The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity
September 29, 2019
“The Spirit-Filled Life”
Galatians 5:25 – 6:10
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load. Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
The Holy Spirit makes us holy. How does he do this? Is it by teaching us to do holy things? No. That doesn’t work. You don’t become holy by doing holy things. You must be holy before you can do holy things. You do holy things because you are holy. First you must be holy. Only then can you do holy things. The Holy Spirit is the One who makes you holy.
The text for today’s sermon is taken from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. In the earlier chapters of this Epistle he sets the foundation for holy Christian living. He teaches us how we receive the Holy Spirit. It is not by doing what the law requires. The law demands perfect obedience. It curses those who disobey. We receive the Holy Spirit through faith in the promise of the gospel. The gospel does not make demands on us. The gospel is the good news from God that Jesus is our righteousness. He is our Savior. His obedience and suffering makes us righteous before God. We are righteous before God and forgiven of all our sins through faith in Jesus our Savior. We hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe it. Through faith we receive what it promises. This is how sinners become saints. This is how the Holy Spirit makes us holy. First, he forgives us all our sins. Then he changes our desires. He enables us to love. God’s love in Christ sets us free to live holy lives. These lives are lives of love.
In this Epistle, St. Paul explains how we receive the Holy Spirit. We receive the Holy Spirit through faith, not by works. Abraham was justified by God through faith in the promise of Christ. So are we. We receive forgiveness of sins and true righteousness through faith alone. Through faith alone Christ rules over us in the kingdom of God and covers us with his righteousness. The Holy Spirit’s power in our lives comes to us in the gospel of the free forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake.
Holy Spirit power comes from baptism: the washing with water and the word. Baptism washes away sin and gives us the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit power comes from Holy Communion. Where Christ’s body and blood are given to us, the Holy Spirit is given to us. Holy Spirit power comes from the preaching of the gospel. It’s not in the preacher. It’s in the gospel he preaches.
Holy Spirit power is not speaking in tongues, receiving immediate revelations from on high, healing people by laying on hands, or any other of the signs claimed by the religious fanatics. True Holy Spirit power is the power to live a Christian life. Let’s take a look at what this life entails as we take to heart the words of God written by St. Paul in today’s Epistle Lesson.
If we become righteous before God by doing good deeds then we can boast of ourselves, pointing out the good we have done by which we are justified by God. But if we don’t deserve to be justified by God, and are forgiven of our sins and reckoned to be righteous by God’s grace, as a free gift, we have nothing to be conceited about. When we acknowledge our total spiritual poverty without Christ and our spiritual wealth with Christ, we learn to walk humbly without provoking or envying one another.
We Christians are righteous before God through faith alone in the gospel. We don’t make ourselves righteous by comparing ourselves with others who are worse sinners that we are. If we see someone who has been overtaken in a sin, we who have the Holy Spirit try to restore him. We don’t rejoice in the sins of others. We don’t want anyone to get what he deserves. When we try to show someone his sin we do so gently, humbly, not to bring him shame, but forgiveness, ever mindful of the fact that we also face temptations.
Paul says two apparently contradictory things that actually complement each other. First, he says to bear one another’s burdens. Then, he says that each one shall bear his own load. Paul is saying that we find no joy in seeing people caught up in sin. We would gladly bear the other’s sin just as Christ bore all our sin. When we think of elevating ourselves by comparing ourselves with others, we remember that we are accountable to God for what we do. We must bear our own load. We must live under mercy. So we show mercy.
Those who preach the gospel of Christ should be paid. Christ established an office of preaching. He didn’t leave this to chance, as something anybody and everybody can do, if the Spirit moves them. Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. This kingdom is Christ’s gracious rule over us in his gospel and sacraments. In seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, we see to it that God’s word is purely preached and Christ’s sacraments are rightly administered. We do not despise this preaching, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
When God’s word is marketed like perishable commodities, it’s easy for our itching ears to look for something more dazzling than the forgiveness of our sins and the righteousness of Christ. The kingdom of God and his righteousness don’t appeal to the flesh. But flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of God! If we dedicate our lives to pleasing our appetites, we will gain only bitterness and loss. It won’t last. If we sow to the Spirit instead, that is, if we grasp God’s word, take it to heart, treasure the gospel of God’s grace in Christ above all of our perishable stuff, we will find God to be faithful. The Holy Spirit gives us eternal life. Even when our flesh is failing, he raises our spirits to heaven.
Doing good can be a drag. Seriously. It looks like nobody cares or appreciates what you do. You want maybe a bit of recognition. It’s not that you do good to earn a reward. You’re a Christian. You live under grace. Still, it would be nice to know that the good things you do are not done in vain. They’re not. When you are justified by God’s grace through faith in Christ; when you are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus; when you are sheltered by the cross that cancelled all your sins; when you believe this gospel and hold onto it as the priceless treasure it is; the Holy Spirit will see to it that everything you do has value and meaning.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky was a great writer. He wrote a book titled, The Idiot, about a man utterly unconcerned about social status, and clearly devoted to showing kindness to everyone, even to those seeking to take advantage of his naiveté. He’s quite an endearing character. He’s a Christian. Christians don’t have to make themselves righteous. They are free. True spiritual freedom isn’t following the desires of our flesh, thinking to ourselves that God is gracious and he’ll forgive us because he is so forgiving. No, true spiritual freedom is the freedom to be regarded as an idiot by those seeking their own glory and not caring one little bit. The Spirit-filled life is the life of imitation. We imitate Jesus. We love as we have been loved. We don’t ask “What would Jesus do?” because we cannot do what Jesus did. Jesus is not a new Moses with new and improved rules on how to get ahead in life. Jesus gave himself for us. He shut his mouth and endured abuse. He bore our burden of sin and suffered the full penalty of our disobedience. Love compelled him. In his bitter suffering and death, love triumphed over hatred. Our sin was forgiven. We were set free.
The Holy Spirit brings this freedom to us. We don’t worry about what we will eat, what we will wear, where we will live, or when we will die. We don’t worry about our status. We are already citizens of the kingdom of Christ which has no end. The love the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts enables us to love others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Holy Spirit fills us. He empowers us to forgive them, to gently restore them when they fall, to bear their burdens, and to find in this kind of life true joy.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t advertise himself. He points us to Christ. He impresses on our hearts the image of Christ’s crucifixion. He is the Comforter. He comforts us with the forgiveness of sins Christ has won for us. He conforms us to Christ, both in his suffering and in his glory. This is how the Holy Spirit makes us holy. Someday, when nobody expects it, Christ will return. When he does, we will become perfectly holy inside and out, with glorified bodies and purified souls. What a day that will be! We pray for the day when the kingdom of grace becomes the kingdom of glory.
Rolf D. Preus