Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Free in Christ, We Walk by the Spirit

Galatians 5:1, 13-25 God HAS NOT not created us- and redeemed us by Jesus by the blood of Jesus--and sanctified us by the Holy Spirit to live our lives as slaves.  The relationship he wants for us is that of a Father and his children.  And anything- and any teaching- and any person- that would take away that glorious freedom that is ours as God’s children—must be resisted. 
But we also have to understand that those things and people and teachings that would imprison us once again—that would take away our status as the free children of God—are not just outside of us—but are also within us.  Let me explain.
As children of God we delight to do God’s will and we desire to do nothing other than that which will bring glory to our heavenly Father.  But this new person that we are through faith in Jesus still has to contend with our old sinful flesh. 
And so there is always the temptation us to use our glorious freedom as the children of God as a license to do whatever we want:  the idea that since Christ has done it all, I can live however I please. 
But this is not Christian freedom!  It is a return to slavery—not to slavery under the law—but slavery to our own sinful flesh-- which is much, much worse!  The Bible says:
It is for freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…For you were called to freedom, brothers.
Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Genuine Christian freedom means freedom to serve one another in love—freedom to live as God’s sons and daughters remade in the image of Jesus who loved us and served us and laid down his life for us on the cross.
We have been set free from the curse and condemnation of the law- and we have been set free from the tyranny of our own flesh-- so that we can serve God and others in love. 
This is what we have been saved FOR.  This then is the measure of true Christian freedom:  freedom to be like Christ—glorifying our heavenly Father through loving service to those around us.  The Bible says that:    
The whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
            As children of God, we want to know how we can please the One who saved us.  We want to know how we can bring glory to our heavenly Father for all that he has done for us.
And so God does not leave us to our own devices in this—he does not leave us without guidance on what truly pleases him—our heavenly Father has a will for us and how we live our lives and that will is found in the law. 
But isn’t the law the very thing that Paul says we have been set free from?  Well, yes, if we are using it to try to earn our salvation.  If we are trying to earn our way to God by keeping the law it will always be a curse and condemnation for we can never meet God’s perfect standard that is revealed there. 
But for the child of God who knows that his salvation has been won by Jesus and given as a gift of God’s grace, the law is the Father’s answer to his children when they ask:  How then should I live?  What pleases you?  How can I thank you for all that you have freely given to me in Jesus? 
And this life of love (love for God and love for one another that is the fulfillment of the law and God’s will for our lives) stands in stark contrast to our old way of life that lifts us up and tears down others.  The Bible says that we are to:
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 Spirit 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.
            From the moment we came to faith in Jesus Christ and his Spirit took up residence in our lives, a battle has raged within us—and we ought not be surprised by it.
            Paul deals with this inner, spiritual battle within the Christian in vivid terms in Romans chapter 7 where he talks about the conflict between the good he wants to do and the evil he often times finds himself doing instead. 
This was Paul’s battle and it is every Christian’s battle-- for who we are as new people re-created in the image of God-- and what our flesh is, turned in upon itself—these two spiritual realities within us are diametrically opposed to one another and at war with one another.
            When Paul finishes describing this battle within the believer’s heart between the spirit and the flesh he cries out:  Who will deliver me from this body of death?—and then gives the answer:  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus for we have been set free from the law of sin and death!
We who have been called by the Father- and forgiven by Jesus- and filled with the Holy Spirit no longer have to fear the condemnation of the law-- for that has fallen upon Jesus.  No longer do we have to fear the outcome of the battle within us because we have been filled with the Spirit of God as a guarantee of all that he has promised—including our final perseverance in the faith. 
The saving work of the Holy Trinity who has elected us in eternity- and redeemed us in Jesus- and filled us with the Holy Spirit makes all the difference in how we actually live our lives—for the spirit takes the lead rather than the flesh—and the difference between who we are now and our old way of life is obvious.  The Bible says that:
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.
            It is so very easy and so very tempting to selectively read this list of sins and check off the ones we are not doing:  sorcery-nope—orgies—nope—sexual immorality—nope. 
But what about envy—desiring the success of a fellow student or co-worker?  What about strife in our marriage or family?  What about divisions—taking sides in someone else’s strife?  What about fits of anger when the folks in line in front of you aren’t moving fast enough or you get caught behind the train?  What about idolatry when we worry rather than trust and when we find confidence in the bank rather than God’s provision?  Anger. Strife.  Divisions. Envy.  Jealousy.
Now the list hits a little bit closer to home-- and the warning of Paul—that those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God—finds its proper object—which is not the sins of others-- but my own sins. 
It’s important to note what Paul is (and is not) talking about.  He is not talking about our former way of life before we became Christians—for if some sins were excluded from Christ’s cleansing blood then none of us could be saved.  And he is not talking about the Christian’s occasional fall into these sins so long as we repent of them.
What he is talking about is those who continue in these sins.  We should be very, very clear:  Those who continue in unrepentant sin WILL NOT inherit the kingdom of God.  That is what the Bible teaches-- and the old Adam in each of us needs to hear this warning for the sake of our eternal souls. 
To live in continuous, unrepentant sin—whether it is strife within our families or some sexual sin or substance abuse or anger and bitterness in our heart—is to forfeit eternal life because it is:  a denial of the Father’s holy will for our lives—a denial of the Savior’s redeeming work—and a denial of the Spirit’s presence within us. 
The only solution for the sin in our lives is to immediately repent of it, ask for Jesus’ blood-bought forgiveness for it, and by the power of the Holy Spirit show forth the fruits of faith in a new and different kind of life that is led by the Spirit.  The Bible describes spiritually fruitful Christian lives this way:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
            Fruit is seen—you see apples on apple trees and peaches on peach trees—when you see it there is no doubt what kind of tree you are looking at.  So it is to be with the Christian’s daily life. 
That the Spirit of Christ dwells in us is self-evident in how we live our lives and how we act towards others.  The Fruit of the Spirit that Paul lists- and the life they reveal- could not be more different than the works of the flesh- because one of them shows the absence of Christ and the other the presence of Christ.
The connection to Christ that was begun in us in Holy Baptism is to be continued throughout our life as we repent of our sins and hear God’s Word and receive his sacraments to strengthen our faith in Jesus.  This is how our flesh is crucified and our life with Jesus is renewed in us again and again. 
His life is to be evident in our lives.  Paul says it this way:  If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.  In other words, if we claim to be Christian—if it is or confession that Jesus Christ has set us free from sin and death—if he lives in us-- then let us show that in how we live our lives.  This is what we have been set free FOR.  Amen.

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