In the name of the Father, the + Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
COLLECT OF THE DAY
O Lord, keep Your Church with Your perpetual mercy; and because of our frailty we cannot but fall, keep us ever by Your help from all things hurtful and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
(Additional Reading Luke 17:11-19)
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16
When I was about ten I went out for a bike ride around my neighborhood. I was enjoying the nice fall weather when suddenly a large and aggressive dog gave chase. I rode faster than I ever had before around my block until my dad heard my cries for help. The dog immediately submitted and we got him back to his owner.
The dog was nice enough when a strong male presence was there, but he had a penchant for intimidating children. He escaped again a few weeks later and broke up a group of kids playing basketball, barking and snapping at them. The dog’s owner apologized and was certain he could get his dog to mind. Even after months of training the dog had another even more dangerous incident. To the gratitude of the neighborhood the owner gave the dog up.
What would have happened if he had not given up on that old dog? What if he had dug in his heels against the better judgment of the concerned parents? It would not have ended well. Someone would eventually have been hurt. The owner realized it was foolish to think a dog like that could be reformed.
Most people would have enough common sense like my neighbor to know when it’s time to give up on a stubborn and dangerous animal, but this is not true when it comes to their Old Adam, their sinful nature. They think they can train and reform their sinful flesh if they just have the right training and positive motivation. The teachers of Israel in Jesus’ day had tried to do just that when they codified the 10 Commandments into a regiment of 613 rules to obey.
God’s Word teaches there is only one thing to do with the Old Adam and retraining him is not it. The one thing to do to with Old Adam is to put him to death. St. Paul says no less in our lesson, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
Since we are forgiven by Jesus we are now at war with our flesh. We are at peace with God. Since we are at peace with God, His enemies are now our enemies: the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.
Paul writes, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Consider what Paul means here. According to the flesh we cannot avoid sin, but according to the spirit we are unable to sin. Our life according to the flesh can do nothing good, nothing holy, nothing right. Our life according to the Spirit can do nothing wrong and is always good and holy. These two opposing wills are always battling within you because you are a baptized, forgiven, and beloved heir of eternal life in Jesus Christ. In Christ you have been set free from the enemies of God, but they now fight against you.
Paul says, “Walk by the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” We already established that we can’t teach old man Adam new tricks, so what does this walking by the Spirit look like? We can learn from the lepers in our gospel lesson.
The lepers prayed to Jesus for mercy, they shouted to him like their lives depended on it. And Jesus shows them mercy. He doesn’t take their leprosy away on the spot though. He sends them to the priests and as they go they are cleansed. They believed His Word. And as they believed, it happened.
That is what it is to walk according to the Spirit. You see the flesh working in you. You feel the temptations to sin each and every day. Even if you don’t “feel” particularly sinful today you believe it’s true, because you know God’s Word says it’s true.
Jesus says, “All those who believe and are baptized will be saved.” Paul says, “All those who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have put on Christ.” To all of you who struggle and battle with your flesh and are crying for relief Jesus assures you that all who have been baptized into His death and resurrection are new creations. You are His. Believe His Word and know that is so. Listen to it. Meditate upon it. Share it with your family.
To walk by the Spirit is to walk by Christ’s Word. It’s to receive the things of the Holy Spirit and to believe that you are clean, even while you feel your sinful nature and the temptations to anger, lust, jealousy, and so many other things your flesh desires.
As you walk by the Spirit the old Adam will be crucified again and again. He can’t win. He may whine, bark, and try his hardest, but the Spirit is stronger than the flesh. The Spirit works in us by leading us to repent of our sins and strengthening us with forgiveness. Strangely enough, then the fruits of the Spirit come along with that forgiveness. As Jesus is the vine and we are the branches the Spirit is like the sap that flows from the vine to the branches. The Spirit gives us health and life so we may bear the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
The Spirit strengthens us with Christ’s Word and bears His fruit. We are God’s children forever. We are freed to give thanks to Him, to walk by His Spirit, seeking to love our neighbor as God has loved us. This is the glorious freedom God has liberated us for.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord + Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.