All of us can look back upon our lives with at least some regret. There were opportunities to do good for others that we missed out on and will never get back. There were harsh words we have spoken that will never be forgotten. There were decisions we made that still have painful consequences today. And there were wrongs that we have done that still haunt us. All of us can look back upon our lives with regrets.
The truth of the matter is that we don’t have to look back very far at all. Within us is a daily struggle to do and say and think what is pleasing to our heavenly Father—a struggle in which we don’t always succeed.
These regrets over the sins of the past --and this present struggle against the flesh—are nothing new and we are not alone in them.
Before Paul became a Christian, he was persecutor of Christ and his people. He had plenty of regrets about the past. He also experienced the ongoing struggles of being a child of God trying to live a life of faithfulness each day while burdened with the flesh and tempted by the devil.
In the chapter preceding our text today he talks about that struggle: not doing the good he wanted-- but doing the evil he didn’t want to do. Every Christian can understand his struggle and can add their voice to his as he says: What a wretched person I am. Who will set me free? When it comes to past regrets and present struggles, life seems so hopeless at times! But it’s not!
The Good News for us is that Christ has set us free from the condemnation of our sins—past and present. He sets us free to live a new life empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit. And he sets us free from the fear of death and the grave. The Bible says:
There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
It is an unchangeable law of God that death is the punishment for sin. God told Adam and Eve that the day they ate of the forbidden tree they would die. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write that the wages of sin is death. Death always follows sin.
In our Old Testament lesson today, the LORD brings Ezekiel out into the midst of a great valley filled with human bones—representing the whole house of
lack of faith and their loss of hope and their spiritual death--and the LORD
asks Ezekiel: “Can these bones live”? In
other words, is there any hope for people when the sins of the past and the
failures of the present have brought them spiritual death?
When we look at our own lives—our past failures and our present struggles, we can’t help but ask the same thing. Because of our sins and our doubts and our unceasing daily struggle against the world, our flesh, and the devil we too can say with
bones are dried up—our hope is lost—we are clean cut off! Can these bones live?” In other words, is there any hope for
us? God says: yes!
The Good News for us today- just like it was all those years ago for the Israelites- is that what the Law cannot do in us (that is make us into new, living, people who are right in God’s sight) God has graciously done for us—lifting the condemnation that we justly deserve for the sins of the past and our failures of today.
When the LORD asked Ezekiel about the possibility of dry bones coming to life, Ezekiel wisely referred the question back to the LORD because if there was any hope for life for them, it would have to come from God alone.
And that is what we see as that great valley of death becomes a place of life by the power of the Holy Spirit—a dramatic, visible picture of God himself setting us free from sin and death and breathing new, spiritual life into us.
God says: I will cause breath to enter you—I will open your graves—I will put my Spirit in you. Just as in the beginning (when God was the one who breathed life into the man he had formed from the earth) so in the same way God alone is responsible for breathing new, spiritual life into us. The Bible says that:
God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh…
In his real human flesh, Jesus fulfilled every righteous requirement of the law for us. In his real human flesh nailed upon the cross, God condemned every sin of every person who has lived or ever will live. In his real human flesh he was raised from the dead.
In his real human flesh—in his life and death and resurrection—Christ set us free from the condemnation of the law-- and from the burden of our past --and gave us new life.
Our past failures and our current struggles are a powerful condemnation of our sinful flesh, but God’s condemnation of sin in the perfectly holy flesh of his Son Jesus Christ crucified on the cross is more powerful still.
And he gives this to us as a gift in Word and Sacrament by the power of the Holy Spirit who not only sets us free from condemnation of the past and the burden of the present--but he also sets us free and empowers us to live a new and different kind of life. The Bible says that:
Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
Those who believe in Jesus Christ—those who, as St. Paul says, set their mind on the Spirit—are the only ones who can lay claim to the promises that there is no condemnation for them. Believers are the only ones whose lives are filled with joy and peace because they know that they are forgiven and death is a conquered enemy.
But those who walk according to the flesh—those whose minds are fixed upon satisfying the lusts of the flesh—those who continue to live unrepentant, sinful lives in open hostility to God, earn for themselves eternal death-- because it is impossible for a person who does not have faith in Jesus Christ to please God and live according to his will. The Bible says that:
The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Those without the Holy Spirit—those who do not believe in Jesus-- see God’s law as a terrible imposition upon them—they see it as nothing but condemnation—they see it as a terrible judge from which there is no escape. And in all of this they are correct for it cannot be otherwise.
For those who do not have the forgiveness of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—a holy God and his will for their lives will always be a terror for them.
But we do not know God that way. Through faith in Jesus we know God as our loving heavenly Father and we submit to his law not as some terrible burden or unwelcome imposition—but as a glorious opportunity to show that we are his children by living our lives like Jesus until that day we go to our heavenly home. The Bible says that:
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal
There is an inescapable connection between sin and death and all of us will die some day if the Lord does not come first. It’s been that way since the time of our first parents. It was that way in
Bethany when Lazarus breathed his last.
When Jesus arrived on the scene, Lazarus had already been dead for days and as devoutly as Mary and Martha believed in the Lord—to see their brother rise from the dead seemed beyond hope. But when Jesus called out to him, “Lazarus, come out!”—he rose from the dead and came out of his grave.
Romans 8:1-11 The fact that Lazarus had been dead for days was absolutely no impediment to the One who is in himself the resurrection and the life. Neither is four decades or four centuries or four thousand years. The grave could not hold Jesus and it will not hold those in whom Jesus lives by his Spirit.
Yes, our bodies are as good as dead because of sin—we have a daily reminder of that in our struggle against our flesh. But these same bodies, now broken by sin, will be raised from the grave on the Last Day, never to die again-- by the power of the same Spirit who raised Jesus’ body from the grave.
Just as there is an inescapable connection between our sin and death-- so there is an even greater connection between Jesus’ resurrection and our eternal life.
The Good News for us today, even as we look back at the past with regrets—even as we experience the struggles against the sinful flesh right now-- and even as we face our own death in the future-- is that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.
There is no condemnation because Jesus: has set us free from our sins (past and present)—set us free to lead holy lives right now empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit—and has set us free forever from the power of death. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! Amen.