Sunday, December 20, 2015

Gifts of Advent: Saved from Sin

For the last two weeks we have been looking at gifts of Jesus’ Advent. The first week we looked at His gift of peace. Last week we examined Immanuel, God with us. My goal in preaching those sermons was to help you understand the Gospel better. My goal for this week is the same, but I’m going to go about it a little differently. This week I’m going to talk about who you would be apart from Jesus and then who you actually are today, united to Him. I want you to understand yourself better. As you do that you will understand the Gospel better.

We start with some familiar words. Listen to what the angel said to Joseph.
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1.21
Advent. Jesus has come. And He has come to save His people from their sins. Now, when most Christians today hear that their thoughts quickly turn to the problem of guilt. Jesus has come and as a result their guilty state before God is dealt with. That’s all true, but it’s not all that the angel was talking about. What we’re going to look at this morning is how Jesus has come to save us not from the guilt of sin but from the power of sin.

Here’s the first thing that you need to consider. Sin is a force in the soul. That isn’t a common understanding. But it’s a very important one. Sin is a force that is to be reckoned with. So, God said to Cain,
Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it. Genesis 4.7
God paints a picture here. Sin is a menacing animal and it’s ready to pounce and control. In this God describes sin as something that will dominate a person’s life. And the fact of the matter is that we all start out with sin’s domination already present in us. Sin, with all of its ugly power, dominates us all from day one.

That’s about what sin is. Now, let’s consider how much sin affects us. Paul taught about this. He first describes some ways that sin dominates everyone. Then, he pictures how it afflicts every aspect of who we are. Listen.
None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. Romans 3.10-18
Did you hear him? Our minds are polluted so that we do not understand. Our wills refuse to seek God and to do good. Paul lists some examples of how sin expresses itself through our bodies: the throat, the tongue, the lips, the mouth, the feet, the eyes. Sin affects all of who we are. Not one aspect of our being has escaped.

So, sin is this evil power within. It is part of us from our first day. And it afflicts every aspect of who we are.

This evil power isn’t something that just affects our behavior. It has its roots in our hearts. Moses explains.
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6.5
Our problems go much deeper than just having some bad habits. Those habits have roots in the depths of who we are. Our hearts are wicked, filled with evil. There is a power in them that twists everything. Our hearts are ruled by sin.

People have a hard time understanding this. And one reason is that there are lots of people who don’t look especially wicked. They’re good neighbors and friends who are ready to help you out when you are in need. But the evil of sin doesn’t have to show in obviously wicked actions. The key issue in sin isn’t that you are a mass murderer. It’s that you are hostile to God. You can show that hostility by killing a bunch of people or by being a good neighbor. What’s important isn’t what you are doing as much as it is why you are doing it. And ultimately there are only two reasons why we do what we do. We either want to honor our Creator or we want to honor ourselves. So, because we are ruled by sin, life isn’t about living well as a creature before my Creator, making Him look good. Life is about worshiping another god, making him look good. Life is about me. And that really is wicked.

So, here’s the plight of humanity since the Fall of Adam. In nice ways and in horrific ways we serve our master, sin. It rules us, and we obey it. We might do that in innocent looking acts like plucking a piece of fruit from a tree or in socially unacceptable acts like mass murder. Sin rules our hearts.

But thanks be to God, that’s not where the story ends. Jesus has come. And what is it that He has come to do? He has not come to help basically decent people get to heaven or even simply to erase the guilt of some very guilty people. He has come to change people who express in all manner of ways their hostility to God. He has come to break the dominating power of that menacing animal. Jesus has come to save His people from their sins.

So, how does He do this? How does He free us from this powerful ruler that has wickedly corrupted our hearts? The answer is not complicated. He gives us a new heart. Listen.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36.26
The heart you started out with was deeply hardened against God by sin. It was a heart of stone. It was dead to God, hostile to Him. Jesus has come so that that dead, hostile heart could be replaced with one that is alive to God, eager to know Him and to be known by Him. This is what happened when the Spirit did His mysterious work in you. This happened when you were  born again. You were changed and that from the inside out. You were given a heart that loves God. As a result, the power of sin has been broken in you. Jesus has saved you from your sins.

But as soon as I say that a question pops up. Why do we still sin? Why is it that so many of those old sin habits still remain? If you feel like this, and you should, you’re not alone. The apostle Paul had the same problem.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. …  I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Romans 7.15,19
The power of sin really has been broken. But change, becoming holy in all of our actions, is a process. The Spirit, step by step, deals with those lingering sin habits and removes them and replaces them with holy habits. His tools are the Word and the sacraments. He uses your repentance and faith in response to those tools to change your habits. Step by step you are becoming what you were created to be: holy creatures who are in love with their Creator.

At the beginning of the sermon I told you that my goal was for you to understand yourself better so that you could understand the Gospel better. Have I accomplished my goal? Well, consider. If Jesus had never given you a new heart who would you be right now? You’d be someone who is dominated by sin. As a result, every intention of the thoughts of your heart would be only evil continually.

Now, that could show in a multitude of ways. You could have become a really nice person, good neighbor, helpful co worker, someone who gets to church most every week — and someone who is hostile to God from the depths of your heart. You could have become someone who would one day face an extremely angry God.

Or your life could have turned out very differently. Instead of being that really nice person you could have been deceived into pursuing a self destructive life. That doesn’t have to mean jumping from bed to bed or pumping different poisons into your veins in the hope of a brief moment of pleasure — though it could. You really could have become just like that. Never think that it couldn’t happen that way to you. Remember, sin is a crouching animal.

On the other hand, you could have become like so many people whose lives are clearly not working and only getting worse. They lead lives that are slowly but surely falling apart. A different kind of self-destructive life. And why? It’s because in the depths of their hearts they hate God. That also could have been you.

But it’s not you. Jesus has come. He has rescued you from the power of your sin. He has given you a new heart. And while there still are sins to deal with, the future is bright. There is no sin that you now struggle with that will ultimately win. Its power has been broken. It is something that you, by the Spirit, will cast far from your life. And one day your last sin will be obliterated, gone forever, never to bother you again. That’s when real life begins. And that is something worth celebrating this Advent season.

Let me close with the same theme that I closed the previous two sermons. This is from Peter.
Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you. 1 Peter 3.15 KJV
Peter is calling for two things. First, a life that shows others a real hope. That includes the hope of being freed from every sin to live well. As I’ve said before, you need to show the Gospel to the people around you. They aren’t interested in listening. So, show them your life. Show them that you have already been freed from so many of your troubling sins. Your hope is being realized. Show them that the Gospel is real. And then, when they ask you about what they see, Peter wants you to be ready, ready to explain how Jesus has done this in you. You need to have words — but not church words! — to explain how Jesus has come to rescue them not just from the guilt but also from the power of their sin. You need to be ready. The people you know need you to be ready.

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