Enduring The War: Living By The Spirit

This is Part 4 of the Lent Series titled, 

Text: Galatians 5:16-26

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

As Christians, we must keep in mind that we are not perfectly and wholly renewed.  Now, please do not misunderstand me, our sin is indeed covered by Jesus (we are forgiven of all our sins), but this sin still lingers on in us, making us weak.  You see, our sin is real.  Our sin is no different than the sin of unbelievers. And so, we are never in the place where we can go around thinking that we are Christian superheroes who keep God’s law perfectly and fulfill it completely.[1] 
Contrary to what those televangelists say, we are not independently powerful, we do not have greatness within, and we certainly are not strong – the old Adam still clings to us down to the grave.    

And so, we Christians live our lives in great weakness.  We live our lives knowing that we still have this sinful nature that actively resists the Word of God and fights against the will of God.[2]  We live our lives in great weakness because the old Adam is defiant and hostile towards God. Therefore, it is impossible to live this Christian life without some “hindrance of the [old Adam].  Your [old Adam] will be an obstacle, the sort of obstacle that will prevent you from doing what you would.”[3]

So, if we Christians have this great weakness, how are we to endure?  How are we to live and walk?  In other words, we know that the old Adam with its sins should daily drown and die in repentance, as it says in the Small Catechism; however, is there anything else for us as Christians?  Yes, there is.  You see, on the one hand, we need to see the old Adam drown and die, but on the other hand, we are called to walk by the Spirit.  And in walking by the Spirit, we are told by the Apostle Paul that we will not gratify the desires of the old Adam.

Let us pause here a moment to clarify, though. 

As Christians, we are to be led not by ‘our’ spirit, implying that we are to look within ourselves, but rather, we are to look outside of ourselves to be led by ‘the’ Holy Spirit. 

It is like this, walking by the Holy Spirit should be understood as nothing more than you and I clinging to Jesus by faith.  And in this clinging to Jesus, as weak people, we are led by the Holy Spirit.  And when we are led by the Holy Spirit, we are living under the guiding influence of the Holy Spirit who works through the Word and Sacraments.

A perfect picture of being led by the Holy Spirit is when “a child puts her hand into the hand of a beloved and trusted father.”[4]  A little girl knows that she is weak and unable to do much of anything, so she looks away from herself and her weaknesses, and places her hand into her father’s strong hand.  And there, with her father, she is gently led and protected.  The same is true for us as Christians, the Holy Spirit by a gentle and loving grasp “leads the baptized into a [Godly] orientation, He does not drive Christians to conformity to rules. . . . The [Holy] Spirit does not [harshly] demand obedience but rather produces fruit”[5] – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

Another picture and illustration would be that of a beggar.  Yes, a beggar. 

During the last hours of Martin Luther’s life, he wrote a short meditation on a sheet of paper.  His brief reflection ended with the words, “This is true, we are all beggars.”  You see, Luther understood that if we consult our conscience, what we inevitably find is a life in conflict.  A life where the old Adam is in tension with the Holy Spirit who is at work in us.  In other words, Luther knew that within every single Christian the sinful nature remained, even though it is forgiven in Jesus.  Luther knew that every single Christian had sin and was capable of committing sin. He knew that the Christian could not freely do what he wanted to do, even though he tried with sweat and strain.[6]  Therefore, Luther said that we are beggars. 

Dear friends, we are indeed beggars who depend upon the Lord’s forgiveness – clinging to the Lord and needing to be led by the Holy Spirit.  That is to say; we are not o.k. on our own.  We need something more.  We need help. Something that is a part of us keeps sabotaging our best intentions. We do not have what it takes.  We can will it, but we can’t do it.  We can decide to do good, but we really do not do it perfectly.  We set out not to do bad things, but we then end up doing it anyway. We know God’s Law and delight in it; however, we cannot keep it perfectly. Something is indeed wrong – the old Adam is what has gone wrong, deep within us.  The old Adam covertly rebels and always tries to take the upper hand.[7]

And so, left to ourselves, nothing helps.  And that is why we must turn away from ourselves. Like a helpless beggar, we must understand that our hope and solution does not lie within, but is outside of ourselves in Jesus. 

So, we look away from our poverty of sin.  We look away from our old Adam.  We chalk it up as dead.  We confess it all as sin. We beat our chest saying,

“I am a sinner, and I am aware of my sin; for I have not yet put off my flesh, to which sin will cling as long as it lives. But I will [follow] the [Holy] Spirit rather than the [old Adam]. That is, by faith and hope I will take hold of Christ.  I will [brace] myself with His Word, and . . . I will refuse to gratify the desire of the [pathetic old Adam].”[8] 
Yes, as beggars, with hands and ears wide open, we receive the proclaimed Word of God, knowing that the Holy Spirit is at work in the Word to strengthen our faith and lead us through this vale of tears, called life.

Baptized Saints, it must be stated that being led by the Holy Spirit as a beggar is contrary to the popular religious opinions of our day and age.  Our culture and many well-intentioned (but severely misinformed) pastors tell us to look within ourselves for some untapped spiritual potential within.  They encourage the laity to look within themselves for the so-called diamond in the rough.  And so, Christians turn inward and rummage through the layers upon layers of sin, looking for potential and talent hidden within.  And then without even knowing it, these poor Christians stumble upon the sinful old Adam dressed up in potential.  And then being deceived, these Christians begin to prop up the old Adam – sowing to the sinful flesh – while taking their eyes off of Jesus.    

Lord have mercy on them; Lord have mercy on us. 

Dear friends, our theology, which is the theology of the Bible, “snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside ourselves, so that we do not depend on our own strength, conscience, experience, . . . or works but depend on that which is outside ourselves, that is, on the promise and truth of God, which cannot deceive.”[9]

Indeed, our sin only yields more sin – sin upon sin.  But the one outside of us, Jesus Christ is the fountainhead of grace, life, and truth – grace upon grace for sinners like me and like you.  And all of this is constantly given to us by the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacraments! 

Living by the guidance of the Holy Spirit is hard, yet at the same time easy.  “It is hard because we take such great pride in our own achievements and self-sufficiency. We do not like to ask God, or anyone, for anything.”[10]  Besides, the old Adam likes the attention. As sinners, we like to be in the driver’s seat.  “Yet it is also easy because our spirituality does not depend on our performance but on our receiving from God.”[11]

And so, dear Baptized Saints, we live by the Holy Spirit not to become increasingly self-sufficient, but we follow the Spirit as beggars before God the Father in Heaven.  Indeed, we are beggars because everything about us depends solely on Christ, not ourselves. We live by the Holy Spirit because where the Spirit is present, He renews, ignites faith, and gives God-pleasing virtues to us.[12]  We live by the Holy Spirit because this new man is nothing without the Holy Spirit.  We walk by the Holy Spirit for the Spirit has “called [us] by the Gospel, enlightened [us] with His gifts, sanctified and kept [us] in the true faith.”[13]   

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Formula of Concord, Epitome, II:5.
[2] Ibid, II:59.
[3] Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians – 1535: Volume 2  (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1964), 72.
[4] The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 2011.
[5] Jonathan Grothe, The Justification of the Ungodly: An Interpretation of Romans: Second Edition (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada: 2012), 347.
[6] Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians – 1535, 75.
[7] Paraphrase of Romans 7.
[8] Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians – 1535 73.
[9] Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians – 1535: Volume 1 (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1963), 387.
[10] John W. Kleinig, Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2008), 29.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, II:71.
[13] Martin Luther, The Small Catechism: The Apostles’ Creed.  

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