Never Trapped

A sermon for All Saints Day, 2021

It has become common today in difficult situations to use the word “trapped.”

When people face physical disabilities and limitations they say things like,“I feel trapped in my body.”

When people are in a job they don’t like they might say, “I feel trapped in my job or career.”

When people are having trouble in their marriage they might say, “I feel trapped in my marriage.”

In the transgender world we even hear things like, “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body,” and vice versa.

As we celebrate All Saints Day this year, and look at what the Bible says about saints, we might be tempted to say that we are “Saints trapped in a sinner’s body.”

Martin Luther is the one who coined the phrase “simil iustus et peccator,” which means we are simultaneously sinners and saints.

On one hand, through faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we are 100 percent saints. We are 100 percent forgiven of all our sins, all that would make us unholy. As it says in 1 John 3:1: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

There is no way that the heavenly Father would claim us as his beloved children if we had any sin left in us. But the good news is that, through faith in Jesus we are holy and pure and it gives our heavenly Father great joy to adopt us as his children.

But at the same time we are still sinners. The Apostle Paul describes this tension between sinner and saint very memorably in Romans 7:15–19:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. [16] Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. [17] So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. [18] For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. [19] For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

But even though we are simultaneously saints and sinners we are not trapped. Christians are never trapped.

As Jesus says in John 8: “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. [36] So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:35-36)

After describing all his struggles in Romans seven, Paul concludes with: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? [25] Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (verses 24-25) Thankfully, Jesus delivered Paul and us from the body of death. We are never trapped.

In the fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus makes several statements that assure us that, although we may have many struggles and difficulties, we are never trapped.

Here is how we might re-phrase some of the statements Jesus makes in Matthew 5:

In verse three Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Re-phrasing that we might say, “You may be poor in spirit but you are not trapped in being poor in spirit. As a blessed saint, yours is the kingdom of heaven.

In verse four Jesus says: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Re-phrasing that we might say, “You may be in mourning but you are not trapped in your mourning. As a blessed saint, a beloved child of God, you shall be comforted.”

In verse six Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Re-phrasing that we might say: “You may hunger and thirst for righteousness but you are not trapped in your hunger. As a blessed saint, a beloved child of God, you shall be satisfied.”

In verse ten Jesus says: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Re-phrasing that we might say, “You may be persecuted for righteousness’ sake but you are not trapped in your persecution. As a blessed saint, a beloved child of God, yours is the kingdom of heaven.”

When people feel trapped they are willing to do desperate things. They may go to several different doctors to find healing for their weak bodies. They may seek a different job. They may seek a divorce. They may try all kinds of unproven treatments to embrace a different gender.

When we are tempted to feel trapped as Christians, we turn to the Word of God. The Word of God assures us that we are not trapped.

In 1 Corinthians 10:13 Paul writes:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

The devil is one who like to make us feel trapped. He brings up our old sins, even ones that happened years ago, to make us feel unlovable, especially by God.

The Word of God assures us that if anyone is trapped it is the devil. The devil is trapped because he consented to the death of an innocent man. The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent but condemned him to die. What did the devil do to stop the condemnation of an innocent man? Nothing. So he is trapped.

Any time the devil tries to accuse us of being unworthy sinners, all we have to do is reply, “Yes, we are sinners but so are you. When Jesus was condemned to die, you stood by and did nothing. You even encouraged Judas, one of Jesus’ own followers, to betray Jesus into the hands of his enemies. So don’t you go accusing me of being a sinner. When an innocent man was condemned to die you stood by and did nothing to intervene.

When we start to feel like we are trapped we don’t need to resort to desperate measures to try to set ourselves free. We simply go to the Word of God and the Sacrament of Holy Communion to assure us that we are never trapped. How can we receive the true body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ, in Holy Communion, and go out from there feeling trapped? 

What is more, the Holy Spirit of God is trapped inside our bodies. 1 Corinthians 3:16: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”

In addition, Paul writes in Ephesians 1:13–14:

“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, [14] who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

So yes, we are “simil iustus et peccator,” simultaneously saints and sinners, but we are never trapped. Christians are never trapped. God has set us free in Christ.

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