Memorial Moments — Sins of the Flesh

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Sins of the Flesh
Tuesday After Pentecost
30 May 2012

If worship only shapes the body and does not shape the heart, it is idolatry. Our Lord Jesus Christ seeks worship that is in spirit and truth (Jn 4:24). For Jesus there is no distinction between spiritual worship and truthful worship. Spiritual worship is truthful worship and truthful worship is spiritual worship. They are a package deal. God is the one who defines both spirit and truth. Our ideas of worship or spirituality are often off beam, because they are defined by our perverse flesh. The flesh tends to extol itself and its works as valuable. It myopically thinks that as long as it bows at the right time and in the right way, it is providing right worship to God. The flesh tends toward formalism, that is, as long as the form is “correct” there is the presumption that there is true worship. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Ancient Israel went down that road, when she presumed that the sacrifices of the temple were sufficient to satisfy the holy God, when they were performed according to the letter of the law, no matter what was in the hearts of the worshippers. Certainly, God had conveyed to Israel the worship form of the temple, but He did not give it to substitute for faith in the promise that sins would be forgiven through the coming Messiah, who was only signed in the acts of the temple. They were to believed and trusted as signs of God’s gracious attitude toward them and His desire to substitute the once and for all perfect sacrifice of Christ for them. They, however, thought their acts were sufficient. They were not. They are not.

Ancient Israel created a false god; an idol, by presuming that God would be satisfied by their own works instead of the substitutionary work of God’s Son, the Messiah. The god that desires works for salvation is not the God who reveals Himself in the pages of the Old Testament or through Christ in the pages of the New. This false god has a completely different way of salvation, one that agrees with the teaching of every false religion and view of divinity that humans have ever invented. True spiritual worship then must reject this idol as a fleshly enemy of the divine truth in Christ.

The body must conform to the hope of the heart. Our acts of worship must remain testimonies of our human weakness and depravity and a sign of God’s righteousness given to poor sinners for the sake of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who gave Himself to ransom us back from sin and death. There can be no other worship. It must focus on Christ and what He has done for us, not what we should for Him. If we focus on what is done for Him, then we have fallen into the sins of the flesh, and perhaps the worst of all: idolatry.


Martin Luther

“Paul clearly enough calls ‘the flesh’ whatever is in man, including all three powers of the soul, namely the lustful will, the angry will, and the understanding. The works of the lustful will include adultery, fornication, etc., the works of anger are rages, contentions, battles, etc., the errors of reason or understanding are false religions or worship forms, superstitions, idolatries, heresies, that is, sects, etc. The former are easily recognized and understood because the term ‘flesh’ by the entire reign of the papacy has been so obscured that a work of the flesh is understood as nothing other than sexual intercourse or explicit sexual desire. It is not surprising then that they cannot understand Paul.

“Here we clearly see Paul including among the sins of the flesh idolatry and heresy, which things, as we said, reason considers the highest virtues, wisdom, religion, holiness, and righteousness. Paul calls it the ‘worship of angels’ in Colossians 2(:18). But however much it seems holy and spiritual; it is nothing other than a work of the flesh, an abomination and idolatry against the gospel, faith, and the true worship of God. Believers, who have spiritual eyes, see this. The self-righteous cannot see it. Just as it is not possible to persuade a monk that his vows are works of the flesh, likewise the Turks are able to believe nothing less than the observance of the Koran, baptisms, and other rites which they observe, which are works of the flesh. It is very important to account idolatry among the sins of the flesh.”

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