No doubt, a few of you were disappointed this morning to learn that I did not have that $1,000,000 cashier’s check for you as I promised last Sunday. It was, of course, a sermon illustration at the beginning of the sermon meant to highlight the character of a promise. And just to be clear, so that there is no misunderstanding, the only thing that Matthew and I are doing in our basement is running trains – making money for the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 1950’s.
However, the emphasis on God’s promise that we saw in last week’s sermon based on the text from Galatians chapter three continues to be very relevant as we look now at our text from Galatians chapter 5. We saw last week how Paul said that salvation is not received by works of the law, but by the hearing with faith, just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Paul went on to add, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”
Paul announced the theme he would develop throughout the letter when he wrote in chapter two, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
The apostle has been absolutely clear that works of the law – doing – has no part in being saved as part of God’s people. Instead, since we are unable to do the law we are under a curse. Or at least we were until Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice for us on the cross. As Paul said, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’”
Just before our text at the beginning of chapter five, Paul has hammered home this point one last time. He wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” The apostle told the Galatians to ignore what the false teachers were saying. In Christ, through faith, they were free from sin. They were free from the idea that works and doing were part of how they were saved. To listen to these teachers and start doing parts of the Law of Moses such as circumcision, foods laws and Jewish religious days would be to submit again to slavery.
Paul lays it out in terms that no one can misunderstand as he writes, “Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.” To submit again to the law would be to deny Christ. And if you want the law to be part of how you deal with God, there can never be just a “little bit of law.” The law is an all or nothing deal. Because we can never do the law perfectly in thought, word, and deed the apostle says, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”
This is powerful stuff! You can understand why Martin Luther described the letter to the Galatians has “his Katie von Bora” – as his wife. Here, Paul says that salvation is a gift received by faith – faith alone.
But the old Adam is one sneaky dude. He is always looking for an angle he can work against us. And in this case, it is really very simple. I am saved by grace. I am saved by faith and not doing. Therefore, doing is not important. Or more than that, an emphasis on doing – living a God pleasing life – can be portrayed as a bad thing. It can even be labeled as a threat to the Gospel.
The apostle Paul knew this very well. And so in chapter five he picks up the other side of things. We are saved by faith alone. But where faith in Christ worked by the Spirit is present, faith is never alone. It can’t be. Before our text Pauls says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” Faith is not a work that saves. Faith is a gift worked by the Spirit that receives what Christ gives. And because it receives this forgiveness and love of God, faith then works through love toward others.
In the verses immediately before our text, Paul plays on the word “freedom” that he has just used as he warned the Galatians not to become slaves of the law and sin. But now he says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
The freedom provided by the Gospel is not meant to give the flesh – the fallen sinful nature still present in us – the opportunity to sin. We can’t live thinking, “I’m forgiven in Christ, so what’s the big deal if I do this.” We can’t live thinking that because we are saved by faith apart from works of the law, that now we don’t have to bother to do anything. Instead faith leads us to love our neighbor in service.
In our text Paul says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Paul says that when we follow the Spirit’s guiding - when we allow the Spirit of Christ to provide the motivation - we will not allow the desires of the sinful nature to run our life. And then Paul immediately explains why it has been necessary to say this as he adds, “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.”
Paul explains the reality that we experience every day. Through the work of the Spirit in baptism we are a new creation in Christ. The new man is present who rejoices in God’s will and does it. But as we live in this time of the now and the not yet, the old Adam – the fallen sinful nature – is also still present. That’s why we continue to feel jealousy and coveting. That’s why we get angry and feel hate. That is why we have lust.
These two continue to battle against each other. But before we consign ourselves to being perpetual losers in this struggle – before we assume that the old Adam is always going to win – we need to remember why Paul gave this explanation. It was to support and explain his assertion: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Paul doesn’t assume that the old Adam is always going to win. On the contrary, he expresses the thought emphatically in the Greek: “walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
Paul alerts us to the fact that there is a struggle, and that we must therefore align ourselves with the Spirit. When we do, we will not carry out the desires of the flesh. And the reason for this is rooted in the same power by which Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Paul tells us in Romans, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” The power of Jesus’ resurrection is at work in you because you have received the Holy Spirit. This is the power that is present through the Spirit to help you refuse the desires of the flesh.
Now the good news is that the works of the flesh are very obvious. Paul says in our text, “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.” They are obvious, and Paul is explicit in describing their result as he says, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
When we see these things in our life, the first thing to do is repent. We need to confess it as what it truly is: sin. Next, we need to return to the gift of forgiveness that God has given us in our baptism. In faith we believe God’s promise that through the water of baptism this sin has been forgiven because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We listen to God’s word about what our life in Christ should be like because through baptism and the word the Spirit continues to be at work in us.
The Spirit within you – the Spirit you have received is the Spirit of the risen Lord! He is no loser. But victory over sin does not mean the absence of struggle. In fact, Paul says in our text, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Victory over sin means that through the work of the Spirit we crucify the flesh – we put it do death. And this is not a one time thing. It is an ongoing process that lasts as long as we live. Where we fail, we repent and return to our baptism. For there we have forgiveness and the source of the Spirit’s presence in our life by which we get back after it.
You have received the Spirit. As you are fed by the Means of Grace, the Spirit continues to be at work in you. And the Spirit’s work is about more than just combatting sin. Paul goes on to say, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” The more we read and study God’s Word; the more we return in faith to our baptism; the more we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar and believe his words, “given and shed for your for the forgiveness of sins,” the more the Spirit will be at work in us to produce these things. That’s what he does. That what God’s word tells us.
So as Christians we rejoice that forgiveness and salvation is the free gift of God. It was won by the death of Jesus Christ for us on the cross. Death was defeated and the resurrection we will receive has already begun in Jesus Christ – it began on Easter. This salvation is not a matter of works and doing. It is received by faith in Jesus Christ the crucified and risen Lord. It is received by faith alone.
But because Christ has given us the Holy Spirit – the Spirit who raised him from the dead – faith can never remain alone. Instead it is active in love. It does things. The old Adam is still present too. And so the life of faith that is led by the Spirit must crucify the flesh – it has to daily put to death the old Adam and its sinful ways.
This is not an easy thing. If it were, Paul wouldn’t bother to talk about it. When we fail, we repent and return to the forgiveness we have through our baptism. But the apostle tells us that the Spirit of the risen Lord – the Spirit who raised the Lord – is no loser. When we follow his leading and rely on the strength he provides, we will certainly not gratify the desires of the flesh. Instead we will produce the fruit of the Spirit. We will live lives marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We will live lives that are a blessing to those around us.