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Hebrews

12:1-14

 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

 

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.  
(ESV)

 

 

Flesh Subject to the Spirit

Monday of Pentecost 21

14 October 2013

The Bible's teaching of justification by faith is often criticized as encouraging ethical indifferentism, as though those who are declared right by God's gracious verdict for Christ' sake will be encouraged to live immoral and undisciplined lives. Unfortunately, our culture's views about moral discipline seem to reinforce this abuse of the Bible's teaching: "If I am free, then I can do whatever I want." Some years ago, while visiting Amsterdam I enjoyed a delicious dinner with a couple of close friends to celebrate the birthday of one of them. We were amazed to see that people at other tables were smoking and after the dessert was served we asked the waiter if we could light up good cigars. His reply has always stuck in my mind, "In Amsterdam you can do whatever you want." From our limited experience of the city, he was right about that. This kind of freedom without discipline is the ethical norm in this present evil age.

 

This is not the Bible's teaching about the freedom that Christians have received from their heavenly Father for Christ's sake. The righteousness of faith does not give carte blanche for us to be swine. The new man recreated after Christ certainly has been given freedom from guilt, death, and the power of the law to bring wrath. But let's never forget that there is still the old Adam and our fleshly appetites to be controlled and disciplined. These are never free from the pummeling that must be applied to them, because they will never freely nor gladly follow God's will. They must daily be crucified for the sake of the new man. For the sake of that discipline, evil desires must be denied, order imposed upon our unbridled tongue, and our flesh brought under subjection. Even fasting might be used, not as a sign of piety before God, but as a way of recognizing both the weakness of the flesh and as a way of controlling its evil inclinations in daily life.

 

Whatever good works we produce under the grace of God and the disciplining law of God are just a firstfuits of the Spirit in our lives (Rm 8:23). Its perfect completion is yet to come. The war goes on using whatever weapons might be at our disposal. All this is for the sake of service to those whom God has sent us to serve. For our children we become slaves to their needs. For our neighbor we see to his bodily good even at cost of our own. For our church we seek the blessing of persecution because we are willing to share the life of Christ with the dying world. Our outward and fleshly life still needs to be disciplined so it will be useful to the spirit, as its instrument in the world. The spirit is freed to use the flesh to God's glory and the benefit of the neighbor.

 

Martin Luther

 

"We shall answer all those who, offended by the word 'faith' and by all that has been said, now ask, 'If faith does all things and is alone sufficient unto righteousness, why then are good works commanded? We will take our ease and do no works and be content with faith.' I answer: not so, you wicked, not so. That would indeed be proper if we were wholly inner and perfectly spiritual. But such we shall be only at the last day, the day of the resurrection of the dead. As long as we live in the flesh we only begin to make some progress in that which shall be perfected in the future life. For this reason the Apostle in Rm 8:23 calls all that we attain in this life 'the first fruits of the Spirit' because we shall indeed receive the greater portion, even the fullness of the Spirit, in the future. This is the place to assert that a Christian is the servant of all and made subject to all. Insofar as he is free he does no works, but insofar as he is a servant he does all kinds of works. How this is possible we shall see.

                

"Although, as I have said, a person is abundantly and sufficiently justified by faith inwardly, in his spirit, and so has all that he needs, except insofar as this faith and these riches must grow from day to day even to the future life; yet he remains in this mortal life on earth. In this life he must control his own body and have dealings with men. Here the works begin; here a man cannot enjoy leisure. Here he must indeed take care to discipline his body by fastings, watchings, labors, and other reasonable discipline and to subject it to the Spirit so that it will obey and conform to the inner man and faith and not revolt against faith and hinder the inner man, as it is the nature of the body to do if it is not held incheck. The inner man, who by faith is created in the image of God, is both joyful and happy because of Christ in whom so many benefits are conferred upon him. Therefore, it is his one occupation to serve God joyfully and without thought of gain, in love that is not constrained.

 

"While he is doing this, behold, he meets a contrary will in his own flesh which strives to serve the world and seeks its own advantage. This the spirit of faith cannot tolerate, but with joyful zeal it attempts to put the body under control and hold it in check, as Paul says in Rm 7:22-23, 'For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin,' and in another place, 'But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.' (1Co 9:27), and in Galatians: 'And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires' (Gal 5:24).

 

"In doing these works, however, we must not think that a man is justified before God by them, for faith, which alone is righteousness before God, cannot endure that erroneous opinion. We must, however, realize that these works reduce the body to subjection and purify it of its evil lusts, and our whole purpose is to be directed only toward the driving out of lusts. Since by faith the soul is cleansed and made to love God, it desires that all things, and especially its own body, shall be purified so that all things may join with it in loving and praising God. Hence a man cannot be idle, for the need of his body drives him and he is compelled to do many good works to reduce it to subjection. Nevertheless the works themselves do not justify him before God, but he does the works out of spontaneous love in obedience to God and considers nothing except the approval of God, whom he would most scrupulously obey in all things." 


Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian 
 
Prayer

Lord Jesus, you have set me free, counting me free from sin in my spirit. Grant that I might bring my body under subjection to Your law, that it might serve your purposes for my life. Amen.

 

For the gift of rain, that the Lord would shower the earth with abundant blessing that the earth would bring forth seed for the sower and bread for the eater.

 

For the family and friends of Marvin Kluttz, who passed into the arms of Jesus this past Friday, that the would mourn with hope in Christ and confidence in the resurrection of the flesh

 

For all pastors in small and struggling parishes that they would be encouraged by the example of the saintly preachers of all generations and see that they possess heaven itself for Christ's sake
Art: Eyck, Jan van  The Adoration of the Lamb (1425-1429) 

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