What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (ESV)
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Monday of Pentecost 9
11 August 2014
If I found out quite suddenly that I was the only heir of a fabulously wealthy relative, I might find my newly acquired wealth hard to believe. If I went from rags to riches instantly I would have trouble fathoming and managing the riches that came to me without my effort. How could I go from working stiff to mega-wealthy multi-millionaire in a heartbeat? The change that this would imply would be challenging to me, even if it represented a good and positive thing in my life. I would have trouble trying to live like a wealthy person after living like a relative pauper all my life. I would miss driving for myself, if I were chauffeured everywhere. I would miss shopping for my needs, if I could send someone else to do it (although not much!).
A much greater challenge comes to us when God says to us that we are His heirs for the sake of Christ His Son, that we have inherited the riches of His kingdom, with all its gracious gifts; Christ's blood, Word, the sacraments, and His unfathomable love. An inheritance is put into effect purely by the death of the one who wills the testament. I come into possession of my inheritance when my Lord dies for me on Calvary's cross. God is my benefactor and I am His child. The enormity of such an estate leads to incredulity. We experience gape-mouthed shock at our inheritance in Christ.
It is also easy to doubt that the inheritance is for us. Old Adam and Satan, our enemy, are constantly pointing out our inadequacy for the gift. And of course, such an accusation is perfectly correct. We are not adequate. But that is not why God gives it to us. Our inheritance in Christ is ever and always a matter of grace. It is given to us for the sake of another, that is, for the sake of Christ Himself. But the battle is on every day to keep Christ at the forefront of our life and faith, so that we are not overcome by despair and hopelessness by the accusations of Satan and flesh.
When we have all the gifts at our disposal, when spiritually speaking we don't have to drive or shop for ourselves, then every outing during which we drive or shop is a venture in joy and a true pleasure, rather than a chore. We can serve others because we are not trying to earn anything for ourselves. We are enabled to do out of the joy of doing, rather than out of spiritual necessity. We must keep our riches at the forefront of our faith through being constantly in the gospel, in which our inheritance is constantly given to us. This is the estate that is ours for Christ's sake.
"It transcends all the capacity of the human mind when Paul says 'we are heirs' (Gal 4:7), not of some very wealthy and powerful king, not of the emperor, not of the world, but of Almighty God, the Creator of all. Therefore this inheritance of ours is, as Paul says elsewhere (2Co 9:15), 'inexpressible.' If someone could believe with a certain and constant faith, and could understand the magnitude of it all, that he is the son and heir of God, he could regard all the power and wealth of all the kingdoms of the world as filth and refuse in comparison with his heavenly inheritance. Whatever the world has that is sublime and glorious would be nauseating to him. And the greater the pomp and glory of the world is, the more detestable it would be to him. In summary, whatever the world especially admires and exalts, that is foul and worthless in his eyes. For what is the whole world with its power, wealth, and glory in comparison with God, whose heir and son he is? He also desires anxiously to depart with Paul and to be with Christ (Phil 1:23). Nothing more delightful could happen to him than a premature death, which he would embrace as the most joyous peace. For he would know that it is the end of all his evils and that through it he comes into his inheritance. At bottom, a man who believed this completely would not survive very long but would soon be consumed by his overwhelming joy.
"But the law in our members at war with the law of our mind (Rm 7:23) does not permit faith to be perfect. This is why we need the aid and comfort of the Holy Spirit, who, in our anxiety, intercedes for us with an inexpressible sigh (Rm 8:26), as was said earlier (Gal 4:6). Sin still clings to the flesh, continually disturbing the conscience and hindering faith. Therefore, we cannot perfectly and with joy experience and desire those eternal riches which God gives us through Christ. When Paul feels this battle of the flesh with the Spirit, even he cries out: 'Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death' (Rm 7:24)? He accuses his body, which he really should have loved, and gives it a pestilent name, calling it his death, as though he were saying: 'My body afflicts and harasses me more than death itself.' Even the joy of the Spirit was buffeted in his case. He did not always have pleasant and happy thoughts about his future heavenly inheritance, but he continually experienced sadness of spirit and trembling."
Lectures on Galatians, 4.7
Dear Lord, free me from my anxiety by Your precious gospel, that I might confess that my life is Your own and my inheritance Your life and death. Amen.
For all those who mourn the death of those they love, that they would mourn with the hope of the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come
For all those who are suffering from the ravages of cancer, especially as they undergo chemotherapy, that the Lord Jesus would be with them to keep them from despair
For those who serve the elderly, that they would treat them with compassion and care
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014