Wednesday, May 14, 2014

We belong not to this world or to ourselves, but to Christ in eternity. Let's act like it.

WE BELONG

This artwork is in the public domain. Why?
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:24


We belong to Christ.  Whoever else might claim ownership of us, or place his demands on us, we belong to Jesus.  He loved us before the foundation of the world, and will be our Lord eternally.  He is the holy bridegroom who cleansed us with His blood and who washed us clean from every stain of sin by water and the Word.

But how did all this happen, dear Christians? H ow did sinners slated for death come into such a pleasant place?  We can answer in one word: crucifixion. “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.”  Jesus died on the cross for us.  He died in our place and on behalf of our sins.  He paid the penalty that our rebellion has incurred.  He did not die of natural causes, because there is nothing natural about sin.  He did not die with dignity, because there is nothing dignified about sin.  It’s hard to imagine a more appalling way to die than to be nailed to a cross, to be left to bleed out and slowly asphyxiate surrounded by sorrowful friends, and gleeful enemies, but the punishment matches the crime, our crimes against God and against one another.

Many people are happy to know all there is to know about Jesus, but their interest comes to a screeching halt at Calvary, but like St. Paul we preach Christ crucified though it be a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.  We boast in nothing other than the cross of Christ, by which we are crucified to the world and the world to us.  Our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross is the foundation of our joy.  It is the source of our peace in the face of all adversity, the basis of our confidence that, though the grave will one day claim us all, it has no more power to hold us, than it did Jesus.

There is another crucifixion we need to speak of today.  St. Paul says earlier in his epistle (2:20) “I am crucified with Christ.”  He was not speaking symbolically or sentimentally, or merely of a faith in the heart, but of the baptism he received by the hands of Ananias immediately following his conversion. (Acts 22:16)  Baptism is the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.  It cleanses us from sin and gives new life and new powers.  By it all the benefits of the cross are given to us, and our faith in the crucified and risen Christ is established.  This sacrament, instituted and commanded by Christ, is the great turning point in our lives.  Before it we are dead to God, but after it we are dead to the world and to her powers of persuasion over us.  There is something especially wonderful about infant baptism in that it is completely passive.  It is not something a newborn baby aspires to receive, but like his first birth something that is bestowed upon him.  In baptism we are thus crucified with Christ; and even if we come to faith and are baptized later in life, it is still the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph. 2:9)

And there is yet a third important crucifixion the Bible speaks of, the very thing that St. Paul states in our text today, namely that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  As Lutherans we are not comfortable talking about ourselves or our participation in the work of God.  We are so steeped in grace that we are hesitant to assign ourselves any spiritual powers.  That is good.  If we err, better we should do so on this side of the equation rather than the side which assigns glory to us, for the work which is solely God’s, but we do not need to err at all.  If we follow the contours of Scripture we will learn that we are empowered by God, through the New Man, to take an active part in Christian living.  Jesus says: if any man would follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.  In Ephesians chapter six St. Paul instructs us to “put on the whole armor of God” and to engage in spiritual warfare against the devil, the world and the flesh, and now he makes this simple statement of fact that, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

In baptism our righteousness is an accomplished fact, but in daily life we must never rest in our struggle against sin and in our pursuit of holiness.  Paul makes the point graphically when he says that each day we must crucify our flesh and put it to death with all its passions and desires.  He lists seventeen of them by name, they are: adultery, fornication, impurity and unrestrained immorality, idolatry and sorcery, hatreds, discords, jealousies, fits of rage, rivalries, divisions, factions, envyings and murders, drunkenness, orgies and the like. He solemnly warns our intractable flesh against such things by using the only language that flesh understands, fear! Fear that, “those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (5:21)

So that we might know what is holy, he lists nine fruits of faith to set our sights on.  They are: love, joy and peace, patience, kindness and goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; against such things there is no law, he says, and those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

So how goes the battle?  Not so good?  That is the right answer, the only answer borne of Christian faith and humility, but there is a cure.  There is relief and there is new strength to do better.  It comes by repentance.  How do we repent?  Not by focusing on our failures or even on our scanty successes, but instead by remembering our baptism.  Whenever we are tempted we should confess: I am baptized.  Whenever God’s word convicts us of our sins we confess: I am baptized.  As often as the consequences of our sins catch up with us we should profess more heartily than before:  I am baptized.  It is not a magic formula, but rather a bold affirmation of faith that Jesus was crucified for our sins, and that there is now no condemnation for us, but instead every blessing is in store for those who have been crucified with Christ in this Sacrament.  Amen
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~Rev. Dean Kavouras

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