Holiness Matters: 3rd Use of the Law Sermon

Posted by Anonymous on Friday, June 16, 2023 with No comments


The courtroom is filled with intense drama as the lawyer for the plaintiff states the case for guilt and the lawyer for the defendant builds the case for innocence. Judge and jurors listen carefully in preparation for their verdict. Although Romans was not presented in court, this letter from Paul to the Roman believers reads like a lawyer’s brief as Paul slowly and skillfully presents the case for the gospel. Paul was a scholar and a world traveler. He was a Pharisee and a Roman citizen. But most important, Paul was a follower of Jesus Christ. Because Paul had not visited Rome, he wrote this letter to introduce himself to the Roman believers and to prepare the way for his coming. And so, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he clearly outlined the Christian message. His readers would know that this Roman citizen was first a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, a brother in Christ.

Bruce B. Barton, David Veerman, and Neil S. Wilson, Romans, Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992), viii–ix.

Up to this point in his letter, Paul has shown people’s need for salvation, God’s gift of that salvation through the death of his Son, and God’s grace in forgiving the sins of all who accept him. Paul’s focus was on justification. This next section of the letter (chapters 6–8) deals with sanctification—God progressively separating believers from sin and making them more like himself. Justification is the first moment of sanctification; it is when we pass, through Christ, from death to life. Sanctification is the step-by-step process when the Holy Spirit works in our lives and conforms us into the image of Christ (8:29). Paul’s discussion of sanctification follows this outline: chapter 6 explains that believers are free from sin’s control; chapter 7 discusses the continuing struggle believers have with sin; and chapter 8 describes how believers can have victory over sin. The key point to realize is that all believers have a new nature and the Holy Spirit within, yet they also have the old, human nature with its capability to sin. These opposites are in constant tension, yet God promises help and victory. Paul begins this chapter by describing the miraculous power of the gospel; it sets people free from sin’s control. It’s not that Christians don’t or can’t sin anymore, but that they are free to choose between doing wrong and doing right. This Christ-bought freedom brings great responsibility. Believers must use their Godgiven opportunity to make right choices, replacing sinful thoughts and actions with righteous ones. Failure to do so means remaining enslaved to sin. But the rewards of serving God include abundant joy and eternal life.

Bruce B. Barton, David Veerman, and Neil S. Wilson, Romans, Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992), 112–113.

That is the summary of this message. We know that we are free in Christ, especially us Lutherans. But why are we free? We are free to be his slaves, his servants, his instruments, his friends, His Bride, His body. In a world where people are doing whatever they want, holiness matters

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

After explaining what the earlier points of this chapter of Romans entails, Paul encourages the people to still pursue those things that pertain to righteousness. The Apostle encourages us to present ourselves to God has a people resurrected, and our members to God as instruments for righteousness. Then it says sin should not have dominion over us, since we are under grace. And since we are under grace, holiness matters. 

Now we know as Lutherans that our salvation is by faith through grace, through Jesus Christ. We know that we don’t possess any righteousness in and of ourselves to live a holy lifestyle, and we don’t have any merit in us that would allow us to save ourselves. No, we fully rely on Christ for our justification, that is, the declaration that we are not guilty because of our faith in Christ. Our sin debt has been paid in full. However, Paul is not so much talking about justification here, but about sanctification. What is sanctification? It is the gradual process by which we who have a relationship with Christ become more Christ-like. 

How is this accomplished? Is this a matter of mental toughness, or simply trying harder to be more holy? No! It is all faith-based. We are given the gift of righteousness by Jesus:

2 Corinthians 5:21

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

1 Corinthians 1:30-31  30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

There we have it. We fully rely on God for our salvation, but many people think it’s up to us to start that process of inner cleansing. But no, it’s all Jesus, from start to finish. Hebrews tells us that he is the author and perfecter of our faith.  

And now that we know this, what do we do next? Let’s go to verse 15….

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

So Paul asks and says what now? Since we are not under the law but under grace, should we just sin willingly? Not at all! He says we are slaves of whoever we obey, either sin or obedience. Then Paul thanks God that we were once slaves, but now we have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which we were committed, and are now free from sin and slaves of righteousness. Then Paul says, since we were slaves to impurity, now become slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 

Paul says that since through Christ we have BECOME slaves of righteousness, now present our members, or our bodies as slaves of righteousness. So become slaves of righteousness, because we already ARE, slaves of righteousness. What does this mean? This means that through the power of the Holy Spirit, we walk by faith with the Spirit of God. The book of Galatians tells us to keep in step with the Spirit. Not move ahead of Him, not move behind him, but rather keep in step. It really sounds like a military language, doesn’t it? How do we walk by faith with the Holy Spirit? Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. In other terms, the Spirit of God works through the Word of God, so that we can do the Will of God through faith. 

  • Psalm 107:20 (ESV)
    He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.

  • Matthew 13:15 (ESV)
    For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’

Do you see? It is in the word of God, and the Words of God that you find healing. Seeing with our eyes, hearing with our ears, understanding with our heart, and turning, Christ says that when we do these things through God’s Spirit, he will heal us. To turn means to repent. To repent means to change our minds. This means aligning our view of sin with God’s view of sin. Aligning our beliefs on what’s right and wrong with what God’s Word says about what’s right and wrong. Because holiness matters.

So we are now in Christ. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit. We have recieved the forgiveness of sins through our faith in Christ’s proclamation that our sins are forgiven. Now Paul goes deeper into his comparison of our old lives and our new lives. 

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul says that when we were slaves to sin, we were free in regards to righteousness. But he asks, how did things go before you knew Jesus? How did it go when you were living in sin? He says those things only result in death. But since we are free from sin and are now slaves of God, the fruit we receive now leads to sanctification and eternal life. Then Paul says a very famous verse. He says that the payment we receive for sinning is death, but the free gift of God is life everlasting through Christ. 

Now what is Paul saying exactly? He is saying that we are released from the Old Adam, and the Old Eve, through the Word, through our faith and through our baptisms. We have the Spirit living in us, who gives us power to not always give in. Because holiness matters


" 'Our old self was crucified with him [Christ] so that the sinful body might be destroyed' [Rom. 6:6]. He says our old man is crucified, and yet the sinful body must be destroyed even in us. He would never say that Christ destroys the imperfect body, or the body of punishment. Observe that we have five clear passages in which he speaks of sin, in addition to the places which we have not enumerated where Paul speaks of individual faults. Yet these insignificant vendors of smoke would compel all these heavenly thunderings to yield to an invented interpretation, spawned out of their own heads, unconfirmed by a single text of Scripture. We shall deal later with the seventh chapter [of Romans], which is closely related to this.

What then, are we sinners? No, rather we are justified, but by grace. Righteousness is not situated in those qualitative forms, but in the mercy of God. In fact, if you remove mercy from the godly, they are sinners and really have sin, but it is not imputed to them because they believe and live under the reign of mercy, and because sin is condemned and continually put to death in them. This is a most glorious pardon which comes through baptism."

Martin Luther

Luther's Works

AE 32:208

Career of the Reformer II

Against Latomus

Theologian of the University of Louvain in Belgium


So what do we do? We trust in Christ’s ability to change us. Hebrews says: 

Hebrews 10:14 ESV

14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

He already has, perfected for all time, those who are being sanctified. On earth as it is in heaven. In other words, when scripture says Jesus is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, it is saying our redemption was accomplished on the cross. The process of being sanctified, or being more Christ-like is our walking out on earth what has already been accomplished for us in the heavens. So in the purity and simplicity of the Gospel message, yes, we should pursue holiness, but the pressure is off! We don’t have to feel guilty if we don’t live up to certain standards. Our destination is already decided as Christians; so we are given grace for the journey. The journey, or the pilgrimage through this life is us pursuing Christ-like character through the Word, Spirit, and Sacraments. But why? So this world can be drawn to the Christ they see in us. So our neighbors and friends and colleagues can benefit from the Christ that is in us. Holiness Matters. 

So now, we have been bought. We have been captured. We are now slaves of righteousness. We can live in this world without being conformed to this world. In spite of what our culture and society are saying, Holiness Matters. We live in a time where there is an LGBTQ+ agenda out there. Yet holiness matters. Jesus was the most pure person who ever lived. The hypocrites and religious leaders were turned off by him, but the sinner, those who knew they needed forgiveness, were fiercely drawn to the character of Jesus, like a moth to the flame. There is a book called “Beautiful Outlaw” that talks about how the character of Jesus was utterly attractive:

“He is the playfulness of creation, scandal and utter goodness, the generosity of the ocean and the ferocity of a thunderstorm; he is cunning as a snake and gentle as a whisper; the gladness of sunshine and the humility of a thirty-mile walk by foot on a dirt road.”

John Eldredge, Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus