone like St. Paul.  St. Paul was such a powerful Christian, he was willing to die a martyr's death, die for his faith in Jesus.  He had gone on four, powerful, missionary journeys, and had converted many people, through the Holy Spirit, by the preaching of The Word.  He wrote more books of The Bible than anybody else.  He wrote thirteen books of The Bible.  Had he been sitting in that auditorium, with those youth that evening, and that pastor had started talking about this young man's problem, I can tell you, St. Paul, right along with all of those teenagers, would have been on the edge of his seat. 

Look at what St. Paul says.  He is talking about himself.  He is taking a self-assessment, here, when he says,

“For I do not understand what I am doing,

because I do not keep doing what I want. 

Instead, I do what I hate.”

Every Christian who takes a true assessment of themself, has to agree with that statement, because it is very true that we have a battle, a very powerful battle that is going on inside of us.  That powerful battle is

-we have this sinful nature that wants to disobey, and go against God. 

-By the same token, as Christians, we have this new man of faith that wants to live for God. 

This battle is like a non-stopping, non-ending battle.  So, St. Paul in this section wants us to dig a little deeper into this self-assessment, and help us understand just how serious this battle is, and what in the world can we do about it.

The first thing St. Paul wants us to understand is just how strong and incessant our sinful nature is.  Your sinful nature (we all have one), is not omnipotent.  It is not all-powerful.  But it is really, really strong, and it is really, really incessant in coming after us.

Look at this passage where Paul describes the sinful nature.  He says,

“Indeed, I know that good does not live in me, 

that is, in my sinful flesh.”

That is a powerful statement. 

“...good doesn't live in me, that is, in my sinful flesh. 

The desire to do good is present with me,

but I am not able to carry it out.”

Here is what we believe about our sinful nature.  We believe that our sinful nature is something we are born with.  The Bible says,

“I was sinful at birth,

sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

You just confessed (and I don't know if you really paid attention to your confession of sins, when you said),

“I am all together sinful from birth.”

So, we inherit this condition.  That is why The Bible calls it, “The Old Adam”, because it has been passed down from generation to generation.  Just like you inherited the color of your eyes, and the color of your hair, and you had no power to affect that, you also inherited from your mom and dad this condition we are born in to.  Now, that does not mean this body God gives us is evil, or that the mind God gives us is evil, but it has been infected so deeply, through and through, by sin.

So, there was a guy who was telling one of his friends once that he was going to have his little baby baptized.  He explained, “We have babies baptized, because we believe they have a sinful nature, and they need to come to faith in Jesus, as their Savior.”

His friend said, “I can't believe babies are that sinful.  I just don't believe it.”
So, this man took his friend to a passage in The Bible, in the book of Genesis.  He said, “Look at what this passage says. 

'Every, EVERY inclination of man's heart is evil

even from his childhood.'

Now that is a very hard passage to get around.

You know, we look at ourselves, and ask, “You mean to tell me that even little babies are sinful?”

I want to dig into that a little deeper.  We don't see little babies running around doing wicked, evil, outwardly terrible things, do we?  But, I like how a church father from back in the 300's, (maybe one of the greatest Christian thinkers of all time), by the name of St. Augustine, once described the sinful nature.  He used a Latin phrase.  The Latin phrase is, “incurvatus in se”.  Which means, 'our sinful nature is curved in on itself'.  Our basic nature, when we are born in to this world, is that we are curved in on ourselves, and everything is about me.  I am self-centered.  I am selfish.  It is all about me. 

You know, if you could keep the commandments, The Ten Commandments, you would love God, and love others perfectly.  Love is focused on somebody else.  It is focused on God, and it is focused on other people.  But, my sinful nature, that I am born into this world with, is not focused on anybody else.  It is focused on me.  It is curved in on itself.  Nobody has to teach a little baby how to be selfish.  Nobody has to teach a little child how to be self-centered.  We are born that way.  That just goes through our nature, and it affects, it is constantly tempting, and affecting everything we do. 

There was a theologian who said that of all the doctrines in Christianity, it is really hard to prove any of them.  For example, how can you prove Jesus is the Son of God?  But, this is the one that is pretty much provable.  If you just sit down with somebody, kind of look at their life, and what they are like, they would probably say, “Yeah, I guess that is true.  I guess I do have a real problem with sin.” 

But then another theologian said, “Well, it may be the most evident one, that we are all born with a sinful nature.  But, it is probably the one that human reason, or human intellect most chooses to reject, and not believe.  How could that be?” 

You know, even my human reason is affected by this being curved in on myself.  Jesus teaches us to pray, what? 

“Thy Will be done.”  

But my human sinful nature says, “No, no, no.  My will be done.  My will be done.” 

That is why, when I know what is right, because I know I should be studying the Bible more, and going to church more, my sinful nature that is curved on itself says, “My will be done.  I am too busy.  I don't have time.” 

My new man of faith says, “I know I should be giving more to people in need.” 

That curved in part of myself says, “But, my will be done.  I don't want to give up that money I have.”
We are all born with this constant desire.  We may not even realize how serious it is.  It is like a guy who falls off of a ladder, and breaks his ankle.  You walk up to him and say, “I want to help you.” 

The guy says, “I am fine.  I am totally fine.” 

He doesn't feel any pain, and thinks he is ok.  But, what he doesn't realize is he has also broken his neck.  He has lost total feeling to his ankle.  He doesn't know how damaged he is. 

And, we don't know how damaged we are, until scripture describes this sinful nature we have.  So, that is what Paul is doing today, to help us understand how serious our sinful nature is. 

C.S. Lewis once said, “You know.  I am a pretty strong Christian.  When I go to bed at night, and kind of take an assessment of the sins I committed during the day, they are not big sins, like I didn't kill  anybody.  Or, I didn't have an affair with anybody.  Usually, they are those little sins.  Maybe I was snotty toward somebody.  Or, maybe I was snippy toward somebody.  Then, I think to myself, 'Well, the only reason that happened is because I was taken off guard.  I didn't really have time to prepare myself for that situation.  If I would have had time to prepare myself, I would not have been snippy, or snarky, or snotty.  And so, that is not the real measure of me, because I was taken off guard.'”

Then, C.S. Lewis said, “Wait a second.  Isn't the real measure of a person, what they are like, when they are taken off of guard, and are not prepared?  Then, how do they act?  What do they do?  That is when you really see what is deep in your heart.”
He said, “It is like you had rats in the basement of your house.  If you tromp over to the door, slowly open the door, and slowly click on the lights, those rats have time to hide.  They have prepared.  But, it is when you walk quickly to that door, whip it open, and flick on the lights that you will see the rats scurrying.”  

He said, “We can all see that very deep inside of us are the rats in the cellar, just waiting to come out.”

So, Paul says,  

“...the evil I do not want to do, that is what I keep doing.”

This is what that young man was explaining to his pastor.  This is what we all struggle with.  There are things we wish we would do, that we don't do.  There are things we wish we didn't do that we do, as Christians.  St. Paul finally says,

“What a miserable wretch I am! 

Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

Then, look at his answer.

 “I thank God, through Christ our Lord!”

There was a pastor who was walking down a sidewalk one day.  As he was walking, there was a young woman who was coming toward him.  As he got closer, he saw she had on a tee shirt that said across the front of it, 'Saint'.  The pastor walked by her, and thought, “That is kind of a cool shirt”. 

As she went by, he turned around, and looked at the back of it.  It said, 'Sinner'.  Saint – Sinner.  He thought, “Well, that is the Bible's teaching!  We are saints and sinners at the same time.”  

So, he ran up to this young woman, and asked, “Hey, where did you get that tee shirt?”  He thought she was going to say she got it from some Christian distributing company, or something. 

Instead she said, “I got it from Kohls.  I don't really know what it means, but I thought it was a pretty cool tee shirt.”
You know that describes who we are in God's eyes.  We are saints and sinners at the same time.

So, as the pastor listened to the young man explain the dilemma he was in, (that he kept doing the things he hated to do, and longed for forgiveness in Christ), the pastor told this young man, “Jesus says, 'Come onto me, come onto me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.'

Do you see what Jesus does there?  He stops us from curving in on ourselves, and being the center of the universe to being curved out to Jesus, and Him becoming the center of everything in our lives.

“Come onto me...”

Right after this Bible passage there is one more verse.  And then comes, (in my opinion) one of the most powerful verses in all of The Bible.  That is what that pastor spoke to that young man.

“Therefore there is now no condemnation

to those who are in Christ Jesus.”

That is a promise.  It doesn't say, “There is no condemnation who successfully fight their sinful nature every day”.  It does not say that.

It says,

“There is no condemnation

to those who are in Christ Jesus.”

That is God's promise.  For Christ's sake, He sees us as if we had never, ever sinned.  Jesus was the sinless One.  He was born of the virgin Mary.  Conceived by the Holy Spirit.  He lived a sinless life. God sees that as ours, for Jesus' sake.  And then, Jesus went to the cross, and washed away every sin we have committed.  So, when God looks at us, He sees saints, for Christ's sake.  One hundred percent holy.  One hundred percent perfect.  One hundred percent forgiven, for Christ's sake!

That is the ultimate comfort we have, and it curves us away from ourselves, and we focus on Jesus. 

“There is no condemnation

to those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Now, that gets me to this question.  That pastor told the young man he was forgiven, for Christ's sake.  What a comfort that was. 

And then, he told the young man, “As long as the battle is going on in your life, that is a good sign.  That is a sign you are a Christian.  We all have a sinful nature, but it is sign you have the new man of faith, who is living in you, wants to live for God, and wants to serve God.  It is when that battle is over, is when you should be concerned.  If you are not struggling with sin anymore, you should be really concerned.”

Look at what this passage says. 

“What I am saying is this.  Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out what the sinful flesh desires.  So the sinful flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful flesh.  In fact, these two continually oppose one another so that you do not continue to do these things you want to do.”
That is telling us that in the life of a Christian there is going to be daily battle.  There will be a daily battle. 

How do I grow stronger in (what we call) mortifying the sinful nature?  It says,

“Those who walk by the Spirit...”

It is only the Holy Spirit living in me who can help me fight against my sinful nature.  And if that is the case, then I need the Holy Spirit to strengthen me. 

Where does the Holy Spirit promise to meet me?  Where does He promise to be in my heart, strengthen me, strengthen my trust in Christ, and my desire to live for Christ?  He promises to do that through Word and Sacrament.  That is why we believe Word and Sacrament are so critical, absolutely critical. 

-So we come, and hear The Word,

-and receive the Sacrament. 

-We daily repent of our sin, because of The Word. 

-We daily trust in Christ. 

-We look outside our self to Jesus. 

-And, He gives us a love for others, curved not inside our self, but toward others. 

So, when I am home, and Mom says, “Unpack the dishwasher”, or your spouse says, “Could you unpack the dishwasher?” and my sinful nature curves in on itself, and says, “Well, I have had a hard day, and I feel like just sitting here, and being lazy”, we do battle with that sinful nature.  We look outside our self, and say, “Wait a second.  It is not about me.  It is about Jesus.  He died for me.  He gave up everything for me.  God help me.  I am going to get up.  I am going to unpack that dishwasher, because this is not all about me.  It is about the people God sent me to serve.”

May God strengthen all of us in our daily growth, as we battle against that sinful nature.



Now, may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord.