The 13th Sunday After Trinity September 14, 2003
31, 427, 311, 36
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Dear Friends in Christ Jesus, by whom we have been called to be partakers of light, life, and love:
“Life is a journey, not a destination”—so goes a once popular saying. You can see why people have taken up such a saying in our highly competitive, hurried, outcome-oriented society. We all need the reminder to slow down, pay attention to our surroundings, savor the moment, and as Mac Davis reminded us years ago, “Stop and smell the roses” along the way.
The Christian is aware that this life is a journey, but it is also a journey that does have a definite and very important destination: eternal life and joy, or eternal death and suffering. It is the destination that makes the journey a critical part of one’s life. Furthermore, there is a marvelous twist to this journey of life for the believer in Christ. For believers, the destination is certain and secure. In Christ, we know that we have pardon for all sins, we know that we have the Father’s loving protection every moment of the day, and we have everlasting life with our dear Savior.
Our life’s journey is a walk unique to each one of us, and yet, all with the same goal and powered by the same source of energy. It is the energy of the Holy Spirit that guides and quickens our spiritual steps. This is a spiritual walk—a walk carried out, not merely on our own two legs, but in our hearts, on our feet, with our tongue, and with our hands. May the Holy Spirit guide us today, as we talk about a spiritual walk! We’ll see that I. A spiritual walk occurs only through faith in Christ. II. Believers must also be alert to the lusts of the flesh. III. Spiritual fruits will mark the path of this walk.
The purpose of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is very clear. The Galatians were Christians who had a fine start in their spiritual walk, but were now in danger of becoming sidetracked and lost. The Galatians’ situation was largely due to the activities of some false teachers who taught that a higher spiritual walk must be accomplished by conformity to Old Testament laws. The “gospel” of these teachers was a false gospel leading the Galatians on a false path away from the comfort and peace they had found in Jesus Christ and His righteousness. Paul’s main point in this epistle is that a spiritual walk occurs only in those who are putting their complete trust in Christ Jesus. In a letter that moves from emotional appeals to strong language to cold logic, Paul reminds his readers that salvation is by faith in Christ alone, because true righteousness before God can be found in Christ alone. This gift of righteousness comes by faith in Christ alone. Our certainty of salvation is found by faith in Christ’s work on the cross, not in our own religious deeds or personal accomplishments. Paul writes, “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).
Paul had labored for much of his life under the defeating notion that salvation depended upon his gaining God’s favor by his own works. Now, he saw the true Gospel of Christ to be nothing less than the purest and greatest liberty. This liberty is Paul’s keynote throughout the letter: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).
The yoke was, in part, the body of commandments and laws that people strove to keep in hopes of being favorably recognized by God. Paul realized that one could smash ever so many idols, one could observe ever so many Sabbaths and still not be right with God. But even the most guilty of sinners under the Law finds the sweetest pardon and liberty under the Gospel of Christ. Faith in the salvation given by Christ is the work of the Spirit: “We, through the Spirit, eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith” (Galatians 5:5). So, a spiritual walk, or life, occurs only through faith in Christ Jesus.
In the course of proclaiming this bold spiritual freedom, Paul warns of a very real danger that threatened the Galatian congregations, especially in the light of the work-righteousness proclaimed by the false prophets. “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another…but if you bite and devour one another, beware…” (Galatians 5:13ff).
Believers in Christ must be alert to the lusts of the flesh. Paul puts into words the strange struggle that is felt by every Christian—the struggle between the renewed spirit and the corrupt flesh. Paul reminds us that even though we are justified before God and are His true children we are still in this world and are not exempt to the influence of Satan. A part of us remains spoiled by sin. Our flesh—the Old Adam— is rebellious toward God, corrupted in the Fall. This makes for a bitter conflict in the life of the believer:
The New Man moved by the Holy Spirit to follow the promptings of righteousness and love
The Old Man, ever rebellious and opposed to all that is pleasing to God.
Paul was addressing people who were being led to focus on salvation by works, so he identified the products of the flesh as ‘works’ to show that the same flesh that clings to works of self-righteousness also produces the sinful works, and all the sorrow they bring. Paul begins his list with “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness” [v.19] These things all involve our bodies and their impulses—bodies and impulses created by God with a good and pure purpose in mind for those who share them in marriage. But when the Old Adam gets involved, those impulses and desires become perverse to our Creator’s eyes.
Paul moves on to mention man’s activities that honor Satan: “idolatries and sorcery.” [v.20] Man is by nature a religious creature and even in his fallen state seeks to worship and find aid from the supernatural. But without knowledge of the true God, man is left with his religion which only honors the Devil.
The next few items are things that Satan loves to sow not only among the wicked and base people of the world, but even among its most admired and noble. These are the works of the selfish will: “hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies.” [v.20] These are works of the flesh that creep into our lives so easily and yet, they have the power to break up families, relationships, and churches.
Finally, Paul points to those works that do outright harm to others: “murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like…” [v.21] All of these things are lumped together as evidence of a life that is not lived with Christ—not spiritual. While even believers may weaken and fall to the temptation of such things, Paul warns that those who practice these sins will not inherit the kingdom of God.
These are sobering words to us, who see such lusts and impulses in ourselves. But Paul’s last words in the text are comforting: “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” [v.24] We, who are indicted by the law of God, are deeply sorry for our sins, and who seek the forgiveness found only at Christ’s cross, have the comfort of His pardon. We have assurance that even those fleshly impulses cannot defeat us in our faith. We are not bound to them. They cannot condemn us, for we are justified in Christ.
Paul is not done yet. The spiritual walk in which he would lead us is not merely the absence of sin. It is the presence of good! Paul explains how spiritual fruits will mark the path of this walk.
In some churches, Christ is described as a ‘new lawgiver’ and the law He commands is love. That is an unfortunate representation of the Christian hope. Being Christian is not conforming to a new set of legal standards, but being transformed by the Spirit. It is being transformed in the heart to walk in the love that Paul valued so highly. One example is the directive he gave to the Ephesian church: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need” (Ephesians 4:28). No law can make a change like that, but the Spirit can. The heart filled with joy and gratitude worked by the Spirit acts in response to the salvation we enjoy in Christ. That’s what the Lord wants to see among us.
This is why, when Paul brings up the opposite of the works of the flesh, he presents them as “fruits of the Spirit.” These things are outgrowths of the Spirit’s life-giving work in the believer. These things are not bare, disconnected deeds like trophies on a shelf. They are attitudes and motives. They are the colors of the living souls, splashed across everything that a believer says or does or thinks in faith.
When the self-righteous flesh is crucified in repentance, the Spirit works love and faith. Faith in Christ cannot stop showing itself in activity. Paul called it “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). The only law Paul knew was that of love: “through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).
What a beautiful sight when people are led to love one another as Christ loved us! What joy comes into the most difficult life when the spirit is filled with the knowledge of God’s gracious care. What peace reigns amidst the turmoil of our world when we humbly take refuge in God’s Word and Sacraments with their treasury of promises.
Just as fruits are something to be nurtured and cultivated, let us make it our business to recognize and encourage fruits of the Spirit in others. Trusting firmly in God’s Word and will, we can be longsuffering with our troubles. We can dare to show kindness even to the cold and hard. We can abound with goodness toward those less fortunate. We can stand faithful to God’s Word and to our fellow believers even when others are falling away. In our brassy and self-assertive culture, the Spirit can transform us so that we can succeed even in gentleness and self-control.
What a marvelous walk we enter when we enter life with Christ having been justified freely by Him. In our salvation, let us be alert to the impulses of the flesh and the harm they can do. In our joy, let us cultivate the fruits of the Spirit that will mark a truly spiritual walk—a walk that leads to our heavenly destination.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.