Summary: The second sermon in a series based on New Testament teachings and the book Real-Life Discipleship by Jim Putnam
The Rev. M. Anthony Seel, Jr.
St. Andrew’s Church
February 27, 2011
Romans 5: 12-19
Real-Life Discipleship: Spiritually Dead
Perseveration is a brain dysfunction that causes people to get stuck in a particular pattern of behavior. Perseveration is what led a legendary German flying ace to pursue a British plane and pilot far beyond the limits of safe flying and prudent dog-fighting.
That German pilot was Manfred von Richthofen, perhaps best known as the Red Baron. On April 21, 1918, he flew his red Fokker triplane straight into enemy airspace and his plane was shredded to ribbons by air and ground fire. The Red Baron was killed in that hail of bullets by one to the chest.
Clinical psychologist Daniel Orme explains, “He had target fixation and a mental rigidity…” The Red Baron “flew into a shooting gallery, violating all kinds of rules of fighting – rules from the manual that he himself wrote.” [Gugliotta, Guy. “‘Red Baron’s’ fatal fixation.” The Washington Post, September 20, 2004, A6, via HomileticsOnline.] The Red Baron was a careful fighter for most of his career. He suffered a traumatic brain injury nine months before his death, and researchers believe that this caused his dysfunction to develop.
Perseveration can be a problem for us as well, even without dogfights (or catfights). Fatal fixation can happen at work, at home, in friendships, and in our faith. Think about the workaholic fathers who literally kill themselves at the office. Or mothers whose whole lives are wrapped up in their children – to their own detriment, and yes, to the detriment of their children also. Or Christians who fixate so strongly on being righteous and end up becoming self-righteous.
In his letter to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul is determined to show us how to overcome our fatal fixations. He wants us to move beyond doomed and destruction patterns of behavior.
In Romans, chapter five, Paul explains that death came into the world through sin. Sin is failing to live according to God’s ways. Genesis presents Adam’s sin as willing disobedience to what God had commanded. Eve’s sin is presented differently – Eve was deceived. As J. I. Packer says, the essence of sin is playing God. We follow our personal judgment rather than God’s Word.
Because of sin, death entered our world. First it was spiritual death – alienation and separation from God. After this came physical death. Then came Jesus.
Adam represents humanity’s fallen nature. Through sin, humanity fell out of relationship with God. Through Jesus Christ, humanity is offered a second chance. Jesus represents perfect humanity, what God intended for us from the beginning. Through Jesus Christ, God offers everyone grace, a free gift.
Without Christ, human beings are dead in sin and condemned to eternal separation from God. Through Christ, God offers eternal life to everyone who will accept His free gift of grace. Apart from Christ, humanity has no hope. Without Christ, all human beings are dead in sin and separated from God.
As Jim Putnam says in his book Real-Life Discipleship, “Every person is born into this world spiritually dead.” The Church has called this universal state original sin. Through our birth into this world we have each inherited our sin nature. We are predisposed to sin because of our sinful nature and our sin separates us the God who loves us, who is also perfect in holiness. That separation is the state of spiritual death.
The spiritually dead can be recognized by their
Disbelief in God, or
Belief that there are many ways to God
Anger toward Christians or the Church
Ignorance about God, Jesus, and the Church
[R-L D, p. 79]
The spiritually dead need several things. They need “a secure relationship with a mature believer.” They need to see Jesus lived out in front of them. They need an explanation of the gospel message. They need biblical answers to life’s hard questions. The need an invitation to receive Christ. They need the grace of God. [R-L D, p. 81]
The New Testament describes God as “the God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10), and the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:29). The Christian hope is based in “the grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:1). “Grace,” says the Gospel of John, came “through Jesus Christ (1:17). So, what is grace?
I like the catechism definition: “Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved, by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.” [Book of Common Prayer, p. 858]
God’s grace is God’s mercy and love given to us not because we deserve it, but because God in His love and mercy wants to bestow it on us. In Paul’s epistle to the church in Ephesus in chapter 2, versus 4 and 5, Paul says,