Pentecost 6c

Preached: July 8, 2007

Walk Free in the Fruit of the Spirit
Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who pours out the Holy Spirit on us through his Word and Sacraments. The Word the Holy Spirit speaks to us today is Galatians 5.

For freedom Christ has set us free. So stand firm and don't burden yourself again with the yoke of slavery. . . For you, brothers, were called to freedom – only don't use the freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love keep serving each other as slaves. For the whole law is fulfilled in one saying: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour each other, watch out lest you be destroyed by each other.
Now I say, keep walking by the Spirit and never fulfill the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what's against the spirit, and the spirit what's against the flesh. They are opposed to each other, so that you do not do what you want to. If you're led by the Spirit, you are no longer under law. The works of the flesh are plain: Whatever is sexual immorality, uncleanness, unbridled passion; idolatry, witchcraft; hatreds, strifes, jealousies, outbursts of anger; selfish disputes, divisions, sects, envies; drinking bouts, wild partying, and similar things. I am telling you these things in advance, just as I have told you before: Those who continue to practice those kinds of things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Now the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against these kinds of things there is no law. They who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we are living by the Spirit, then walk in line with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:1,13-25)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints of God:

How did you celebrate freedom this last Wednesday? I watched the Little League game, got sunburned, rode in the parade, and watched fireworks. Across our nation, Americans like you and me celebrated Independence Day and remembered the sacrifices of many that secured our national freedom.

How do we celebrate our spiritual freedom in Christ? That is not a once-a-year celebration. It's not even just a weekly, Sunday-morning celebration. Every moment of every day Christians like you and me can celebrate our freedom in Christ. How? Not with fireworks and parades but rather by how we walk through our daily life. Walk free in the fruit of the Spirit. That's how we celebrate our freedom in Christ and that's the theme this morning. Walk free in the fruit of the Spirit.

A. You're no longer enslaved by sinful desires

Walk free because you are no longer enslaved by sinful desires. We were not born free; we were born slaves. Just as in the Old South a baby born to slaves was a slave, so we, who were born from sinful parents, were born slaves to sin.

Slaves are controlled by their master. He treats them as property. He can beat them or split up families. The master is in control. And so it was for you and me. As slaves to sin, we were under the control of our flesh, our sinful nature. It was the master. It's desires drove us. It's passions consumed us. Only the harsh threats of the Law could hold our flesh somewhat in check. Only the Law could beat out of our flesh some sort of outwardly good actions. But the harder the Law drove our flesh, the more we hated God and his Law and strove to do our own thing. So even though the Law tried to control our flesh, our flesh ruled over us as a tyrant, driving us on like a taskmaster, treating us like a beast of burden to do its bidding.

How were the slaves of the South set free? For the most part, by a war fought by others, since as slaves they were powerless to fight for their own freedom. So also you and I owe our freedom totally to another. Christ Jesus, God's Son, battled on our behalf. He became one of us and as the God-man faced down Satan, sin, and death. He defeated our enemies for us. He set us free by his bloody death in our place, and by his bodily resurrection he broke slavery's chains. Christ Jesus has set you free!

What does that mean? It means your flesh has lost its power to control you. For when the Holy Spirit came into your heart through Baptism and the Word, a new King began to reign in you – Jesus Christ, your Savior. The old tyrant, your flesh, was crucified. It lost its power to control you. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24 NIV), Paul writes. As you hold on to Jesus' promise of freedom through his death and resurrection, as you hold on to his forgiveness, he reigns in your heart and life. Yes, the Holy Spirit made you alive in Christ, so keep walking in step with the Spirit or as Paul writes, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25 NIV). Walk free in the Spirit, for you are no longer enslaved by sinful desires.

B. By the Spirit you're fighting sin

Why return to that bondage, that slavery to our sinful flesh? “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1 NIV). Through faith in Jesus you are children of God, why return to being a beaten slave or a dumb donkey under sin's yoke doing its bidding?

But our old master, our flesh, is so tricky. He says, “So you are free? Come do all those things you used to feel guilty about. Follow those desires. Satisfy your passions. Because you're free, right? Free to do what you please.” That's the lie that turns you or me back into a slave and donkey yoked under sin's will. That's what robs us of freedom. “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:13 NIV). Rather, fight the sinful nature.

Even though Jesus has won the war for us and set us free from sin's slavery; nevertheless, a battle continues within us – a battle between our new self, created in you by the Holy Spirit, and our old self, our flesh, which we inherited with its sinful desires. Living by the Spirit, walking free, means fighting this battle against our flesh and its desires, fighting this civil war within us. “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” (Galatians 5:16, 17 NIV).

So there will be things that we want because our sinful flesh is driving our desire. You know what desires you feel deep down, and it feels like you really want them, and if you're free why can't you have them? But walking free means saying, “No!” to what our sinful nature wants and the Holy Spirit gives your spirit the power and the freedom to resist.

For through the Good News of Jesus, you are led by the Spirit and don't need to be driven by law or by guilt or by purpose or by desire. “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law” (Galatians 5:18 NIV). Rather the Spirit leads you to see that those sinful wants and desires bring pain and death. You heard that list of sins. Some may sound like great sins such as debauchery, witchcraft, and orgies. But in that same list is impurity, hatred, envy – sins that tempt each one of us and even those seemingly great sins begin with sinful desires that we all share. Once we start giving in to our sinful desires, we can fall into any kind of sin. And what does willfully following our sinful flesh do? “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21 NIV).

Now law would use guilt and terror to drive us away from sin, but you, who believe in Jesus, are not under the law. You are led by the Spirit, and he is a greater power than any law. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes through God's Word and Sacraments and shows you God's forgiveness for you in Christ. Jesus' forgiveness, paid for by his blood, sets you free from guilt and terror. Free to resist the sinful flesh within you. Free to say no to it's desires and passions, no matter how strongly you might feel the want. Free to live as heirs of God's kingdom, for that is what the Spirit has made you through Jesus Christ. So walk free. Walk free using the Spirit's power to say no to the wants of your sinful flesh. Walk free as you fight sin.

C. By the Spirit you're producing fruit

Walk free and by the Spirit produce his fruit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Change the scene in your mind from that battlefield waging war against our flesh. Instead of a dark, scarred battle, picture amber waves of grain upon the fruited plain. Picture corn growing straight and tall for a bumper crop. Picture an orchard with abundant fruit. You are the Spirit's fruited plain, his harvest field, and his orchard. In you he grows the fruit of love, joy, and peace; patience, kindness, and goodness; faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

How does he make that fruit grow in you? He waters you each day as you remember the baptismal promises God made to you: Your sins are washed way. You were reborn as a child of God and heir of eternal life. He fertilizes you with the body and blood of Christ Jesus given for you for the forgiveness of sins, given to you to eat and to drink in the Lord's Supper. He shines on you with the light of God's love revealed in his Word shining from the Son of God, Jesus Christ, your Savior from sin. Yes, the Good News from Jesus, the Gospel in Word and Sacraments, that's the Spirit gardening tools to grow his fruit in you. Keep using the Spirit's tools so his fruit keeps growing in you.

And what is that fruit? We don't have the time to talk about each one. You know the meaning of each of those words. Pray about them this week. For now let's just say that the word love sums it up pretty well. As Paul wrote earlier, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14 NIV).

What is this love? It's the opposite of selfishness that lives and works thinking about what will make me and my own happy, what will be good for me and my own, what will advance me and those close to me. Such selfishness leads to the scratching and biting rat race that destroys, “If you keep biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15 NIV), Paul writes. Rather, love serves. In fact the word translated serve is the verb for the word slave. Love slaves for one another. Next week as we look at chapter six, we'll see some examples of such love in action.

But here is a good place to end today. We began by asking how do we celebrating our freedom in Christ. Celebrate your freedom by slaving for one another. That's what it means to walk free in the fruit of the Spirit. Although that might sound like a contradiction, Paul speaks a deep, spiritual truth. Pray about that this week. Pray about walking free by slaving for one another in love.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313