A few weeks back Hope Lutheran Church hosted the Steadfast Lutheran Conference on the Three Estates. The following sermon was preached by Pastor Jared Melius of Mt. Zion Lutheran Church, Denver, CO, on Friday, July 21, 2017 to begin the conference. It is fantastic.
The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ is this: that for the sake of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, your sins are forgiven and you are reconciled with God. Your sins are not counted against you. This is irrespective of if your sins have been relatively minor and have just kind of collected like dirt on a filter over the years or whether you’ve had major infractions that haunt you. God thinks nothing of your sins now for the sake of Jesus. In fact, even more than that, God Himself has declared you free from all condemnation, all guilt, and all punishment. God as the almighty judge has justified the ungodly, he has released guilty prisoners who didn’t deserve it. He has released you. That is the Gospel, and there is not a truer Word of God in all the Scriptures.
We, however, are gathered here for a conference to study the Three Estates, which is not the Gospel. It is the Law. It is the three realms or over-arching stations that the Lord’s commandments – his Law! – apply to us. Now, when it comes to the Gospel, we are given merely to hear the Word in humility and believe it. That’s it. But, when it comes to the Law, we Christians are given a far more demanding duty. We must exercise wisdom when hearing the Law.
It’s not as easy, apparently, as saying, “Well, if there’s law, then isn’t it just that we’re supposed to follow it? Or at least give it our best shot?” No. There is far more than that. You will find in the Bible places where we are urged strenuously to apply ourselves to the Law of God and follow it and grow in it. Not just anybody, but Christians. The law is highly, highly regarded. But you will also find places in the Bible where the law is degraded in what I think are just shocking ways. In other words, there are places where Christians are told that we are still bound up to the law and if they aren’t they are not Christians. And, there are places where Christians are told they not bound by the law and if they think they are… they are not Christians. So which is? Are we supposed to take the law seriously or not?
Well, the answer is both. We are bound to the law AND we are free from the law. Now here is the outline: Before a Christian can even begin to understand how they are bound to the law and must keep, they must FIRST understand how they are free from it. And this is best described by St. Paul in Romans 7.
He says in the strongest possible terms how we Christians are free from the law. In fact, he says it even stronger than that, that we are “dead to the law through the body of Christ.”I’ll read it: “Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another – to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit for God.”
Imagine that your heart is like a big mansion, one of those twisty kinds of mansions with all sorts of rooms and back stairways and secret passages. If your heart is like that, there are certain rooms where the law is allowed and should be given full access, but there are other rooms in your heart where the door must be shut and locked so that the law has no access. The law should not be allowed access into your confidence room. Nor into your standing before God room. It should not be allowed into the room where you consider if you will go to heaven or if God loves you. In fact, it should not even be allowed into that room where you consider if you are a good person before God’s face, because your goodness or badness is determined by Jesus’ declaration and He by grace has declared you righteous in the Gospel – not the Law. From these rooms, the Law must be strictly forbidden. Now the problem is that the law is like a little 8-year-old boy, who is always trying to wiggle into rooms and find secret passages into a room where he does not belong.
Now some have thought that it would be safest to simply bar the whole mansion of your heart from the law. Pay no heed to it at all. Allow it in none of the rooms! But that’s wrong. There is a place for considering the 3 estates, the godly vocations given by God and blessed by Him. In fact, if you pay careful attention here to Paul’s words in Romans 7, he says that “we should become dead to the law through the body of Christ… that we should bear fruit for God.”
Well… I have a feeling – I could be wrong – but I have a feeling that there are some of you here who are not altogether dead to the law. You’re still alive to it a bit. And so Paul’s saying that you must be dead to it will come as a great relief. Lay aside your stress about making sure you’re doing life right. You’re trying so hard to hold yourself together before your neighbor and before God Himself. Stop. God does not and He never did need your efforts; He loved you and suffered His dear Son to die for you before you ever took a breath. Before you ever thought to get things right, He already made them right in His Son Jesus Christ. You’ve done a lot of things well; and a lot of things not so well. None of it determines your standing. Jesus does.
Very well. Once that has been stapled into your conscience firm, that the Lord loves you – in Jesus and for no other reason – now we can proceed to give full consideration as to how to best to please the Lord in our vocations – free from accusation.