Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Galatians 5:16-24)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost + September 2, 2018

Text: Galatians 5:16-24

When we go to the doctor, they are checking for symptoms.  If it’s an annual exam, they’re looking for symptoms of a healthy body—heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, good glucose and cholesterol levels.  If it’s to diagnose a problem, they use the symptoms and other tests to determine what’s going wrong on the inside.

Though it sometimes manifests in bodily symptoms, there is a diagnostic tool for our faith in Galatians 5.  It’s stated in terms of works of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit. 

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.

These are symptoms of an unhealthy, dying, or dead faith.  They can also manifest in ingratitude, grumbling, complaining, backbiting.  They’re not just negative traits for a person to have; they are the product of sin and must die or we will die with them.  These are the visible signs of an unbeliever.  If you have these symptoms and do not treat them with the medicine of repentance and faith, the prognosis is grim: “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  Far worse than even the most painful and slow death by cancer is the outlook of eternal death and torment in hell.

On the other hand, the symptoms of a healthy, living faith are these: 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control” If you see these in your life and are daily increasing, your spiritual health is good.  These are evidence of the Holy Spirit at work within you.

But we need to be more concerned with the works of the flesh because we want to see less of them and more of these healthy indicators.  The works of the flesh indicate a danger to your spiritual welfare.  But if they are only symptoms, what’s the root cause?

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

There is a deadly disease at work within every person—Christian or not.  It’s the deadly infection of sin.  Now, to those who have been brought to faith in Jesus Christ, they are saved from the end-result of sin, which is death—even eternal death.  By grace through faith are you saved.  You are counted righteous and even called a saint, “holy one” by God.

Nevertheless, your disease still remains.  The old wording for the distribution of Christ’s blood is helpful: “The blood of Christ, shed for the remission of your sins.”  Your disease of sin goes into remission.  But it’s still there, because it clings to your flesh.  Every day there’s the potential for it to break out again.  It may erupt and show forth its ugly nature in works of the flesh.  Be it tumors, leprosy, or blood poisoning—the flesh has its way of manifesting the life-long infection of our human nature.

But you are under the care of a physician—the Great Physician of soul and body, Jesus Christ.  “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Luke 5:31)  Far better than any durable medical equipment, He has given His Holy Spirit to you.  It is He who is able to fight and at last overcome this deadly sin-disease.

In Holy Baptism, He gives you His Spirit and the Spirit possesses your heart.  In His Word preached, He gives you His Holy Spirit.  In reading His Word at home, He gives you His Holy Spirit.  In receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, He gives you His Holy Spirit.  In short, where Jesus is and speaks, there is the Spirit also (John 3:8, 20:22-23).  From there, the Spirit rules where sin once reigned.  From the heart out to thought, word, and deed, it is His work to sanctify all that we think, say, and do.  And it is a daily battle (thankfully not one you wage alone): “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  You have the almighty aid of the Holy Spirit in times of doubt, temptation, rebellion, or failure.  While your flesh will resist and fight Him, the Spirit tirelessly strives to keep your heart and keep you on the way that leads to eternal life!

Because the flesh is so infected, and the devil is always close at hand for the Christian, life is difficult and the road is long.  You may not have had a “flare-up” of your flesh lately.  God may have set a hedge around you and spared you from deep-felt spiritual struggle.  Nonetheless, you must remain vigilant, because the devil does prowl around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. [1]  Who more delicious than a once-strong Christian who led and encouraged others?

Also beware, lest you take yourself out of your Great Physician’s care, AMA—“against medical advice.”  You start to think the PA He has assigned to you—your pastor—is just a quack.  You make excuses not to see him.  If I go to the office (I mean, church), he’s just going to find something wrong with me so he can keep me coming back.  It’s just too much trouble, and besides I feel like I’m doing pretty good.  Like the bipolar person who feels alright, you stop taking your medication.  What’s going to happen to your sin-disease?

Let me ask you, who are here today (or are reading this): How do you know if you’re spiritually healthy or not?  Will you go on waiting until symptoms get bad enough?  God’s Word alone can diagnose our spiritual condition—“the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) 

As for self-diagnosis and self-managed care, God makes clear, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Who better to diagnose you than the Maker of the human heart!  He understands and knows each of us intimately, and if you are led by the Spirit, you will acknowledge that His will for you is always good—even if it may mean some discipline and correction for the moment.[2]

We all need regular Sabbath-day checkups.  Rest from your work, and rest in God’s work for you and in you.  We listen to our doctors when they say we need CT scans every three months to look for relapses.  How much more should we listen to our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier who speaks through His called servant?

Speaking of that, we spend a lot of time and money on our physical health.  They say you can tell a lot about a culture by what its biggest buildings are, and boy to we ever have big medical facilities—so big they’re called “campuses.”  But as God’s redeemer and heirs of the resurrection, we know that this body is going to wear out and die.  There’s no problem pursuing good health, but what return to you get on it?  What about our spiritual health?  In comparison, how much do you invest in that?  I would say it’s the better place for your efforts because your body in its present condition will pass away, but your soul will endure forever.

So spiritual exercise is good for your soul.  “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control”  These are the virtues which are meant to be in a child of God.  Because God has planted His Spirit in your heart, these are the things which God desires to train us every day in.  In place of animosity, He puts love.  Instead of bitterness, He gives joy.  When there is wrath, He works peace.  Even though we want it all to happen on our schedule, the Spirit gives patience (longsuffering).  When it seems more convenient to write another person off, the Spirit is there teaching us kindness.  While something might seem good in our eyes, the Spirit is the one who teaches true goodness.  It’s also the Spirit who—in the face of all things that look contrary—teaches us to cling to God’s words and promises (faithfulness).  When we would become conceited about all we’ve done for God, the Spirit instead teaches humility.  And finally against the corrupt desires of the flesh which seem to have power over us, the Spirit enables us to control our bodies and use them to serve God alone.

Just as you are not left to be tempted by the flesh alone, you are not alone to grow in the fruit of the Spirit.  In His tender mercy, God is with you every day so that you grow as His beloved child, looking forward to the perfect and the eternal.

So, now attend to the words of your Great Physician.  He has a wondrous cure for you.  It’s offered without cost, it has no side effects unless you do not believe, and it renews your strength not only in this frail body but its healing continues into eternal life.  It is the Body and Blood of your Lord Jesus Christ, given and shed for you.  Heavenly health and eternal life be yours in Christ Jesus.  Amen!

[1] 1 Peter 5:8-9

[2] 2 Timothy 3:16