Trinity 14, 2015
The Epistle. Galatians 5:16-24
The Gospel. Luke 17:11-19
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Aurelius Augustinus, (better known to us as St. Augustine) Bishop in Northern Africa in the late 4th century wrote in chapter 19 of his book called Confessions these words….speaking to God:
“My whole hope is in your exceeding great mercy and that alone. Give what you command and command what you will. You command continence (meaning self-control, temperance, moderation) from us, and when I knew, as it is said, that no one could be continent (no one could be self-controlled) unless God gave it to him, even this was a point of wisdom to know whose gift it was…O Love, O my God, enkindle me!
You command continence; give what you command, and command what thou wilt.”
The language takes some time to process but his point is that he recognizes as he has long contemplated God and himself and many other things, that God, for one thing, commands from us certain things.
He commands, in this observation, continence. We don't use that word all that often in this context. We might say that God commands self-control, temperance, patience.
These are virtues the Christian ought to cultivate. And as he continues in this train of thought, he says, God, you command something like self-control, and then he notes that no one can be self-controlled unless God gives it to him.
He says, this observation is in itself a point of wisdom to those who realize it.
This is wisdom to those who think on this and realize not only its truth but also the benefit of knowing it.
Then he says, after realizing that God, on the one hand commands that we do something and then on the other, it is only by the grace of God that we can carry it out, cries out in amazement… O Love, O God!... Command from me self-control…
Command whatever you will and then give to me what you command.
All this to say, that we have in our Prayer for this Sunday a very similar request made to God.
We prayed: “ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou dost command; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In order that we may obtain what you promise to us, make us to love what you command from us.
Give to us a love for what you command. That being of course, Faith, Hope and Love (Charity).
Paul commands us today as we heard from the Epistle, that we are to walk by the Spirit, and we will not gratify the desires of the flesh. The desires of the flesh are against the spirit and the desires of the spirit are against the flesh. They are opposed to each other.
To obey the spirit and to oppose the flesh is the case set before us today by Paul.
And it is a constant thing we have to recall to mind and work into our thoughts and our actions…as Augustine did in his reflections. Flesh, spirit, what are these things? Which one are we? Are we both?
So let us then be reminded here from other texts some clear pronouncements about us so that we might get a better grasp of what Paul is saying today.
Paul tells us in other places:
“…Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
“We know that our old self was crucified with [Christ] in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died [as in through baptism] has been set free from sin….So [we] also must consider [ourselves] dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus….Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.”
“…sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
“…while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.”
“…[we] know that nothing good dwells in [us], that is, in [our] flesh. For [we] have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”
So, as baptized Christians…because we began here as baptism being the entrance into the Christian life when laying this out…as baptized Christians, we are no longer in the flesh, but in the spirit. The Spirit of God dwells in us.
But in another way, we are still living in flesh and blood bodies. The spirit/flesh dichotomy here is a change in the inner man.
We still live in the flesh, but as Christians we are in the spirit and God’s Spirit dwells in us….guides and leads us. Directs us.
The flesh still desires evil…things against the righteousness of God. We still have those inclinations…and even desires.
But since we are indwelt by God’s Spirit, we have a choice and an ability to not let sin reign in us. The will is only free in regard to what it desires. The will is not free…truly free until it is set free by God and is on a daily basis chasing away the desires of the flesh.
The flesh is the old nature and the spirit is the renewed nature. We could call it the grace of regeneration that God works in us.
Paul says, today, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
This is not optional for the Christian. If we have this title and this calling then we are to walk accordingly.
We do this in many places in life and in society. Lots of it is fading away, but where it still has life, parents tell their children what is proper at the dinner table….or what is proper and improper when out in public.
As we are brought up there are different places we get direction from.
There is a proper place and time for certain things. It is similar and of greater importance in the life of the Christian.
Paul says, what is proper (and this is life and death)….what is proper is to walk according to what you are. Walk according to the guiding of the Holy Spirit and you will not allow the desires of the flesh (which are contrary to your title) to manifest themselves.
To live a spiritual life does not come without struggle…. constant struggle.
And the struggle we all go through…. striving to live according to the spirit can be debilitating.
Paul says here about this battle of opposing forces, “….to keep us from doing the things we want to do…”
Those who are still of the flesh and are not regenerated by the spirit, do not even have a desire to attain the righteousness of God.
This is also a wake-up call to us who profess to be Christians. Is the spirit working in us? Is there a desire to work the righteousness of God, or are we still fleshly in our thinking? ….or better….are we not pushing back against the flesh by the Spirit of God?
Paul says that there should be push-back. This is where this concept of Augustine’s comes in for us today. The command here is to subdue the flesh….not let the flesh have dominion over us.
But knowing that we, on our own, don't have the power to do so as we should, we must rely on the grace of God to fulfill what He desires us to be like.
Even the great St. Paul struggled with this all of his life as he says in Romans 7: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15 ESV)
That’s the difference here between us (the regenerate) and the unregenerate. We have a desire for improvement, holiness, righteousness. It is sometimes dim and weak, but it is there….or it should be. To even have the smallest of desires for righteousness and hatred of sin places us on the right side of this.
Where there is no desire for righteousness, there is no spirit dwelling there. This, again, is the carnal person who does not know Christ.
Command what you will and give what you command. We can even pray that God would give us a greater love for Him!
A desire to hate sin and to love righteousness. That’s good news for us who are in the midst of this struggle.
There is even great encouragement here from Paul. He says: “But if [we] are led by the Spirit, [we] are not under the law.” (Galatians 5:18 ESV)
In other words, through our struggles to walk uprightly before God, we can remember that the law that tells us precisely how to be righteous before God, has no power to condemn us.
The law tells us to do this and that. What to do and what not to do. But we are not condemned in the eyes of God when we fall short of their commands. We are in Christ. We did not receive the spirit of slavery but the spirit of adoption.
Then Paul moves on to what works of the flesh look like. He has to point these out to us so that we can avoid them….despise them….shun them.
Here they are: “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” He goes on to say:
“I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
(Galatians 5:19-21 ESV)
A person who is in the spirit is to look at this list and ask God for grace every day to take away any hint of these things from us. To do these things endangers our hereditary right to the Kingdom.
To practice these things with impunity and without repentance and a desire to turn from them, Paul says, is not living by the spirit but by the flesh.
These are works of the flesh, as Paul calls them…not fruit of the flesh. Perhaps this is because works of the flesh are done on our own power and fruits…as in fruits of the spirit are done by the Spirit of God.
Luther says: This is a very hard and a terrible saying, but yet very necessary against false Christians and careless hypocrites who brag of the Gospel, of faith, and of the Spirit, and yet in all security they perform the works of the flesh.”
If a person does not repent of his sin and look to Christ, he remains in the kingdom of Satan, under the fallen reign of Adam. By contrast, if we look to Christ by faith, then we inherit the kingdom of God, and Christ’s Kingdom is marked by righteousness.”
As we ask for an increase of Faith, Hope, Love, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, etc., we demonstrate our desire to love what God commands.
Let us then, as Augustine did 1500 years before us, contemplate these great mysteries of flesh and spirit, and glory in the fact that God has given us His Spirit as a deposit and as a guarantee that He who has begun a good work in us, will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.