Galatians 5:16-24 (The Day of Pentecost/Confirmation Sunday)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
June 12, 2011
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The text chosen for today is Galatians 5:16-24:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
The Day of Pentecost forever changed Jesus’ disciples. As promised, Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit in power upon the chosen disciples and they accomplished things that they could not have done otherwise. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4) Just imagine, being able to speak a language you had not learned and had never spoken before! Just imagine, being able to communicate the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection to people in those languages! This proclamation of Jesus by Galileans in foreign languages was the work of the Holy Spirit. It would not have been possible otherwise.
The pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon us has also resulted in you and me accomplishing things that we could not have done otherwise. In fact, it is the Holy Spirit who has worked a complete renewal of each one of us in spirit, will, attitude, and desire. What a difference the Spirit makes in our lives! That difference is shown in our text this morning as a contrast between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.
The works of the flesh are the works done by the flesh. They are the thoughts, words, desires, and actions that you and I do because we are by nature wicked, evil, and sinful. Left to ourselves and our own devices we will produce these works: illicit sexual activity, impurity, unrestrained living, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and “things like these.” Paul says that the works of the flesh are clear. If you saw or knew someone who was practicing these things (not even all of them but just a few of them), would you let your children hang out with them? Probably not. As parents, we’d have to put our foot down and say, “No, I do not want you playing with that person. I don’t want you around them because of the way they act and what they do.”
Yet, we and our children are “those people.” Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The Letter to the Ephesians calls this sinful nature the “old self” or the “old Adam.” We read in Article II of the Augsburg Confession, “It is taught among us that since the fall of Adam, all human beings who are born in the natural way are conceived and born in sin. This means that from birth they are full of evil lust and inclination and cannot by nature possess true fear of God and true faith in God. Moreover, this same innate disease and original sin is truly sin and condemns to God’s eternal wrath all who are not in turn born anew through baptism and the Holy Spirit.”
So the only works that you and I can do by nature are these works of the flesh, the works caused by sin, the actions prompted by the temptation of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. We’re by nature a bunch of people that we wouldn’t want our kids to be around. Yet, God the Father sent His “kid” to be around us.
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost,” wrote St. Paul to Timothy. (1Timothy 1:15) There’s not a one of us who can say differently about ourselves. God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, true God, became true man in His incarnation. Jesus, full of grace and truth, dwelt among us sinners as the sinless One in order to rescue and save us from our sin. It was Jesus Christ alone who took upon Himself humanity’s sins and suffered God’s wrath and punishment. On the cross, Jesus burdened Himself with our sexual immorality, our impurity and unrestrained living. Bleeding and dying on that cross Jesus labored under the weight of our idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, and jealousy. He was forsaken by the Father because of our fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, and orgies. Every hammer blow that nailed Jesus to the cross means the forgiveness of your sins and mine. Every drop of blood that flowed from the wounds of Jesus means our spiritual healing. None of our sins, the works of the flesh, will ever be counted against us.
We receive this forgiveness of sin “out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for His sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us.” (AC IV) “To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the gospel.” (AC V)
For most of us, the first giving of the Gospel was in our Baptism. For you, Rachel, you were first given the Gospel on October 19, 1997, your baptism day. As we learned from Luther’s Small Catechism, Baptism is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19) In Baptism, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon us, working through the Water and the Gospel Word to give us forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and to give eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. (SC Holy Baptism) As we are told in Titus 3:5-8, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:5-8)
It is the Holy Spirit who has brought us the forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus won for us by His cross and resurrection. It is the Holy Spirit who has given us saving faith to trust in Jesus alone as our Savior from sin and death. And it is the Holy Spirit who produces His fruit in us, the baptized children of God.
God the Holy Spirit creates in you and me a whole new life—the life of faith in Christ. This new life grows the fruit that the Spirit plants, nurtures, and grows within us. The Spirit leads us by a gentle and loving grasp, as when a child puts her hand into the hand of a beloved and trusted parent so that a harvest of good, healthy, spiritual fruit is produced in us. This harvest is like a cluster of grapes— a cluster of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. What a much different picture than the works of our sinful flesh! It is a whole new life, lived by the power of the Holy Spirit, producing His fruit in what we say and think and do!
Because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, we now have the power and the ability to do what we could have never done before—to live a life of fear, love, and trust in God above all things, to live for God and not for ourselves, and to walk in the newness of life we have received as God’s free gift to us through Jesus Christ. When Paul says in the opening verse of our text, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh,” we CAN do it. When Paul says in Ephesians 4, “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness and holiness of God,” we know that has happened in and through our Baptism. We are new creations who walk day by day in the power of the Holy Spirit. We have the ability by grace through faith in Christ to resist the temptation of our sinful flesh and to not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. The Holy Spirit is continually producing in us a cluster of holy fruit that gives glory to God and shows love to our neighbor as we act with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
As one who has gotten to know her very well over the past few years, I can assure all of you that Rachel is a holy fruit producer. In her life, she demonstrates her faith in Jesus Christ through the fruits of the Spirit. You are a young lady full of love and joy and peace. You are patient and kind and good. You are faithful to your Lord and to your family and friends. You are gentle and self-controlled. The Holy Spirit is at work in you producing these good gifts so that you can be the awesome daughter of the Lord that you are. It has been a joy to watch you grow. When I first came here, you were but a little girl of 3 going on 4. Now you are a mature young lady in the Christian faith, and I praise and thank God for you. I thank God for your family who has helped nurture you and has provided for your spiritual needs by bringing you to Sunday School and church.
Today, as you are confirmed in the faith given you in your Baptism, you become an adult member of this congregation. Confirmation, as you know, is not the end of the need for growth in discipleship and faith. During these next challenging years of your teenage and young-adult life, know that the Lord is here supporting you with the strength of His Word and the blessings of His Holy Supper. Know that this congregation will seek in every way by word and action to provide opportunities for your continued growth in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. And it goes without saying that I will continue to be here to serve you with God’s Word and Sacrament, to pray for you and with you, and to support you in your life of faith. May our Savior Jesus Christ richly bless you today and always with every more of His love and grace as you bear the fruit of the Spirit in your life.
Like the apostles on that first Pentecost, Rachel, and, you and I are doing things we couldn’t have done on our own without the Holy Spirit. We believe in Jesus Christ. We are forgiven for the works of our flesh. We have new life in the waters of Holy Baptism. And the Holy Spirit is producing His fruit in our lives so that we might live each day as God’s holy people. Amen.