In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit
In this discussion of the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit in Galatians chapter five, Saint Paul teaches that those reconciled by the blood of Christ cannot accomplish what the spirit wishes. For the spirit would want to be completely pure, but the flesh that is attached to it will not permit this. Yet they are saved; this happens through the forgiveness of sins, which is in Christ. Because they walk by the Spirit and are led by Him, they are not under the Law. That is, the Law cannot accuse and terrify them; and even if it tries to do so, it cannot bring them to the point of despair.
It’s a paradox, and one that is crucial to the Christian faith. If you lose the fact that you are simul justus et peccator, simultaneously a saint and a sinner, 100 percent sinful yet 100 percent righteous, then you lose everything that makes a Lutheran a Lutheran, no, what makes a Christian a Christian.
Martin Luther wrestled with this notion of the simul. So did Saint Paul. So have countless Christians. So do you. So do I. The mind cannot wrap itself around the fact that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. The old man in all of us who thinks he loves God, but actually hates God, believes that there must be something that comes before the blood and righteousness of Jesus. Does not Saint Paul say in Romans chapter thirteen that love is the fulfilling of the law? If love is the fulfilling of the law, then love is righteousness. Therefore, if we love, we are righteous.
You can’t argue from commandments and draw conclusions about works. Try it this week and see how that works out for you. Go ahead. Love everything and see if you can make yourself righteous before God and before your neighbor. It’s not going to happen. Your attempt at perfect love will drive you into despair because either you’re not doing it right, or into self-righteousness that believes your love is better than even God’s love. But you’ll still be doing it wrong.
This doesn’t mean that we should give up on the law and recklessly live. You heard the lawyer confess the summary of God’s Law in last week’s Holy Gospel: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. It does not follow that the Law commands love and therefore we love. There is no one on earth who loves God and his neighbor as the Law requires. Yes, in the life of the world to come, you will love perfectly and will be righteous through perfect love because you will be completely cleansed of all faults and sins and will be as pure as the sun. But not now. That is why you have a Propitiator; One Who makes the perfect offering that cleanses you from all sin, Jesus Christ. He is the Mercy Seat whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
Saint Paul continues in today’s Epistle: 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. Sound familiar? It should, for this is your life as a Christian. You are of the flesh, sold under sin. You see in [your] members another law waging war against the law of [your] mind and making [you] captive to the law of sin that dwells in [your] members. Wretched [men] that [you are]! Who will deliver [you] from this body of death?
So you think you’re the only one who struggles with sins of the flesh? Get in line behind Saint Paul. Get in line with all Christians of every time and place. You struggle with them, for every Christian saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ still struggles with the flesh. If there is nothing on which we can depend, still faith, hope, and love abide, these three. Always believe and love; always take hold of Christ as the Head and Source of your righteousness. Whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.
Yet take great pains to be righteous outwardly as well. Do not yield to the flesh that always suggests something evil. Resist the flesh through the Spirit. Don’t be surprised when you feel this conflict of the flesh against the Spirit in your body. Consider again the words of today’s Epistle: the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit… these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. It is impossible for you to follow the Spirit as your guide through everything without some awareness of hindrance by the flesh. Your flesh will be an obstacle that prevents you from doing what you would. Follow the Spirit rather than the flesh. Do not gratify its desires.
You are a sinner and are aware of your sin; for you have not yet put off your flesh. Sin still clings to your flesh. Nevertheless, hearken to the Spirit rather than the flesh. In other words, take hold of Christ by faith and hope in His Gifts. Fortify yourself with His Word. Rejoice in your baptism. Eat and drink the true Body and true Blood of Christ frequently in Holy Communion. Fortified in His Gifts you will refuse to gratify the desires of the flesh.
But where’s the magic bullet? Where are those good feelings of bliss that I’m supposed to have as a Christian? I thought everything would be easy now. You will never be completely without sin, because you still have the flesh. You will always be aware of its conflict. Remember these words: the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit. Do not despair, but fight back. Do not gratify the desires of the flesh. Then you will not be under the Law.
When you fight back and fail, and you will fail this side of heaven, flee to Christ, Who died for your sin and gives you new life in His resurrection. Jesus quenched the desire of the flesh by giving His flesh as a sacrifice for sin. Believing in Him as your Savior, you have His holiness, innocence, and righteousness.
When the time comes for you to depart this miserable life, you will not be able to stand before God with your good works and promises. Instead, you will sing with King David: Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you; and If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? Join King David, and Saint Paul, and Martin Luther, and gaze at Christ, Who gave His life for your sins. If there is any remnant of sin in their flesh and your flesh, believe with them that it is not imputed to them but pardoned by forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit