Sunday, September 18, 2022

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity - Gal 5:16-24


Trinity 14

                                                                                      Gal 5:16-24



          In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he says that there is a struggle that goes on in the Christian life.  It is present and real, and Christians must take it seriously. However, it is also not the struggle that Galatians have been told about.

          Paul had preached the Gospel to the Galatians during his first missionary journey. They had believed in Jesus Christ and received salvation.  But in the time since then, teachers had come to Galatia and told them that the apostle Paul had not given them the whole story. 

          Yes, the Galatians needed to believe in Jesus Christ who had died on the cross and rose from the dead.  However, if they really wanted to be part of God’s people, they needed to do what God’s people Israel and her descendants – the Jews – had always done. They needed to keep the Torah – the law – that God had given to Moses at Mt. Sinai.

          When it came to the law, either these teachers were expecting a lower level of law keeping among the Gentiles, or they were introducing key points of the law as the first step towards moving the Galatians to living fully like Jews in doing the whole law.  Either way, the focus of their teaching had been circumcision and Jewish religious days.

          The Galatians were being told that they needed to take up the struggle of doing the law if they wanted to be part of God’s people. Yet for Paul, this demand to do the law in order to have a right standing before God was a denial of the Gospel.  Any demand of the law meant that salvation was a matter of faith in Christ plus something else.  Paul declared that as soon as you added the need to do something else – as soon as you added works to part of the reason a person is saved, you have lost the Gospel. 

          Throughout the letter up to our text, Paul has emphasized that salvation occurs through faith in Christ and not by doing the law.  Earlier he wrote, “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 says that there is a very simple reason why no one can have a right standing before God – can be justified – by works of the law.  We can’t do the law.  Paul writes in chapter three, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’”  We can’t do the law perfectly.  It will always bring a curse. 

The reason that we can’t is that through the Fall, sin has invaded our lives. As those who have lost the image of God we have been twisted and perverted by sin.  The apostle expresses this in the same chapter when he says, “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

Salvation is not received by doing.  Instead, it is a gift of God.  It is by his grace.  It is something given as a promise from God, and so it is received by faith, and faith alone.  Paul writes, “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.”

God has promised that through Abraham’s offspring – through his “seed” – all nations would be blessed.  Genesis chapter fifteen tells us that Abraham believed God’s promise “and it was counted to him as righteousness.”  What God had promised to Abraham, he has now fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  The apostle writes in chapter four, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

          Failure to do the law brings a curse.  However, the Son of God entered into the world in the incarnation to free us from the curse. Paul says, “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.’”  Jesus received the curse that should have been ours as he died on the cross.  He redeemed us from the curse – he freed us.  Yet the freedom he has provided includes even more.  On the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  By this action he has defeated death and begun the resurrection that will be ours as well when the Lord Jesus returns in glory.

          The Galatians, and all Christians, are not to take up the struggle of trying to do works of the law in order attain arighteous standing before God.  At the beginning of chapter five Paul exhorts the Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  Yet immediately before our text Paul also says that this freedom in Christ is not to be misunderstood or misused.  He writes: “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.”

          When Paul refers to “the flesh,” he means the fallen sinful nature that still clings to us.  Baptized into Christ, we have received the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.  But just as Christ’s resurrection does not mean we escape death, so also the presence of the Spirit does not mean that we have fully escaped the fallen, sinful nature. 

          This means that there is a struggle inside of us.  The apostle expresses this when he says in our text, “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.”  The flesh – the remnants of the fallen nature – continue to battle against the new man that the Spirit has created within us. And so Paul says that there is a struggle that we must undertake as Christians.

          The apostle states in our text that its not hard to tell which side has the upper hand.  He says first, “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, carousing, and things like these.”

          The first three of these all have to do with the misuse of sex. It’s not by chance that Paul mentions them first because as Christianity faced the pagan world it could not have been more different.  In the Greco-Roman world it was assumed that men had sex with their slaves or they had sex with prostitutes.  The only thing that was off limits was sex with the wife of another man. Christianity on the other hand, said that a husband could have sex with his wife, and that was it – any other form or use of sex was sin.  Christianity placed limits on the use of sex by men that had never been seen before.

          I really don’t have to explain to you how much our world sounds like the first century world.  Perhaps in some ways one can argue that it is worse, because now women are told that they too are free to use sex in any way they want. Certainly, the pornography that is so widely available today blows away anything the ancient world had.  Yet God’s will for his gift of sex – his ordering of creation – has not changed. Sex outside of marriage is sin against God.  The use of pornography to generate lustful thoughts is sin against God.  What Paul told the Galatians has not changed.

          The references to idolatry and sorcery obviously are about breaking the First Commandment in the first century world.  But remember, a god is anything that is most important in your life – anything that receives the most attention and effort. So there is plenty of idolatry in our world and lives.  Much of the rest of the list deals with ways that sin produces anger, strife, and divisions in life.  We don’t have to look far to see how this is present among our family, friends, work and world.

          The apostle Paul strongly warns us against taking these sins for granted. We must view them as the true spiritual threats that they are.  We can’t regularly engage in them, but then think we are fine because after all, we are “Christians.”  Instead, he says, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

          St. Paul realizes that there is a struggle.  He wouldn’t be writing about this and exhorting the Galatians if this was not so.  But it is important to recognize that Paul does not believe it is a hopeless struggle.  Quite the opposite, he says in the first verse of our text, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  What our translation conceals is that Paul states this in an emphatic way which means “you will certainly not.”  Paul says that when we align ourselves with the Spirit – when we follow the Spirit’s leading and are enabled by his power – we are able to avoid what the sinful nature desires.

          When the Spirit guides our life he produces results that please God – he produces results that we see in our Lord Jesus.  Paul says in our text, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

This is the struggle that goes on in the Christian life.  It is present and real, and Christians must take it seriously.  This is certainly not an easy thing.  The apostle says in our text, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”  We need to view these sins as the enemy that must be killed. And at same time, we must do more than give lip service to the presence and work of the Spirit. Paul says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”

This can only happen if our lives are focused on the ways – those means – by which the Spirit is present for us.  You are here this morning to hear God’s word read and preached.  That is excellent!  But you also need to seeking to learn more about God’s word by attending Bible class.  You need to be reading Scripture during the week as part of your devotional life.  The Spirit who inspired the Scriptures is the One who comes to us through the Scriptures to give us insight and strength for living as Christians.

Will there be failures? Will we stumble in sin? Yes. The old Adam is a tough opponent. When we do, in repentance we return to our baptism.  There we have the assurance of forgiveness. And there we also have the source of the Spirit’s new life in us.  As Luther says in the Small Catechism, “the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires” and likewise, “a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

In our text today, Paul warns us that we cannot ignore the presence of sin in our lives as if it is no big deal.  We can’t continue on in sin without struggling against it.  Instead, those who are in Christ crucify the flesh with its passions and desires.  We walk by the Spirit so that we don’t gratify the desires of the flesh.  And so we make use of the means by which the Spirit is present for us.  We read and study God’s Word.  We cling in faith to our baptism. To do so is to live in Christ.  As Paul says in this letter, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”













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