Trade Shame for Sanctification
Romans 6:15-23 (ESV) What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The feeling of shame is awful, isn’t it? Paul says that sin leads to the rotten fruit of shame. But shame actually is useful to us, since it helps impress upon us the gravity of our sins. It is the proper response to objective wickedness. It also is inseparable from guilt, so a properly functioning conscience will produce both as a way of signaling that we need to repent of our sins.
In Romans 6:21, Paul is speaking of a shame that comes from recognizing how ungrateful and rebellious we have been toward our God, who has done nothing but show love and kindness to us in our creation, redemption, and sanctification. And this shame over sin not only reminds us that sin always produces bad fruit and therefore is to be avoided, but it also keeps us humble; it reminds us each day of our unworthiness in God’s presence, how far we have fallen short of the glory of God. It shows us that we need to live each day in repentance and faith, putting to death our old sinful flesh and rising up to newness of life by the power of Baptism.
But when you feel ashamed of how horribly you have sinned against your gracious Lord, then you need to remember that Christians live by faith, not by feelings. The promise of the Gospel is that, for the sake of Christ’s patient suffering for your sins in His shameful death on the cross, you will not be put to shame on the Last Day. St. Peter writes, “Whoever believes in Jesus will not be put to shame. So the honor is for you who believe” (1 Peter 2:6-7). Because of Jesus, you will not be shamed at the last judgment, but you will be honored with eternal life and blessing. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And in eternal life, there is no shame, for you will then be completely and perfectly sanctified, made holy.
Yet in the meantime, your Lord has plans for you, namely, plans for your sanctification. Paul points out in our lesson that the fruit of sin is shame and death, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” In other words, now that God has justified you, He also is going to sanctify you, and after you die, take you to heaven.
The word sanctification means “to make holy.” This is what the Holy Spirit continues working in your life until your dying day. Through faith in Christ, you are saved even now, but you might define sanctification as the ongoing work by which God the Holy Spirit preserves and strengthens your faith in Jesus and moves you to do good works.
Trading shame for sanctification is God’s gift to those who trust in Jesus. Sanctification is not something that you can initiate—nor should you try to track your progress, since that will lead to pride or despair. Sanctification is something done by God in your life as a free gift when He baptizes you and then brings you each day to repentance and faith in Jesus, as you live out your Baptism. So your sanctification doesn’t happen apart from your participation in it, but in you. It is even appropriate to speak of your regenerated will cooperating with the Holy Spirit in all the works that He does through you.
The fruit of your sanctification is the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. On the other hand, the fruits of our sinful flesh are things like sexual immorality, impurity, jealousy, fits of anger, idolatry, grudge-bearing, envy, and drunkenness.
It is God’s will that you not be a slave to sin, but a slave to God in sanctification, as St. Paul says: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5). A few verses later, Paul says that our sanctification occurs by the Holy Spirit, whom God freely gives to us. So an important part of our sanctification is praying for God to perform His sanctifying work in our lives, because Jesus promised that your Father in heaven will “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him” (Luke 11:13).
The tools that the Holy Spirit uses to sanctify you, to make you holy, are Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion, along with hearing and learning God’s Holy Word. Our sanctification, then, occurs not by our individual efforts, but it happens as the Holy Spirit keeps us in a holy community gathered around Christ’s holy Word and Sacraments.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You have joined us to Yourself in Holy Baptism and made our bodies a temple of Your Holy Spirit. May the fruit of the Spirit be born in our bodies as we show forth in the world Your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, for against such things there is no law; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.