Romans 7:6 “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not [in] the oldness of the letter.”
Today is Pentecost. Before you say, “Pastor, everyone knows that,” let me reply, “I’m not so sure.” Even Christians can become so involved in sentimental, non-church holidays like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day or Memorial Day, that Pentecost passes by unnoticed. Pentecost is an ancient festival. Before the time of Christ, the Jews celebrated a kind of Pentecost which allegedly took place 50 days after the Passover. It was to commemorate the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. The New Testament Pentecost, however, is just the opposite. It takes place 50 days after Easter and commemorates the special gift of the Holy Spirit that frees us from the very letter of the law that the Jews celebrated, and that is the point of our text for this morning, “the Spirit makes us free from the burden of the law.” When we think of law, we more than likely think of the Ten Commandments, or perhaps the volumes of state and federal laws that line the shelves of a lawyer. Almost every stage of our life is governed lives by laws, rules and regulations that carefully spell out what we can or cannot do, and threaten us with punishments if we do not keep them. For example, laws regulate how fast we can drive or where we can build a house or what trees we can cut down, and in every case there is a corresponding punishment if we fail to obey. In that sense these laws are truly external. They don’t make any demands on our hearts or try to influence our souls. Even God’s law, which governs every phase of our lives here on earth from what we think to what we say or do, even that law stands over us as an outward rule that demands obedience and threatens punishment. If all we knew were the law of God and nothing else, we would be the most frightened people on earth, for God’s holy law can only instill fear by showing us how sinful we really are and threatening us with eternal punishment if we fail to obey. Certainly the law cannot make us more loving citizens; it cannot give us a new heart or a new spirit. It cannot even change how we feel about God. By nature we are so proud that we resent anyone who might point out the mistakes in our lives, and that includes almighty God. St. Paul states this truth very forcefully when he writes, “the carnal mind [is] enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Romans 8:7 Our carnal mind, that is, our lower nature, hates God and cannot and will not follow His laws. In fact, St. Paul tells us that the law makes us want to sin, perhaps to spite God or to show how important we think we are. Naturally, all we can do is to keep on sinning and increasing our guilt. “But sin, taking occasion by the
commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.” Romans 7:8
Our world is full of that sort of behavior. People may outwardly do their best to keep the commandments, but only because they are afraid of what might happen on Judgment Day. Their vain hope is that God might reward them for trying. What a miserable way to live. This is bondage; hopeless, helpless bondage with which the devil promises freedom and gives only death. “But now we are delivered from the law,” writes the apostle, “that being dead wherein we were held.” In contrast to the law, which holds us in bondage as dead and helpless people, is the “newness of the Spirit,” by which you and I are freed from its penalty to serve the Lord in a new way. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you,” says Ezekiel. “and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh.“ Ezekiel 36:26. The excitement of this new way which the Spirit creates in our hearts was emphasized on the first Christian Pentecost when the Spirit descended from heaven and filled the hearts of the disciples. Consider the imagery! There was the sound as of a mighty rushing wind indicating the relentless power of the word. There were cloven tongues as of fire that symbolized life and light and a will that burned with delight to do whatever was acceptable to God. There was the ability to speak in many languages enabling the Spirit-filled disciples to share this gift of the Holy Ghost with all the world.
What the Savior did for the first disciples on Pentecost He also does for you and me every time we use the Word of God. The Word of God is a kind of Pentecost, for God sends His Spirit only through the Word. Jesus tells us: “If ye continue in my word ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32. Think of it. God’s word makes us free! Free from what? Free from the bondage of the law! The Holy Spirit through the word of God has completely revolutionized our relationship to the letter of the law. We are no longer tyrannized by it, but we are masters of it. We no longer serve the law; the law serves us. It does not threaten us with punishment. That is something Jesus carried to the cross. Instead, the law becomes the gracious will of God that we with new hearts delight in keeping as automatically as the sun rises and sets. Listen to St. Paul: “For I delight in the law after the inward man.” Romans 7:22. When we realize all that the Spirit does for us and the tremendous influence it has on our lives, we want to ask for the gift of the Spirit every time we read the Bible. Through the Bible, the Spirit takes the good news that God sent His Son to shed His blood and to die for our sins, and burns it deeply in our hearts. That makes all the difference in our behavior and in our attitude toward God and one another. Unlike the world which carries the burden of fear and uncertainty wherever they go, you and I have a joyful, forgiven, and Spirit-filled hearts that sing and praise and glorify the LORD without any fears or worries. Because of the Spirit, we can go about our work with the assurance of the Lord’s divine direction. Because of the Spirit, we can face death with a smile because we know our Savior is waiting to receive us into His everlasting habitation. We dare not forget, however, that the devil always attempts to rob us of our freedom in Christ by substituting his religion of works. When you think about it, it seems a lot easier to try to serve God with works than it is with faith. For example, contributing to the Lord would seem to be a lot easier if God demanded that we give 10% of our income, rather than expecting us to contribute as the Gospel moves our hearts. Going to church would seem to be a lot easier if God promised to reward us for fulfilling a Sunday obligation, rather making church attendance contingent on our love of the word, which is preached and taught there. The temptation always exists, even for Christians, whose faith is founded on the grace of God, to look to works, simply because works produce results. You can get more people in church by making it a work; you can collect more money by setting an amount. But look what you have done. You have burdened consciences and endangered their hope of heaven. Self-righteousness is a soul destroying sin. It is no wonder that St. Paul spoke so strongly to his Galatian congregation when false prophets reintroduced works from which the Gospel had made them free. “O you foolish Galatians, now that you are known of God, how can you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements (i.e., the law) to come under their power all over again? Galatians 4:9.
If the Spirit frees us to serve God by faith and not by law, why do we still need it? If, as believers, we automatically delight in doing God’s will, why do we still need the Ten Commandments? You know the answer as well as I do. It is because even believers still have an inner nature that doesn’t want to do God’s will. No single individual is perfect in righteousness and happiness. None of us is totally free from sin and sorrow. Even our best moments are tainted by sin and the holy apostles are the first to admit that. We Christians have flesh and blood, and daily need the law to lead us to repentance. But there it stops! That law that points out our sins can never free us from them. Only the Holy Spirit can free us from the penalty of our sins, by assuring us of forgiveness, and by giving us the thankful faith to strive for a holier and more pleasing life. Thank God for the first Pentecost, but most of all, thank God for the Pentecost that takes place every day, when through the holy Word, the Spirit rules our hearts by faith and comforts us with the pleasant hope of everlasting life.