Walk by the Spirit - 14th Sunday after Trinity
August 28, 2016
Verse: Galatians 5:16–5:18
Heeding these words of St. Paul is a vital part of our worship, dear Christians.
When we come to this holy house we bring God our offerings and gifts. We bring the fruits of our labor, along with our prayers, praises and endless thanks, like the cleansed and grateful Samaritan lepers we are.
But there is still another element to our worship, the very thing St. Paul supplies for us in today's epistle, that we should "walk by the Spirit," and refuse to gratify those things that our flesh craves more sorely than an addict, his heroin.
And so in addition to these other gifts, we also give our very bodies into his service, as "living sacrifices". Not dead ones, as was the case under Jewish law, but as living sacrifices. This is genuine worship.
The desires of the flesh are well known by every Christian, but St. Paul takes the time to list the most common. But we should also be clear that he doesn't equate sin with flesh, as if flesh were evil in and of itself, for it is not.
We know this because God who created it, also assumed it in the Person of his Son. Who was truly "made man," so that he might suffer under Pontius Pilate for our salvation.
No, flesh is not evil. But the devil, in concert with the culture, and our own fallen intellects, conscripts our members into carrying out the deadly desires we heard a few minutes ago.
In order to strengthen us against such mighty foes, St. Paul fortifies us with this divine word, " … walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh." This is no mere pep talk, or self-help suggestion, St. Paul gives us here. But rather a Word from God's own mouth, and as such, capable of accomplishing the thing it states.
But what does Paul mean when he says "walk by the Spirit?" He means, very simply, that Christians should live in the power of their baptism; but to do that we must understand the gifts that were so richly bestowed upon us.
In baptism we are delivered from death, that is to say we are no longer subject to the punishment our sins incur. And though our bodies will die the first death, we are exempt from the second death. People love to chatter on these days about justice, but it is not justice you want from God, O sinful Man, but rather mercy; and that is what we get by faith in Jesus Christ.
In baptism we are rescued from the Roaring Lion who wants nothing more than to devour us, ruin us, and to have us share in his misery now and forever. And too often, because he presents himself as a reasonable and rational, as an "angel of light," we are easily drawn in. But there is a remedy!
First that we should confess our sins; as often as we fall; and again when we pray the general confession in church each Sunday. But confession of itself is not enough, we must also hear the absolution. Hear it and believe it! Trust that, though the words come from the mouth of a man, this is God's own forgiveness, and by it you are made well from the leprosy of your sins.
In baptism we are made new creations in Christ. We receive a new nature: one that bristles at the works of the flesh, and expends its energy in pursuing the fruits of the Spirit that St. Paul outlines for us today. "For if you are led by the Spirit," says St. Paul, "you are not under the Law."
What does that mean?
It means that you no longer need to seek heavenly peace by the Jewish sacrificial system. But nor should we seek salvation by the sacrificial system of the culture, either.
Attempting to escape the guilt of its sins, culture has banned the Bible from the public square. But it has not helped, because in the process it also loses the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, from which the peace of God radiates. And so guilt is felt today as a general malaise that people can neither explain, nor shake off, but that follows them like their shadow wherever they go.
The latest version of the cultural gospel tells us that to get rid of it we must simplify, and get back to nature. Heeding the call, many people today are leaving the rat race of the city, and becoming farmers. They are trading in their Toyotas for tractors in the hopes that this will soothe their psyches, and dispel their disquiet. But it does not help.
Adam and Eve tried that, too. They covered their guilt with fig leaves. They thought that going green would save them, but it did not. Instead God found them, and prosecuted them for their mutiny. But he who condemned them, also saved them, and made them alive again, by killing two animals. By shedding their blood. And cutting the skin right off their backs.
With it he made garments for our first parents. Ones that truly covered their shame and expunged their guilt. But ones that also looked forward to a Greater Slaughter yet to come. To God's Lamb. The one of whom, and to whom we sing, "O Christ Thou Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us."
Pray this prayer often, dear Christians, not just on Sunday, because it is one that our Great High Priest will always answer in the affirmative. Because you are no longer under the Law, but under the Cross, by your baptism.
And so rely on him to strengthen you against the sins of the flesh, and to make the fruit of the Spirit grow in your life. Amen.