Monday, October 7, 2013

15th Sunday in Trinity: Galatians 5:16-25

Sept 1, 2013; 15th Sunday in Trinity; Texts: Psalm 119:9-16; Proverbs 4:10-23; Galatians 5:16-24; Luke 17:11-19; Title: What Will it Be? Works or Walk? Rev. Tim Beck

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

Our passage in Galatians speaks about sanctification, in this letter from the Apostle Paul. Walk by the Spirit, not by the flesh, he says. He is speaking to the baptized, speaking only to Christians. He is speaking to those justified by grace, saved, adopted into the household. He is speaking of what logically follows, of sanctification. He is telling us how to live – but much more than that. He describes the two worlds in which we live, worlds at war.
          All people are born into one world, the world absent the righteousness of Christ. It is the world of Adam’s sin, the inclination away from life, away from good and away from the true God, of the Father, of the Son, of the Spirit, one God. However, the church was re-born into the other world, the world of Christ’s righteousness counted as ours. This is the world of the second Adam’s faithfulness, He justifying sinners. It is also the world of He sanctifying sinners, bringing us into His life, into the good, into a living fellowship with the true God.
          We, the baptized, live in both worlds although not in the same way or at home in both. We flee the world of our origin as we run toward our Saviour. We flee Sodom, as it were, for the mountains of Israel. Do not look back. (Note: the world of Adam’s sin is not at heart physical, what is created… only that which is distorted and ruined by rebellion against the Creator who made all things good.) We flee that ugly world, ever reaching out a bony hand from sin’s prison, beckoning us back behind bars. Let us run toward the freedom of Christ’s feast! It is a battle to the death, or properly understood, a war to the life. That’s what the Apostle describes, commands, and encourages when he tells us to live in the Spirit, in the Holy Spirit.
          Let’s consider the easy part of Paul’s passage first, his description of the battle front. On one hand there is the bad: the works of the flesh are evident. The Apostle says they become visible, manifest, and appear as these: Sexual immorality – briefly defined, all sexual relations outside the marriage bed      of one man to one woman.  Impurity – luxurious, profligate living like the prodigal son, everything about me, a choosing a god by what I want. (This word is also used in Scripture to describe what demons do to a person, to bind us.)  Sensuality – to be lascivious, licentious, shameless, insolent… does this remind you of what passes for comedy on TV? ‘Sensuality’ is not relaxing in a bubble bath or eating a juicy steak, although it could become that without thanks to God. Idolatry is giving priority to, valuing anything, anyone, any idea more than the true God. Sorcery is Harry Potter’s world of manipulating others, by calling upon powers to affect your will rather that God the Father’s will. Enmity is hostility, un-forgiveness. Strife is contention, wrangling, loving a good fight. Jealousy - the rage of desire over something or someone; aiming to control what          is not yours. We also get “zealot” from this word. (Oh, but God is a jealousy God when it comes to you. His is a holy jealousy.)  Fits of anger, wrath, passion, emotional excitement that explodes – what the world sometimes calls the evidence of sincerity and commitment. Rivalries are dissensions that lead to sects, parties, heresies. It includes electioneering or intriguing for office and partisanship (politics anyone?) Divisions, envy and drunkenness hardly need defined. Orgies – (as one commentator put it) nocturnal and riotous processions of half drunken and frolicsome fellows who after supper parade through the streets with torches and music in honor of  Bacchus or some other deity, and sing and play before houses of male and female friends[1]and things like these.
          Things that are very normal in our world, or the world into which we were born, the world we are fleeing for a better home. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things (who practice such things) will not inherit the kingdom of God. That is clear enough, a somber warning.
          In contrast, what are the good things?  What is the new world like? But the fruit of the Spirit is… love - the Greek word agape, self-giving for the benefit of another. Joy – thankfulness, gladness in Christ, including a confident hope in the future with present freedom in the gospel. Peace, shalom, well-being and contentment from permanent reconciliation with God. Patience - persevering in the faith for the neighbor’s good. Kindness - the combination of integrity and giving. Goodness - the combination of kindness and uprightness. Faithfulness – firmness, constancy in receiving the grace of God. Gentleness - restrained strength for the good of others, meekness.  Self-control, mastery of one’s passions and desires. Against such things there is no law.
          What law condemns these things, which are in fact, the fulfillment of the law? What freedom when these things are a constant friend and companion. If only we were just one list, never the other! So we just covered the easy part, describing what ought not to be and what ought to be. You know the difficult part, doing what is righteous and good. Are you ready to be only of one world and not the other? Can you do that? By the way, asking “can you do that” is a bit of baiting on my part. Who can fulfill the law? Further, to place the focus on your doing is not correct. Why is that? When it comes to what is good Paul doesn’t say “do” but “fruit.” The source of fruit isn’t you, but the Holy Spirit.
          As for what the struggle against the flesh and for the Spirit is like, a comment by the Rev. Dr. Luther will help: “Therefore let no one despair when he feels his flesh begin another battle against the Sprit, or if he does not succeed immediately in forcing his flesh to be subject to the Spirit. I too wish that I had a firmer and more steadfast spirit… ‘But I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind’ (Rm 7:23). No one should be surprised or frightened when he feels this conflict of the flesh against the Spirit in his body, but he should fortify himself with these words of Paul: ‘The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit’ and ‘These are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.’ With these statements he is comforting those who are undergoing trails, as though he were saying… Your flesh will be an obstacle…(yet do not) lose heart on this account, but by the Spirit he should fight back and say: ‘I am a sinner, and I am aware of my sin; for I have not yet put off my flesh, to which sin will cling as long as it lives. But I will obey the Spirit rather than the flesh. That is, by faith and hope I will take hold of Christ. I will fortify myself with His Word, and thus fortified, I will refuse to gratify the desires of the flesh.” (AE 27:72, Galatians).
          The conflict is in our flesh, inherited in our birth into one world. (Note that in this context this is not your physical being, your body, which is a different Greek word). We were born of the flesh, the old Adam, the old nature, the sinful concupiscence that still dwells in the believer, conquered though it is. On the other hand, you were re-born by water and the Word, the Holy Spirit producing faith in you, faith laying hold of justification; and then the Spirit producing fruit, a sanctified life. So I take hold of Christ through His word and obey the Spirit.
          The war of the worlds is more than doing since the roots run deeper and the cure higher. True, when we give ourselves to the works of the flesh we fall under the condemnation of the law. So we repent our sins and believe the absolution that frees us from the law’s demands. Then we walk in the Spirit because the Spirit dwells in us. As those set free, declared righteous, the Spirit is working the actual righteousness of Christ into our very lives. That’s the walk, the walk of sanctification. Walk by the Spirit… the desires of the Spirit are… if you are led by the Spirit…the fruit of the Spirit is… of those who belong to Christ Jesus...
          The walk isn’t your search for a little voice within, struggling to feel the Spirit, to ask if He wants you to go to the beach or the mountains for your vacation. It isn’t a feeling that says brush your teeth, go here, go there. The Spirit does not come independently of the Word, that is, without Christ.  The Spirit comes to you through the word and sacraments declaring grace, stirring up faith and then growing fruit. That’s how you walk in the Spirit, by walking in the word of God. Luther described well the walk that doesn’t work to obtain love, joy, peace,    and all the rest, although it seems like work. The qualities of paradise are fruit from a tree, from the tree of paradise, from Christ Jesus’ tree, grown by the Spirit in you.
          When did fruit happen? It began when you were baptized into Christ, brought out of darkness and called into His kingdom of light. In baptism, as the Apostle points out in Romans chapter 6, you were crucified, crucified with Christ and raised to new life. Your flesh was nailed to the cross when you were joined to Christ’s death and life, the Spirit given to produce the fruit of Christ’s death and life in you. Now the Spirit leads you to mortify the flesh and to live in fellowship with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. For the Spirit testifies of Jesus, taking you to the Word and to the Word’s promises in the Sacraments; pouring out life, strength, grace, mercy and peace. He confirms you were saved by grace, by Christ’s declaration of peace with God, sinner though you are. Then He enters into you for your sanctification, your walk into actual righteousness, since Christ also won that for you. And the Spirit bears fruit. You pray, praise and give thanks just like the one leper who returned to give thanks (Lk 17:19).
          Faith heals us, because it receives the word and by the Spirit, resists the flesh.  Faith makes us whole because Christ reaches out to us, stirring up faith. That summarizes the two worlds in which each Christian lives, simultaneously sinner and saint; sinners since the flesh still dwells in us, and saints by virtue of Christ’s sacrifice.  The sinner must die and the saint, live. It is a challenge, an impossible one apart from Christ, and apart from faith. Therefore our Lord already completed the necessary work when He cried, “it is finished.” Justification saves us. Yet He is now, by the Spirit, working actual righteousness in us, calling us to die to the flesh and live in Christ. Even now the Spirit is working the fruit of faith in us. Even now, though dying, we taste eternal life. Even now we banquet in the feast to come, forgiven and strengthened until that glorious day.
          How then shall we live? Not earning our standing before God by works, by  fulfilling the law, but by believing Christ fulfilled the law in our stead. And believing He declared us righteous, we then walk in the gifts of God. We live in Him who has already joined us to His death and life. We live by faith in the Word of God that proclaims Christ won you. He already won the war.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord (Amen)

[1]Strong, James: The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible : electronic ed. Ontario : Woodside Bible Fellowship., 1996, S. H0

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