September 2, 2018
Last week the Holy Spirit taught us through St. Paul that we receive the inheritance of eternal life in God’s kingdom by faith in God's promise and not by works of the Law, as we heard read, “For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.” (Gal. 3:18) So, it might seem inconceivable to some that the same Holy Spirit caused the same St. Paul to write in the same letter to the Galatians, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:19-21)
Now, how is it that the divinely inspired St. Paul, who wrote that we inherit the kingdom of God by faith, apart from our works, now says that those, who do certain works will not inherit the kingdom of God? I thought works didn’t matter! Does this mean that we inherit the kingdom of God by our works after all? Some people think so. It is a popular teaching in many churches that God receives us into his kingdom by grace, apart from our works. Yet, in order to remain in God’s kingdom, we must continue to do good works.
However, this is a false teaching. God brings you into his kingdom by grace apart from works of the law. And it is by grace, not by your works, that you remain in God’s kingdom. Salvation cannot be both by grace and by works, as St. Paul says in Romans 11, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” And St. Paul argues directly against the notion that those, who enter into God’s kingdom by grace then continue to remain in his kingdom by works, he writes, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3) No, Scripture teaches that having begun by the Spirit, you are then completed by the Spirit!
Of course, as with all difficulties people find in Scripture, the difficulty is not in the actual Scripture, but our in own limitations, because of sin. Scripture says that we are enslaved to sin and imprisoned under the law, but Christ frees us through faith in him. Yet, what should you do with this freedom? The sinful flesh asks, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” “By no means!”, St. Paul retorts, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2)
St Peter writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) God has called you out of darkness. He has made you clean in the blood of Christ and has washed away all your sins. By grace through faith you stand righteous before God. God has justified you. You know what it means to be justified, right? It means to be declared righteous by God. To be righteous means to be in a right relationship with God. God also sanctifies you. Justification and sanctification cannot be separated. If you are justified, you are also sanctified.
To be sanctified means to be set apart. God sets you apart from sin by washing you clean in Jesus’ blood and giving you his Holy Spirit to lead you in the path of truth. The Holy Spirit gives you a new heart, that desires to do good, not evil. If you are rescued from the slavery of sin, why would you want to return back to sin? It is the sinful flesh, which tries to bring you back into slavery.
And here we are met with the problem St. Paul addresses in our text today. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Sprit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Christ has indeed forgiven all your sins through his death and resurrection and you receive this forgiveness freely through faith. And God has given you his Holy Spirit, who works in you to do good. Yet, sin still dwells in your mortal body. And it will continue to dwell in your mortal body until you die. This means, that raging within your very heart is a fierce battle between your sinful old Adam and your new man, made alive by the Holy Spirit.
St. Paul says the Spirit and the flesh oppose each other, “to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Well, what do you want to do? According to your new man, you want to love God and serve your neighbor. It is your sinful flesh, which wants to prevent you from performing the love you desire, as St. Paul writes in Romans 7, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” Now, if even St. Paul struggled so with his sinful flesh, what hope do we have? Our hope is in the forgiveness of sins and grace under which we live. God does not count our trespasses against us, so that St. Paul writes, “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” So, we Christians walk this earth with sin waxing and waning in our hearts, constantly rebelling against the Holy Spirit. And though this means that we do sin, God does not count these sins against us for Christ’s sake.
Yet, we must make a distinction between sins of weakness and ruling sins. When St. Paul says, “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God”, he is speaking of ruling sins. Sins of weakness are the sins that you hate, which you fight against, so that you don’t commit them and when you do commit them, you repent. Ruling sins are sins that rule over you. Your new man no longer fights against them. It is no longer a case of you doing what you do not want, but you doing exactly what you want, which is sin. Ruling sin is when the flesh has won the battle against your new man. It is to be an impenitent sinner. Impenitent sinners are not Christians. Their faith has died.
Your flesh works against your saving faith by luring you to do works of the flesh. When you let your flesh rule over you unchecked, eventually your faith dies. That is why St. Paul says that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Those who do such things prove by their actions that their faith is no longer living. And because these works of the flesh are so dangerous, it is important for us to recognize them, so that they do not destroy our faith.
The first is sexual immorality or fornication. It is not a surprise that this is the first one St. Paul lists. Desires of the flesh and sexual desires are often thought to be synonymous. Now, sexual sins are definitely serious. Fornication is a direct attack on marriage. Those, who have sex outside of marriage give away what they have no right to give and take what they have no right to take; they attack God’s perfect institution of marriage and its beautiful imagery of Christ and his bride, the Church; and they endanger future generations. And there are other forms of sexual immorality, which damage people and their souls, as St. Paul also lists impurity and sensuality.
Yet, works of the flesh do not stop at sexual sins. St Paul also lists idolatry and sorcery. These show a hatred and distrust of God himself. Enmity, strife, jealousy, and fits of anger: These works of the flesh attack the very Gospel of Jesus Christ, who makes peace, is patient and kind, and loves. Rivalries, dissensions, divisions, and envy: Me first, that’s what these say.
The works of the flesh do vary, so that no one young or old can claim that he is not tempted by them. For some sexual sins rise up from inside, while others, fits of anger or envy. Yet, what do all of these works of the flesh have in common? They all show a distrust of God and a hatred toward your neighbor, while being completely selfish. Those, who are ruled by sexual passion care nothing for anyone, except to fulfill their lustful desires. Those who are ruled by enmity and strife have no desire to be at peace and are comfortable hating their neighbor.
Contrast these selfish sins with the fruits of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. All these fruits are focused on loving and trusting in God and looking out for the good of your neighbor. They are completely selfless works. Love, αγαπη, is the selfless love that God had for us when he sent his Son to die for our sins. This love is produced by the Spirit, so that you look out for the best interest of your neighbor. Joy, not in your own advancement or pleasure, but joy that you have fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ; peace, which is gained by forgiving those, who sin against you; patience, that is, long-suffering, that means that you bear with your neighbor’s sins, not in anger, but patiently, bearing the cost out of love until he is brought to repentance. Goodness, delighting in what the Lord delights; faithfulness to God and to your fellow Christian; gentleness, that is, meekness, not boasting over others, but trusting in God’s Word to win over hearts; and self-control, that is your new man ruling over the old man, so that you do not satisfy his desires.
Notice that St. Paul calls them works of the flesh, but fruits of the Spirit. Your flesh works you as a slave until you earn your wages, which is death. While the Spirit works in you to produce good fruit, which manifest your saving faith within you. God uses these fruits of the Sprit to battle against the works of your flesh, so that these selfish and hateful works do not kill your faith and take away your salvation.
Now it is obviously beneficial for yourself to battle your sinful flesh, so that it does not rise up and kill your faith. But it is also necessary to battle your flesh for the sake of the Christian congregation. The Church of Christ is one body. And so, a Christian congregation must act as one body and each member as a member of that body. The left arm doesn’t rebel against the right arm nor do the fingers try to dig out the eyes. Each member is different, but each member is united under one head, who is Christ. But the desires of the flesh are selfish and divisive. If each person insists on his own way, seeks to be better than others, is impatient and unkind, refuses to forgive and holds grudges, then the congregation itself scatters.
Such divisions are inevitable. I will no doubt do things that annoy you. And you will no doubt do things to annoy others. And if we let our flesh have its way, we will bite and devour each other and tear the church asunder. But if we walk by the Spirit, and love one another, take joy in others’ salvation, seek peace and bear it when others hurt us, desire to do the will of God and are faithful to his words while not boasting over others and try to control our own flesh first and foremost, then divisions can be repaired and the body can be mended. It is by repenting of our own faults and being quick to forgive others that we walk by the Spirit and in Christian unity.
The fruits of the Spirit seem like law and for good reason. The fruits of the Spirit are all about love and love is the fulfillment of the law. But you do not produce fruits of the Spirit by becoming enslaved to the law, meaning, by trying to obtain your salvation by your own works. The fruits of the Spirit are produced when you have the Spirit. And God gives you his Holy Spirit through the Gospel, when you believe in the forgiveness of sins spoken to you for Christ’s sake. It is through faith in the Gospel that you are able to walk by the Spirit. This is what it means to dwell in God’s tabernacle and walk in his courts: to hear the words of Christ, to believe them, and cherish them. Then the Holy Spirit dwells in your heart. And if he dwells in your heart, he will produce in you fruits to the glory of God. Amen.