The [Ongoing] Struggle of Faith
This coming weekend, we will be tackling a classic text in our ongoing summer series on Romans, where St. Paul the diagnostician absolutely nails what we so often experience: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). And this experience is especially exacerbated for the Christian, because we think, “Hey, if I’m baptized … I’m free from sin … and I’ll be like this amazingly wonderful and perfect person.” Not! But why not? What’s going on here?!
In his recent work entitled, Lutheran Theology (which is basically a biblical-theological analysis of the book of Romans) … my cherished friend and theologian extraordinaire of now some four-score-and-more-years … Dr. Steve Paulson leads us into this discussion of: “What’s going on here?" with the following observation:
"Fresh up from the water and preached word of baptism, united with Christ in his death and by faith in his resurrection, one expects the full glory of God (the Hebrew tikkun when all creation is mended and Israel is rectified). But instead of glory, the baptized immediately endure a spiritual attack fiercer than before! Who could have anticipated the justification of sinners did not end life’s struggles, but started it? What other struggle is left in life once sin is over? The legal [self-help] schemes’ struggle is conceived as a ladder of perfection that sinners seek to climb, but faith’s struggle (pugnat fides) is to listen only to Christ’s promise against all contrary experience – and [as we all experience] nothing is more contrary than death. … If baptism worked, shouldn’t the law be silent and ‘I’ be without sin? No. The difficulty is that the law is right; sin remains after baptism – and we feel it. Does this not put the lie to Christ, or at least to church teaching on baptism? This is the [heart of the matter] of Chapter 7 [of Romans] (p.170-171, 174)."
So, what is the concluding response to this our question, placed in the voice of St. Paul at the end of Chapter 7: “Wretched person that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). And … what is this "promise of Christ" – contrary to all experience, even death – that we should constantly be reminding one another, and listening to, as a Christian family? Come and give a listen this weekend at Saturday night Vespers and again come Sunday morning worship. We’ll also be drawing upon the sage, J.R.R. Tolkien and his famous Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring story for some illustrative “fire-power.”