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“Dying and Living” – Eighth Sunday after Trinity (2018)

St. Matthew 7.15-23; Romans 8.11-18
22 July 2018

Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor           

+ In the Name of Jesus +

11 If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells (lives) in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells (is living) in you. 12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.  13 For if you live according to the flesh then you will have to die… (Rom. 8.11-13)

If you live according to the flesh, you will have to die. Inevitable. Destined to happen, unavoidable. That is the verdict of God for those who are slaves to sin, debtors to the flesh. Jesus says it this way in today’s Gospel:

Every tree that is not making good fruit is being cut off [by God] and is being thrown into the fire. (Mt. 7.19)

To live according to the flesh is not just the coarse, filthy desire, the fornication and obvious unchastity. It is everything of thought, word, and deed, all the sinful inclinations inherited through your parents, all your powers, reason, will, and mind which is not guided by the Spirit according to God’s Word. As Jesus says, a rotten tree is not able to make good fruit, and indeed, by its fruit you know what the flesh is all about.

Therefore, Christians, do not engage with the ultimate of false prophets, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the devil, who speaks to your flesh and your fleshly desires, just as he once spoke to Eve and Adam in the garden and induced their eye to covet what was forbidden. Satan tempts you into making your flesh your god, to do what pleases your flesh, making you that slave to sin and debtor to the flesh. He wants you to say and think: “I am free from the Law, therefore, I may do what I desire.” And there, at that point, you are fully deluded if you think you have through the freedom of God’s grace in Jesus Christ the freedom to indulge the flesh.

But this is the old way of living, which is not living at all, dead in trespasses before faith in Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. You were lying under God’s wrath and had fallen into condemnation because of sin, and for that reason, even as you were conceived, you deserved damnation, eternal death.

Now, Christians, when the Spirit lives in you, you are alive to God in Christ Jesus. You are joined by your Baptism, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. With Him you have died to sin and with Him you have risen to new life. By the Spirit’s power, the Word of God creates and sustains faith through the ongoing preaching of the Gospel, the Absolution of sins, and the blessed meal of Christ’s body and blood.

This Holy Spirit lives in you and the new man in Christ says, “Because I am a Christian, I should be afraid of and beware of sin, so that I do not again leave my freedom in Jesus Christ for my former prison of sin under the Law and God’s wrath, so that I do not fall from the life Christ has begun in me back into the a life that is no life, that is truly the way of eternal death, eternal separation from God…”

…If, however, through the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Our Lord in the Gospel today makes a distinction between good trees and bad trees, and in the same way, the Apostle Paul distinguishes between those who are Christians and holy, and others who are without faith and the Spirit, or who abandon and lose Him. Some are rotten trees, who live in security without repentance and faith in Christ, and intentionally follow their desires against their conscience, and so reject both saving faith and the Holy Spirit. Their slavery to sin and flesh is a fatal weakness. That ax is laid at the root of that tree, that fire is ready.

All the temptations and desires against all God’s commandments, active in your nature and inciting you to sin, these are the works of the flesh, the body. These must die. The Holy Spirit is given to you for this purpose: that now you should and can kill these sinful desires. This takes place by spiritual warfare, putting on the full armor of God, listening to and taking to heart the Word of God, and receiving the Sacraments regularly.

This Word of God and the Spirit moves you to recognize your sin and weakness, to remember not only what God has said about sin when you feel the attack of the flesh and the devil, what God has said of these false prophets Jesus would have us beware of, but also to remember what God says of us as His baptized children: we have His name, His adoption, His heritage and inheritance. We belong to Him, and we no longer need the flesh and its desires, we no longer need the lusting, the coveting, the anger towards others, the hatred and jealousy and gossip towards others. In Christ, as His body, we do not truly need the deeds and perceived needs of our flesh, but we really have all things we truly need from God’s gracious hand, and we need to learn to recognize that each day.

Faith in the forgiveness of sins given in Jesus Christ is life in the Spirit, and killing off the deeds of the body. Through such faith, one grows stronger and resists sin, and does not consent to it nor let it come into effect. (Luther, Postil, AE 78:271.8-9)

Meanwhile, you believers are simultaneously saint and sinner, still with the pesky old Adam, the sinful flesh, yet, in Christ and with His Spirit, you continue in repentance and the proper fear of God and retain faith that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. Resistance of sin, fighting against sin, in weakness, is not fatal or damnable, but is to continue to flee back to the good tree that is the Lord Jesus Christ, the tree of life, with every good, from whose riven side flowed the water and the blood that gave genuine, real life in the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life to come.

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom. 8:14–17; ESV)

Luther preaches about this epistle that it is so excellent and so comforting it “should be written with golden letters.” (LW 78:273.17) You have through faith in Christ, having died to this life and arisen to new life in Jesus, comfort that you are certain of divine grace, that you can regard God as your Father, and that you can appeal to Him as His children.

To be able to cry out, “Abba, Father!” Dearest Father! Simple, childlike words to God through the Holy Spirit – this is like the inexpressible sighing, the groans too deep for words which also come to mind that Paul speaks of later in Romans chapter 8. There is a consolation in these words – we are children of God, and heirs with Christ, our dear brother, and so, we’re not alone, not without help. And these words give us confidence to implore God, to approach the throne of grace, the Spirit assuring us that we are God’s children, driving our hearts to cry out to Him with a wholehearted appeal – and especially when we are in trouble, when the world turns against us, when trials weigh us down, temptation and the conscience are burdened and unrelenting, grief and pain do their worst.

It is especially in conflict and danger from the doubting of the flesh and the devil’s fright and affliction – that preaching of the false prophets Jesus warns us of – where we can by the Spirit’s consolation and assurance answer them and their challenges as a son of God and co-heir with Christ: “Dear Father! You are certainly my dear Father, for you have given Your dear and only Son for me. Therefore, You will not be angry with me or disown me. You see my distress and weakness, because of which You want to help and save me (Luther, AE 78.274-276) – for You have given Your dearest treasure to adopt me as Your child, the true Prophet, the Good and Holy Tree who has borne the fruit of my salvation and the salvation of the world, even my dearest Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered all things for my sake and for all men, that through my sufferings in this life, I also may be glorified with Him.”

Here, we remember the words of the Apostle which follow our Epistle text for today: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory which is to be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8.18) With that promise, we can face our dying and rising from this life to the next with confidence and joy, hope and expectation. And we can grieve for those who go on to heaven ahead of us with a confident hope – for God’s children who have suffered with Him in this life, will be glorified with Christ, the crucified and resurrected and ascended Lord of all.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +

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