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.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Jesus' Victory Over Evil

Luke 8:26-39 Early last Sunday morning a gunman entered an Orlando nightclub and killed fifty people and injured more than that.  Over this last week our fellow citizens have struggled to explain and find a reason for this massacre.  Our president believes it is a gun problem.  The New York Times and the ACLU have blamed conservative Christians.  Many Americans lay the blame squarely at the feet of radical Islam.
            But the root cause of this kind of violence and hatred is something even more fundamental:  it is the reality of evil in our world.  It has become intellectually fashionable to deny such a thing—to believe that there are only moral shades of gray—but from almost the beginning of creation, when the devil and his angels rebelled against God, evil has marred our world.
            There is the moral evil of millions of babies sacrificed every year on the altar of convenience and expediency and sexual perversion enshrined as a right in the laws of our nation and even celebrated in the church.  There is the spiritual evil found in the religions of man where murder and violence are taught as the way to heaven.  And then there is the personal evil of the devil and his angels who still roam this world, looking for those they can devour.
Evil is a reality in our broken world and the forces of evil can be seen all around us just like they were in Orlando last Sunday.  But the Good News for us today from God’s Word is that the forces of evil are simply no match for Jesus.  The Bible says that Jesus and the disciples: 
…sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.  When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes,
            One of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin through Satan’s deception was that they saw that they were naked and hid from God.  Where before they had lived in perfect innocence with one another and in perfect fellowship with God—Satan destroyed both of those relationships—and they were ashamed.
The man in our Gospel lesson—completely under Satan’s power-- had lost that sense of shame-- but his nakedness was not a return to innocence and fellowship.  Instead, it indicated a total loss of any spiritual sense that something was wrong with him-- so deeply was he held in Satan’s bondage. 
We live in a culture that has lost its sense of shame—not because of mankind’s return to the innocence of Eden --but because mankind is has lost the sense that something is wrong in their relationship with God and with one another. 
This “complete and utter” lack of shame is not a sign that we are throwing off the fetters of a puritanical morality--but a revelation that so many in our world (under the influence of Satan) have lost any sense of shame. 
This is not progress—it is death.  The bible says that the demon-possessed man had not lived in a house but among the tombs—and a more vivid picture of our world today is hard to imagine.  The Bible says that:
When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me."  For Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) 
For the man that day there was no earthly power strong enough to restrain him physically—but neither was there any earthly power strong enough to set him free spiritually.  In fact, he didn’t even want to be set free—he didn’t even know what freedom was anymore, so deeply was he held captive under Satan’s dominion.   
But Jesus loved him too much to let him go on living like that forever.  So is his love for us.  He is not content to let us live under Satan’s dominion but has come to set free from Satan’s power—a deliverance and redemption that only he can accomplish.
As great and as powerful as were the demons who held that poor man captive—they were simply no match for Jesus—they had to bow at his feet in submission for they knew exactly who he was and what he had come to do.
God promised this day would come—that he would send a Savior—one born of a woman who would destroy Satan and restore everything that he had destroyed—one who would set us free from slavery to sin and death.  What was about to happen for that man was sign of what Jesus came to do for the world—rescuing us from the hell that we deserve on account of our sins.  The Bible says that:
Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Legion," for many demons had entered him. 
            In Jesus’ day, a legion was a group of Roman soldiers—6,000 of them—that is how may demons had taken possession of this poor man—but they were still no match for the One who was sent to destroy them. 
That is important for us to remember.  Two different human attitudes please Satan when it comes to our understanding of who he is. 
The first is when people deny his existence and give him a free reign to go about his destructive ways (and we see plenty of that in our culture today). 
The second is when people overestimate his power and fear him (and there’s plenty of that kind of superstition in the church today).  Satan is real.  Satan is powerful—but he is no match for Jesus.  The Bible says that they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss.    
6,000 demons bowed at Jesus’ feet that day and begged him not to send them back to hell which is another biblical teaching denied by many modern people.  Hell is a place of eternal torment and suffering made for the devil and his angels.  Despite modern denials that hell is simply an ancient fable designed to scare people into behaving themselves:  hell is real—and it’s torments are terrible—the sufferings, eternal.
The great tragedy of hell is that there are also human beings there when it doesn’t have to be that way.  Jesus Christ has fully atoned for all our sins on the cross.  There he suffered the pains of hell in our place and rose up victorious on the third day showing Satan a defeated enemy.  The way of salvation is open to all people through faith in Jesus Christ and hell need not gain one more person for its eternal torments.  For the demons that day, anything was preferable to being sent back to hell.  The Bible says that:
A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission.  Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
            Bible scholars don’t fully understand why Jesus allowed the demons to enter into the pigs.  Wouldn’t it have been better if the demons were destroyed by Jesus?  But the final destruction of evil takes place on the Last Day when Satan and his angels are cast by Jesus into the lake of fire for eternal torment.  Perhaps the drowning of the pigs is a picture of what is to come for them on that day.
Didn’t the demons know what would happen once they entered into the pigs—bringing about their own destruction?  Not necessarily.  Satan and his angels do not know all things like God does and here we see another example of their blind, self-defeating hatred.
Was it right and just of Jesus to let these demons destroy the livelihood of those who kept the pigs?  But what are pigs compared to even one human soul?  What the drowning of the pigs did show in a dramatic way was the destructive nature of Satan—that he is a destroyer of all creation.  At the very least, the death of thousands of pigs showed in an undeniable way that something dramatic and life-changing had just taken place in that community. The Bible says that:
When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country.  Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.  And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 
            For the man that day, his life had been changed forever by Jesus’ healing.  His mind was whole and his relationship with God was restored.  Clothed, in his right mind, and sitting at the feet of Jesus—a complete change from where he was before.  Because Jesus was his Savior, Satan was no longer his master. 
That is a picture of every person who has been healed by the mercy of Jesus Christ.  Jesus has defeated Satan and as we come to faith in Christ the reign of Satan over our lives comes to an end. 
No longer are we burdened by the shame of the past because it has been washed away by Jesus’ blood.  No longer are our minds at warfare with God because now we have the mind of Christ which is strengthened daily in us through word and sacrament.  No longer is Satan our master, for Jesus is our Lord to whom we give our willing obedience and our loving service—bearing witness to what he has done for us—just like the man that day. The Bible says that:
All the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned.  The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
            The man who was set free from Satan returned to return to his home town and told what Jesus had done for him.  Jesus asks the same of us.  Jesus has work for us to do in his mission to bring healing and wholeness to the world. 
People around us may deny evil and deny Satan and deny hell—but their denials don’t ring true.  Just like us, they live in a world that is broken by evil.  They experience temptations and suffering.  They are afraid of what will happen to them when they die. 
We have the solution to their fears and that is the Good News of Jesus Christ--that he has delivered us from evil in the most wonderful, loving way—by shedding his life’s blood upon the cross to set us free from Satan’s rule over our lives and rising up from the dead to guarantee us an eternal life with God.  Jesus says to us today what he said that day:  Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.  Amen.