Live by the Spirit
In our Epistle reading, the Apostle Paul gives a long list of instructions to Christians: walk by the Spirit, do not be conceited, restore the one overtaken by sin, bear one another’s burdens, keep watch over yourselves, do not be deceived, do not grow weary of doing good, etc… Sometimes as Lutherans, we aren’t sure what to do with these exhortations to holy living. We may think, “Wait a minute. Why is Paul giving us a laundry list of laws to keep? Doesn’t he know that we are free from the Law in Christ? Hasn’t Paul heard that Jesus accomplished everything on the cross, that there is nothing left for us Christians to do?”
Well, yes – Jesus did accomplish everything… everything for righteousness. There is nothing left to do for salvation. The most important matter, how you are going to spend eternity, was taken care of at the cross. And you received this eternal life when you were baptized, when you became a Christian. But now what? If you look around you’ll notice that God didn’t take any of us sitting here to heaven the moment we were baptized. We’re still here, on earth. And while we’re here, there are plenty of good God-pleasing things that need done. These good works don’t make you a Christian any more than washing dishes makes you a member of your family. No, you help with chores because you are part of your family. You do good works because you are a Christian. God doesn’t need cat food, but your cat does. Good doesn’t need new shoes, but your children do. God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does. And so, throughout Scripture, and particularly in our epistle lesson, we find that God, who cares about every aspect of our lives, gives instructions for how Christians ought to live.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit (Gal 5:25). Paul uses a military term here: “keep in step, keep in formation.” It’s important to remember that we are engaged in a war. When you were baptized you became an enemy of Satan. When the pastor marked the sign of the cross upon your forehead you were also marked as a target of the world, the flesh, and the devil. As long as you remain on earth this unholy trinity is actively seeking to destroy your faith, to cause you to walk away from your baptism, and to place your hope and trust in anything other than the one true God. Parents, if you bring your children to the water of baptism, but don’t equip them to face the onslaught of the devil, you have not done them a favor. They will be, as the Psalmist writes, “Sheep marked for the slaughter” (Ps 44:22). Make no mistake. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). If you prepare your children for college but don’t firmly ground them in the truth of God’s Word they will be as the seed which fell among thorns, and was choked by the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches (Mt 13:7,22). If you don’t teach your children how to give answer for the hope that lies within them, they may gain an education or a trophy and yet lose their souls.
Paul commands us to keep in step with the Spirit, to walk in formation with Him, to go where he goes, to follow where he leads. So, where does the Spirit of God lead us? He doesn’t lead us to place our trust in the wisdom of this world, in science or technology. He doesn’t direct us to look for fulfillment in sports, in our careers, or in worldly success. The Spirit of God leads you to the One who is the only Way, the Truth, and the Life. To walk by the Spirit is to be led to Christ and his cross. Yet the way of the cross is narrow; it is difficult. Jesus said, “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13). Walking down the broad way is the easiest thing in the world. Just flick on your TV and allow Hollywood to imprint its values upon your children. Simply do nothing, and you have relinquished your role as the primary catechist of your home. Catechesis isn’t something that occurs for one hour of the week; it’s taking place every moment of every day. And where the Word of God is lacking, you can be sure that the world, the flesh, and the devil have already moved in and set up house.
Paul writes, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal 6:7). This is the law of sowing and reaping. All farmers know it. If you want more of something, plant it! If you want more corn, you plant corn. If you want more soybeans, you plant soybeans. If you want your children to live according to the Word of God, you sow the seed of the Word into their hearts. If you want your children to grow in their baptismal faith, you plant, you cultivate, you nurture, you guard this precious seed. Too often parents say, “Pastor, what went wrong? My kids were baptized. I dropped them off for catechesis. I told them to go to church. I told them that God’s Word should be important to them.” Yet our children learn by example. They see what is truly important to us and they take note. Do not be deceived. There are no surprises on the day of harvest. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life (Gal 6:7-8). The stakes are bigger than a championship trophy. They’re bigger than a college scholarship or future career. These things that we labor for ultimately have no value. Jesus says, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). God has entrusted the eternal soul of one or more of his precious children into your care. This is an awesome privilege and a terrifying responsibility. It’s enough to drive any parent to their knees, for who is sufficient for this task? It’s enough to cause us to hunger for God’s Word, to flee to his house for refuge – not out of compulsion, but because we are no match for the wiles of the devil. No father, no mother can match his cunning. There is no man on earth his equal – no man, save one, our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our sure defense. He is our refuge from the storm.
And so we flee to Christ. We flee to the place he has promised to be. For Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Mt 18:20). Jesus never promised to speak with you in the quietness of your own heart. He made no special promise to commune with you in nature or on the football field. But he has promised to be among us here in church. He has promised to speak to you here – where his Word is proclaimed. Church is not a social club. It’s not a place to exhibit your musical talents or to be recognized for your service. No. Church is where Christ has promised to serve us, to speak to us, to bestow his Spirit. Walk by the Spirit and He will lead you to hear the Words of Life. Walk by the Spirit and you will come to the Lord’s house to feast on the bread of immortality. In the midst of a parched and lifeless desert, you will drink freely from the Water of Life. Apart from this oasis there is only corruption. The world has nothing to offer us except death; it has nothing to give our children except death, for there is no life apart from Christ. There is no treasure worth handing over to your children apart from his cross. Certainly, you will fall short in your duties as a parent, or as a son or daughter, but walk by the Spirit, and you will live under the cross. Walk by the Spirit, and you will live in the forgiveness that flows from His cross. The world, the flesh, and the devil will assail you, but Jesus says, “Take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Be of good cheer, and do not grow weary in well doing, for in due season we will reap (Gal 6:9) – the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.