But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. Because the things flesh craves are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; these things are contrary to one another, so that you cannot do the things you would. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Galatians 5:16-18
Heeding these words of St. Paul is a vital part of our worship, dear Christians. When we come to this holy house we bring God our offering and gifts. We bring the fruits of our labor, along with our prayers, prises and endless thanks, like the cleansed and grateful Samaritan lepers we are.
Yet there is still another element to our worship, the very thing St. Paul supplies for us in today's epistle, that we should "walk by the Spirit," and refuse to gratify those things that our flesh craves more sorely than an addict his heroin. Therefore in addition to these other gifts, we also give our very bodies into His service as "living sacrifices," not dead ones as was the case under Jewish law. This is genuine worship.
The desires of the flesh are well known by every Christian, but St. Paul takes the time to list the most common. Yet we should also be clear that he doesn't equate sin with flesh, as if flesh were evil, for it is not. We know this because God who created it also assumed it in the Person of His Son who was truly "made man," so that He might suffer under Pontius Pilate for our salvation. No, flesh is not evil, but the devil, in concert with the culture and our own fallen intellects, conscripts our members into carrying out the deadly desires we heard a few minutes ago.
In order to strengthen us against such mighty foes, St. Paul fortifies us with this divine word, "...walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh." This is no mere pep talk, or self-help suggestion St. Paul gives us here, but rather a Word from God's own mouth, and as such, capable of accomplishing that which it says.
What does Paul mean when he says, "walk by the Spirit?" He means that Christians should live in the power of their baptism, but to do that we must understand the gifts that were so richly bestowed upon us there. In baptism we are delivered from death, that is to say we are no longer subject to the curse our sins bring; and though our bodies will die the first death, we are exempt from the second death. People like to chatter on these days about justice, but it's not justice you want from God, O Man, but rather mercy, and that is what we get by faith in Jesus Christ.
In baptism we are rescued from the Roaring Lion who wants nothing more than to devour us, to ruin us, and to have us share in his misery now and forever; and too often, because he presents himself as a reasonable and rational "angel of light," we haplessly play along, but there is a remedy!
First that we should confess our sins, as often as we fall; and again when we pray the general confession in church each Sunday. Yet confession is not enough. We must also hear the absolution and believe it! Believe that, though the words come from the mouth of a man, this is God's forgiveness, and by it you are cleansed from the leprosy of your sins.
In baptism we are made a new creation in Christ. We receive a new nature; one that detests the works of the flesh and expends its every energy in pursuing the fruits of the Spirit that St. Paul outlines for us today. "For if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law."
What does that mean?
It means that you no longer need to seek heavenly peace by the Law, which is to say, the Jewish sacrificial system, but neither should we seek salvation by the sacrificial system of current culture. Attempting to escape the guilt of its sins, culture has banned the Bible from the public square, but it has not helped because in the process they have also banned the peace of the Cross, so guilt is felt today as a general disquiet and dissatisfaction, as a melancholy that people can neither explain or shake off, that follows them like their shadow wherever they go.
The latest cultural gospel tells us that to get rid of it we must simplify, and get back to nature. Heeding the call, many people are leaving the rat race of the city and becoming farmers. They are trading in their Toyotas for tractors in the hopes that this will soothe their psyches and dispel their disquiet, but it does not help.
Adam and Eve tried that, too. They covered their guilt with fig leaves. They thought that going green would save them, but it did not. Instead God found them and prosecuted them for their mutiny, but He who condemned them also saved them and made them alive again by killing two animals; by shedding their blood and cutting the skin right off their backs. With it He made garments for our first parents, ones that truly covered their shame, but that also looked forward to a Greater Slaughter yet to come: to God's Lamb, the One of Whom, and to Whom we sing, "O Christ Thou Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us."
Pray this prayer often, dear Christians, not just on Sunday, because it is one that our Great High Priest will always answer in the affirmative, because you are no longer under the Law but under the Cross by your baptism. Therefore rely on Him to strengthen you against the sins of the flesh and to make the fruit of the Spirit grow in your life. Amen
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras