The 18th Sunday After Pentecost October 8, 2006
23, 398, 400, 409(1)
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. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
Dear friends in Christ:
Freedom. Every person craves it. People are willing to die for it. Yet this most prized possession is so often abused. When teenagers are told that they don’t have to clean their room but can do so as they see the need, more often than not the room degenerates into a toxic waste zone. When young adults go to college and don’t have mom and dad enforcing rules on them, how often is that liberty abused in a much more serious way with drinking, drugs, and fornication. But teenagers are certainly not the only abusers of freedom. Adults and children of all ages will use freedom for evil rather than good. Freedom is not worth much if a person does not couple it with responsibility.
The same thing happens in the spiritual realm. As believers in Christ we have complete freedom from the slavery of sin. The Lord tells us that we do not have to obey His commandments in order to be saved. He has freed us from that debt. Yet He wants us to obey His commandments out of love for Him. Here too Christians abuse their liberty terribly, seeing their freedom from sin as an opportunity to sin even more without repercussions. What is often forgotten is that this is actually going back to the enslavement of sin.
The Christian finds himself in a spiritual tug-of-war every single day as he is faced with the question: How should I use my freedom in Christ? There is a battle within every single believer as two answers appear. One answer is given by our sinful nature and the other by the New Man within us led by the Spirit of God. Today we want to examine this battle within and realize that it is a battle that must continue in this life, for if there is no battle on this side of eternity then the sinful nature has won.
The battle for the heart is between flesh and Spirit. “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.” There can never be peace between the two for “these are contrary to one another.” [v.17] They are complete polar opposites. The flesh (also called sinful nature, old Adam, old man) is what you have inherited from your ancestors all the way back to Adam. You came into this world born in the image of Adam. This is not just true in the looks department, for we look like human beings, it is true in the area of spiritual image. It is an image of unrighteousness, sinfulness, rebellion, depravity, and hatred toward God. We read of the works of the flesh in our text and can see that our sinful nature will be utterly opposed to God in every way.
Your sinful nature is your default setting. If there is no change, if there is no intervention you revert back to this status quo. When I first went to a chiropractor to have my neck adjusted, I thought one time would do the trick because after all the spine was realigned. Not so. The muscles remember where they had held the spine and revert back to that setting in a matter days. But while muscles can be trained, your sinful nature cannot be and will always try to drag you back to some sin against God. Don’t underestimate the power of your sinful nature to slowly but surely drag you away from your Redeemer and down to the depths of Hell.
The new man that God has created inside of you is foreign to your system. When you were brought to faith the Holy Spirit created a New Man in you—a part of you—that wants to love and serve God all the time. The New Man follows the Holy Spirit’s leading. The Old Man is selfish. The New Man will want to please God even when it means being unselfish. The New Man is created in God’s image—righteousness and holiness. The Spirit of God leads to life and salvation not death and destruction. “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” [v.16] When you walk in the Spirit, when you are connected to God and His Word you will be on a different path and have different actions, than when led by the desires of the flesh.
One of the biggest temptations that exists in Lutheranism is, “It does not matter what I do. It’s more important what I say.” This obviously, is not what Scripture says, nor what we want to teach. In the book of James we read that even the demons can pay lip service to God and recognize who He is. When we give in to our sinful nature time and time again we will extinguish faith. Faith without works is dead.
In our text we are given a list to help us identify what is coming from our sinful nature and what is coming from the Spirit. “Now the works of the flesh are evident…” [v.19] These things should be obvious to us, but often we refuse to pay attention. Then sins are listed in four categories: sins of lust, sins of idolatry, sins of lovelessness, and of indulgence.
Do we recognize these things in our own lives? There are times that we basically do not control our desires and act more like animals without any kind of restraint—not just in body, but in mind. Sins of lust is a most dangerous category for us in the United States because of the public acceptance of adultery, fornication and the like. When most around us do not view it as wrong that influences us.
We have idols of our own making if we depend on our resources instead of God for the solutions to our problems. We might promote doctors or medicine or the government and worship what is created more than the Creator (cf. Romans 1:25).
The third category of sin might surprise us because we might not think of these as “big” sins. But God puts hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies and envy are on this same level. These are the exact opposite of what God is all about.
The fourth category including murders and drunkenness and wild parties are basically a lack of control, indulging ourselves without any sort of restraint.
If left unchecked, these works of the flesh will lead to destruction. “I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” [v.21] If you give yourself over to these works of the flesh and do not fight against them your faith will be destroyed.
The fruit of the Spirit is quite the opposite. Notice that it is the fruit of the Spirit compared to the works of the flesh. The fruit of the Spirit is not merely what you do. The fruit of the Spirit is attitudes and attributes that are produced by the Spirit. These will result in works: “Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” [vv.22-23] These are qualities that do not come to anybody naturally. There is no true love or true peace or true joy in the eyes of God without the Spirit. The more that you are involved with God’s Word, the more the Spirit will work in you, and the more fruit will be produced. You will be further set apart from sin by the Spirit.
This is a battle for your soul. If your sinful nature wins you will not inherit the kingdom of God. Your sinful flesh will not surrender. It will not go away. Our sinful nature presents a different problem than our enemy the Devil because our sinful nature is with us 24 hours a day. There is no relief.
The stakes of this battle are high. Your soul hangs in the balance. But be glad if you feel a struggle. Be happy if that struggle is fierce. If you are not in a day to day battle trying to resist the works of the flesh, then you are losing. Your struggle is a way of taking your spiritual pulse.
In eternity there will be no struggle either way. Either you will be in Hell with no Spirit of God, or you will be in Heaven with no sinful flesh. However, on this side of the grave the believer will find a battle within. It is vital that we hear the battle call from our God and take up the fight with the weapon of God’s Word.
It can become so exhausting! Wouldn’t it be easier just to give in? Easier, but not better. Knowing the stakes makes us renewed in our efforts, but we also know that our efforts alone are not enough. We need God’s help to walk in the Spirit. We need God’s forgiveness for all of the times that we have given in to our sinful nature. We need the strength of God to resist the constant assault on our souls. We need the relief of being able to lay our sins on Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, and leave them there.
Look outside of yourself to keep fighting. Look to the Spirit of God to walk in His ways. Know well your own depravity and weakness and the necessity of a new life in Christ. We know by our many failings that we can’t win heaven. This makes us all the more thankful that Jesus has won it for us and given it to us, not as payment, but as an inheritance. He will give you the strength to keep fighting. This strength comes from talking to God in prayer and even more importantly by hearing what He has to say to us in His Gospel. “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” [v.24] In this way Jesus has won the war for you and gives you strength to continue the battle.
Now is not the time to give in. Complete victory is on the horizon. Look to Jesus the Author and Finisher of your faith (cf. Hebrews 12:2). Amen.
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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.