Trinity 14 2018
Gal. 5:16-24; Luke 17:11–19
University Lutheran Chapel, Boulder, CO
In the Name of the Father, and of the X Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
When St. Paul says that Christians crucified the flesh with its passions and desires, we forget how graphic this language is. We turn too many things into metaphors. But crucifixion was not a metaphor for the ancients. Criminals were crucified by the roads and in public areas, such as Calvary, for all to see. Crosses were not worn as jewelry or put on greeting cards.
“Those who are of Christ crucified the flesh.” Our graphic language would be “they put their flesh in the electric chair” or “lethally injected it.” Because crucifixion was sometimes used for mass executions after slave revolts and the like, we might even translate it: “And those who are of Christ put their flesh in the gas chamber, along with its passions and desires.”
This is a far cry from the constant preaching of “follow your passion” that students hear today. “Are you following your passion?” “No, not at all,” the Christian can reply, “I had mine drawn and quartered.”
Of course, we don’t mean that it’s bad to enjoy our work and studies. God even gives joy in our work. But psychopaths and criminals can also enjoy their work. Adolf Hitler and Hannibal Lector were both men who followed their passion.
Put simply, your passions are the things that happen inside of you, the things you feel, think, and ponder in your soul as distinct from what you do outwardly. Even the pagan philosophers understand that we can’t always do what we feel like doing or we’ll ruin our lives. If a student doesn’t sometimes study despite his passions and feelings of wanting to procrastinate, he will never graduate.
But only Scripture can show us just how fallen our flesh with its passions and desires is. Sin has rendered our natural desires evil and contrary to God’s will. Most people will recognize that they are a little off at times, but only Scripture teaches us to say with St. Paul: “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom. 7:18).
Apart from the Holy Spirit, who raised up the New Man in you in Holy Baptism, there is nothing good in you. Nothing. “There is none who does good. No, not one” (Rom. 3:12).
The sad irony is that our fallen flesh, our sinfulness, rejects this. It always wants to claim that something good remains. After all, “Aren’t I so wonderful?” The flesh thinks that God has gone too far when he says: “Every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart is only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). Your flesh always thinks that it has some good in it that can be redeemed; some good it can offer as compensation for sins.
But only the sinless flesh of Christ, the New Man, can redeem. He willingly gave his pure flesh into death on the cross for your sins. He suffered and bled in your stead, and rose again for your new life. The flesh of Christ, which we eat and is given into our very bodies, is life-giving and sin-cleansing. His sinless flesh does what our sinful flesh could not do.
Indeed, your flesh, which is the Scripture’s way of saying, your entire sinful self, does not have any redeeming quality. God must crucify it, put it in the gas chamber, and raise up the new creation in you. The flesh and its works disqualify from the inheritance of the kingdom of God. Paul lists manifest sins, such as sexual sins, as those which disqualify for inheriting eternal life, but he also lists secrete sins such as enmity, strife, and jealousy. Ingratitude and mistrust of God, which Christ touches on in today’s Gospel, are always hanging on our necks. As the old proverb says: “Nothing grows old faster than gratitude.” Students thrilled to get back to campus last week now already wish the semester was over. Such are the works of the flesh. I warn you, as St. Paul warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But you Christians do not do such things. You have sinned, yes, but you repent and confess them. Such sins do not mark who you are in Christ. You do not do them and live in them and plan how to do them again. Sin is not your lord. Paul does not mean that anyone at all who ever had a fit of anger, or was jealous, or drunk, or was involved in an orgy (which is what happens when people use porn) or gave in to same-sex attraction is going to hell. He does not mean that these sins are unforgivable and that anyone who has ever done them is going to hell, else he would be contradicting himself, all Scripture, and the work of Christ.
Instead, as he says, rather graphically, to the church in Corinth:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Neither sexually immoral people, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor passive homosexual partners, nor dominant homosexual partners, 10 nor thieves, nor greedy persons, not drunkards, not abusive persons, not swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
And such were some of you, but you were washed in Holy Baptism. You call your sins sins. You do not identify with them or defend them. When it comes to sin, the Christian, who shares in the victory of Christ, does not have an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude. Of course not! You repent and want to do better. You never want to sin again, and look forward to an eternity where you never will. In the meantime, your sins are forgiven. You believe that and rejoice. You have been sanctified by God’s Word and Spirit. Your Baptism says so. God’s holy name rests on you. You were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. God said so when he raised his Son’s crucified flesh from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Christians do not continually do such sins and live in them. They do not live according to the flesh and its passions. They walk in step with the Holy Spirit and his Scriptures. They say with St. Paul: “I live to God. 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” (Gal. 2:19-20). Christians still have the flesh, but they do not lead their lives according to the flesh. Remarkably, Paul is not merely saying this is the way things should be. He is saying this is the way Christians actually are: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” This is a statement of fact. This is the Gospel, that not only has God forgiven your sins through faith in Christ but he has also crucified your flesh and raised up in you a new man “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24).
This is an article of faith and it is good news for you. In this life, yes, Christians still have the flesh and its desires. But it has been nailed hands and feet to the cross so it can’t move or act. The Holy Spirit does not let sin gain the upper hand. Christians still have flesh and its desires, but they are not ruled by them. They have another Lord. They know that it’s one thing to find an intruder in your home (whom you want to drive out through repentance and faith); it’s entirely different to invite him to move in with you and join him in robbery.
Hence the “Our Father” really is the Christian’s battle cry as he fights the good fight of faith. Faith daily cries out, like the lepers cried out to Jesus, “Have mercy! Forgive us our trespasses!” Faith confesses that nothing good dwells in my flesh. “If we say we have no sins we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). And yet faith also prays: “Thy kingdom come” and “Deliver us from evil!” knowing that we are in Christ now, and that we shall finally live with him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
Come soon, Lord Jesus.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.