The Sixth Sunday after Trinity, 2017

For The Epistle – Romans 6:3-11

The Gospel – Matthew 5:20-26

Article 15 – Of Christ Alone Without Sin

Article – 16 – Of Sin After Baptism

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

+

 

We have today in our lessons and Articles some very important theological truths.

 

First our lessons.  Paul writes in Romans 6 today at length about baptism. 

 

Here are certain truths laid down by Paul that we must return to again and again in order for us to not only navigate this world we live in but to survive it and not succumb to it as well.

Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

 

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

 

So in baptism there is a death.

Christ died on the cross. We die at baptism.

 

But at the same time, Christ rose from the dead….and we too rise to newness of life as we receive baptism as well.

 

As we rise to newness of life, we are now washed, regenerated and born anew and are now to walk in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives.

Paul goes on, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

 

So Paul is telling us that our baptism into Him and our unity with Him is so closely related and tied, we will also because of our baptism and unity with Him be united with Him in a resurrection like His.

 

We belong to Him so intimately that even after death, because He rose from the dead, we too will rise from the dead and be glorified in redeemed bodies.

 

In the meantime, though we are united with Him, we will continue to sin to one degree or another.

 

But because in baptism our old self was crucified with Christ….our sins were nailed to the cross…He bore our sins on the cross, taking them unto Himself and He bore the punishment all so that being united to Him our bodies would be brought to nothing and they would no longer be enslaved to sin.

 

Yes we will sin, even most grievously from time to time, we are not slaves to sin.  Then we go back to his original point.

 

If we have died with Him, and we have because we were baptized as Paul says here, then we are no longer enslaved to sin and we have been set free from sin.

 

We have been set free in that though we sin, our sin is continually washed away by the blood of Christ…when we confess our sins.

 

And we rise again to newness of life after each confession of sin and walk again striving not to sin, but when we do, we run right back to these truths about our baptism and our sins being taken on by Christ and forgiveness is once again given.

 

It's a cycle of the Christian life we will live in with until we die.

 

Paul says at the end of today’s Epistle passage after all of this…. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

 

 

That is the truth that must stay at the forefront of our minds to keep us from not only sinning but from despair as well…when we do sin.

 

Jesus in the Gospel lesson for today, when heard, maybe misunderstood, might bring despair on us if we don't get the understanding of what He is saying correct as well.

 

“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

 

Right there, on the face of it, this comment from Jesus can be quite unnerving.  Unless the righteousness that we exude or live by does not exceed that of the Pharisees we will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

The Pharisees were known for their strict observance of every little detail of the Law of Moses…every single detail…every jot and tittle.

 

At least they were known for this.  Did they accomplish it? No.

Did they fulfill the spirit of the Law as well as the Letter of the Law? No.

Does this sort of righteousness impress God or win us points with Him? No.

 

However they did act quite scrupulous in certain ways so they did have a reputation of working to be righteous.

 

So they could be pointed to in a certain way. 

 

 

 

Yet Jesus goes on to say, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ [22] But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

 

Much more unattainable if we want to perfect ourselves this way.

This also exposes the futility of the Pharisee and his so called righteous works.

 

And this undermines the Gospel, which teaches that the righteousness that we possess is not good enough to win heaven.

 

 

But the righteousness of Christ is more than sufficient and it is to His righteousness that we turn to and cling to in order to find favor with God.

 

So we have 2 articles today.  Of Christ Alone Without Sin, and Of Sin After Baptism.

The first might seem fairly easy understandable and logical.  And hopefully its what you all believe.

 

Only Christ is without sin. 

He was sinless when He was at the right hand of the Father.
He was sinless in His birth, life, death and resurrection. 

 

And He remains sinless now.

 

Christ, though taking on our nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary was not even at that point tainted by sin…though she too was a sinner, as we are and needed to be saved by the Grace of God.

 

We say, “He was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary.”  So through the operation of the Holy Spirit, Jesus entered the womb of the Blessed Virgin and through that operating of the Holy Spirit, was kept free from sin.

 

He had to be sinless in order to be the Spotless Lamb that would take upon Himself the sins of the whole world.

 

Any amount of sin would disqualify Him as our Savior.

 

But He was without sin from start to finish and remains for all eternity as such.

 

Yet the Article begins to transition and juxtapose us and Christ here.  It says, “But all we, the rest, although baptized and born again in Christ, (we offend in many things) i.e. we sin in many ways. 

 

And if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 

 

That last part is a direct quote from St. John.

 

Then we can move seamlessly into the next Article, which tells us a bit more about ourselves.

 

Of Sin After Baptism.

 

So we have thus far determined that Christ is perfect in every way.  He is the spotless sinless Lamb of God.

 

We are united to this spotless Lamb of God by Baptism and the Holy Spirit.  And thus we are found in Him not having a righteousness of our own but that which comes by faith in Him.

 

Yet this Article teaches us a few things more.

 

First there is the reference to the Holy Spirit here.  Not every sin committed after Baptism is unpardonable.

 

In fact the Scriptures seem to be clear that all sins we commit are pardonable except that which we commit against the Holy Spirit.

Historically the Church has experienced a number of times where men have risen up and taught the people in the Church that certain sins cannot be pardoned.

 

Some Gnostics early on taught rigid notions of divine justice and certain sins committed were unpardonable.

 

The early Church was very severe in its censure of those who in a time of great fear or persecution would recant, deny Christianity so they would not be killed. 

 

They had to work through how those people who wanted back in were to be restored.

 

Even certain sins that were committed by Christians in the Church were dealt with so seriously that the possibility of no forgiveness was held over them.

Or they might have been restored but only once.  The next time they were excommunicated for good.

 

St. Cyprian, though has this quote which brings comfort not only to those restored but to us and it also tells us that even the early Church was still securely on the side of Scripture.

 

He says, “…to a lapsed Christian, who repents, prays, and exerts himself, God gives pardon and restores his arms, so that he may fight again, strengthened for the conflict by the very sorrow for his sins. And he, thus strengthened by the Lord, may make glad the Church, which he had saddened, and obtain not only pardon, but a crown.”

 

 

But even in the 16th century when the Article was written it seems that the Anabaptists had revived this erroneous teaching to some degree.

 

Hence the inclusion of this Article in our Prayer Book.

 

Here is another statement from a Homily preached at this time… “Repentance is never too late, so that it be true and just.”[1] “Although we do, after we be once come to God, and grafted in his Son Jesus Christ, fall into great sins . . . . yet if we rise again by repentance, and with a full purpose of amendment of life do flee unto the mercy of God, taking sure hold thereon, through faith in his Son Jesus Christ, there is an assured and infallible hope of pardon and remission of the same, and that we shall be received again into the favour of our heavenly Father.”[2]

There is no sin too severe… no sin we can even think of that cannot be forgiven or that can separate us from Christ if we are united to Him by faith, in baptism and we are seeking repentance.

The sin that is unpardonable and that takes the person to damnation is that which is held on to, to the very end and that is unbelief in the Son of God, despite His repeated calls for repentance…. for forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.

 

 

 

 

Cyprian says it this way, “…the sin against the Spirit of God, which never has forgiveness, is a final and obdurate continuance in wickedness, despite all of the calls from God to repentance, joined with a desperation of the mercy of God.”[3]

So we might summarize it this way.  Sin is a continuing reality in the life of the Christian even after baptism.

Second, God’s pardoning, cleansing love is also a continuing reality for the Christian.

Third we may experience long seasons of slow or even no growth.  We may lapse into long seasons of turning away from God.

 

We may depart from grace given and fall into sin….and yet…by the Holy Spirit ….and by the Grace of God, we may…we can rise again and amend our lives…and find forgiveness.

And fourth and finally, all sins that we commit in the course of the Christian life are real, they are deserving of the wrath of God.

As Fr. Wells says, “They are not to be trivialized by unfounded distinctions between sin and concupiscence, or mortal and venial sins.  In such a moral universe, there would be no place for the Cross, no voice for the Gospel, no reason for Christ to shed His blood.  The Gospel contained in this Article is that ‘by the grace of God we may arise again and amend our lives.’ No exceptions.”[4] 

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

+

 



[1] Homily of Repentance Pt. I. The Second Book of Homilies.

[2] Homily of Repentance Pt. I. The Second Book of Homilies.

[3] Augustin. Epist. ad Romanos Expositio inchoata, 14-23. Tom. III. par. II. p. 933-940.

 

[4] Fr. Lawrence Wells. A Layman’s Guide to the 39 Articles. http://anglicancontinuum.blogspot.com