Beloved. Today’s Gospel turns our attention to thanksgiving as we hear Jesus commend the man who had been healed from leprosy who had come back to thank Him. Then Jesus said to him, “Get up and go your way. Your faith has saved you.” What a vital reminder we have to give our Lord thanks for all His gifts and blessing to us. All that we have is the Lord’s and He blesses us with them. Even things we take for granted like our health, when we have it, or like in today’s Gospel—the healing is His gift/ blessing to us.
Also notice something else: Jesus expects to be thanked. Look at what He says: “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give glory to God except this foreigner?” He didn’t expect just the one, but all of them to return to Him to give Him thanks for the healing. Of course, the other nine were certainly happy they were healed; they were probably also very thankful that they were healed. But they did not return to Jesus to give Him thanks. Here is a call for us to examine our hearts and lives: do we give our Lord thanks for all His blessings to us? We may be very happy with all He’s blessed us with, but have we thanked Him? The more that we thank the Lord, not only do we become more thankful as we realize and with heart and voice thank the Lord for a specific blessing, but we also become more humble as we realize all that we are and have is our Lord’s gracious gift to us.
There is a fascinating verse in today’s Gospel that has a nice spiritual connection with today’s Epistle and is very descriptive of our lives as Christians. It is this: As they went away they were cleansed. When they left Jesus, they still had their leprosy but each step along the way to the priests was a step of faith that by the time they would get there, they would be healed/ cleansed of their leprosy. The implication of as they went away they were cleansed is that along the way they were healed, perhaps even slowly, gradually but some time before arriving at the priests they were completely healed.
This is a beautiful connection with our lives as Christians. We become Christians the moment the Holy Spirit first creates in us faith in Jesus that longs for Him and His work, for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life that He gives. Just like these lepers believed/ trusted in Jesus and His word and so went on their way and as they went away they were cleansed, so too us. Our lives as Christians begin with faith and is a walk in faith and although we, at the first moment of faith, have all the great and wonderful gifts that Jesus gives and that faith receives like forgiveness of sin, peace, with God, eternal life, an open heaven, etc. we still are sinners. Only by the working of the Holy Spirit on us and by the Christian/ the new self in us working with Him, do we begin to live a life more and more free of sin, a life more and more in accord with the will of God. Of course, we will never be completely without sin and we may at times even fall into grievous sin, but by God’s grace and the working of the Holy Spirit may our lives become more and more holy.
That’s why St. Paul says in our text: What I am saying is this: Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out what the sinful flesh desires. Dear Christian, the very fact that we are Christians means that we have the Holy Spirit in us; He creates that saving faith in Jesus in our hearts. Since He is in us, He is not idle; He’s not doing nothing. Instead, He is mightily at work in us leading us and prompting us and empowering us to live a life of good works/ a life of holiness. To live the life of a Christian means that we follow the Holy Spirit and not put any obstacles in His way. It means that our entire conduct is controlled by the Holy Spirit.
As we keep walking by the Holy Spirit, following His prompting and in His power, we will not carry out what the sinful flesh desires. For the sinful flesh desires what is contrary to the spirit, and the spirit what is contrary to the sinful flesh. In fact, these two continually oppose one another, so that you do not continue to do these things you want to do. Do you notice something here? —inasmuch as we are Christians and have the Holy Spirit in us and desire to follow His will and leadings, we still have our sinful flesh and its desires. As much as we want to obey and do the Lord’s will, we do not and cannot because of our old sinful nature that is with us until our dying breath. That’s the way we are like the lepers that Jesus healed. When they left Jesus they still had their leprosy; but along the way—perhaps even gradually—they were healed of it. For us Christians, our struggle against sin is not just a short time like the distance the lepers walked, but it is a life-long battle. It began at the moment of baptism when we were first brought to faith and continues until we die. As Christians, led by the Holy Spirit, with the Christian/ the new self in us, we are willing and want to obey God; but our willingness is not perfect it is burdened by great weakness, our old sinful self that works together with the devil and the sinful world around us to overcome the Holy Spirit in us and make us fall back into the slavery to sin and death. For the sinful flesh desires what is contrary to the spirit, and the spirit what is contrary to the sinful flesh. In fact, these two continually oppose one another, so that you do not continue to do these things you want to do. That’s why St. Paul writes elsewhere, lamenting and saying with all Christians [Rm 7.18-19]: For I know that in me that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. You see, dear Christian, we have both the Holy Spirit and the new self/ the Christian in us and we also still have our old sinful self in us. Those two are always in battle. And never, then, will we be perfectly sinless/ holy.
This means that we must always be on guard, ready for battle at all times because these two continually oppose one another. Our old sinful nature tries to keep us from doing anything good that we, in the Spirit’s power want to do. But the Christian in us, working with the Holy Spirit keeps us from doing the bad/ sinful things like our old sinful nature wants us to do. Be aware of that battle raging within you between good and evil. It does us well to recognize that our old sinful nature is evil and is not giving up. This leads us to call on and rely upon Christ/ to call on and rely upon the Holy Spirit for strength and help in the battle.
And it does us well to remember our text: For the sinful flesh desires what is contrary to the spirit, and the spirit what is contrary to the sinful flesh. In fact, these two continually oppose one another, so that you do not continue to do these things you want to do. We need to remember our text lest we become discouraged in the midst of the battle—that’s what the devil and his allies want us to do. We must never become discouraged if we don’t see as much holiness in our lives, if we see that we keep falling into the same sins over and over again. Let us simply recognize the fact that we still have that sinful flesh [that] desires what is contrary to the spirit. And run all the more to Jesus and His forgiveness; run to the holy absolution and the Holy Supper to receive forgiveness of sin and strength for the battle, to fight that battle all the more vigorously.
But just because we still have that sinful flesh [that] desires what is contrary to the spirit so that we do not live a life without sin, does not mean that we just lie down and accept it. Instead, if we recognize our enemy—namely, our old sinful nature, we, then, can fight against it all the better. In fact, as St. Paul writes at the end of our text: Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful flesh with its passions and desires. We don’t come to “some sort of agreement” or appeasement with our sinful nature; we don’t try to reform it. Instead, we put it to death in the most nasty way possible—crucifixion. To crucify our sinful flesh with its passions and desires means battle; it means suffering; it means self-denial. Saying “no” to our old sinful nature is hard; without the Holy Spirit and His work it is bound to fail. But remember, dear Christian, we have the Holy Spirit in us. He is leading us and strengthening us into a life of good works. Let us rely on Him!
Crucifying our sinful flesh with its passions and desires also means daily confessing that sin and receiving forgiveness for it. It means going back to our baptism and with the hand of faith reclaiming the blessings of forgiveness of sin, eternal life, adoption as God’s dear children. Strengthened and renewed—and thankful for all these blessings—we are all the more ready to follow the Holy Spirit into battle to defeat our sinful flesh with its passions and desires. This is walking by the Spirit.
But walking by the Spirit not only means a continual battle, it also results in the blessed fruit of righteousness. As we walk by the Spirit, we really have already won the battle. Walking by the Spirit does not mean we are forced/ that He forces us; instead, it is like a gentle grasp of a father holding his son’s hand as they walk safely across the street. With the Holy Spirit in us working faith and producing Christian virtues, we act as if there is no command; we do the Lord’s will willingly. But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the control of the law. As Christians we live under grace and serve God with a willing spirit. Inasmuch as we are Christians, with the Holy Spirit in us and the new Christian self, we fully agree with the law of God and are in accord with His will. That’s why St. Paul writes here: But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. The Christian, led by the Holy Spirit, is not under the law’s condemnation; we are free from its coercion. We do it gladly!
That’s the blessed fruit of us walking by the Spirit. This desire to do the will of God is all the work of the Holy Spirit in us and on us. It is the natural result of our coming to faith. God called us to faith, not so that we could continue on in a life of sin, but so that being righteous—being declared righteous by God—we may begin to do the good. Being forgiven our sin is not then a reason for us not to care about sin and our holiness. Instead, our forgiveness is precisely our call to live a life of holiness. And it is not burdensome! We have the Holy Spirit! We have our new self working together with Him and that new will. And this is really our freedom—our freedom from slavery to sin.
But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Notice that the work of the Holy Spirit, St. Paul calls fruit. What a beautiful image and a tremendous comfort to us! For the thing is fruit comes slowly. First there is the bud, then the flower, and then finally the fruit. Here is a picture of growth. We grow in the faith and in the fruit of that faith. It takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. But throughout all of it the Holy Spirit is working in us and on us. Do not become discouraged if you still see sin in your life and not much fruit. It takes time. Do not judge your fellow Christian if you think they are not as far along and developed as you. Fruit comes slowly and in its time—but it does come! Keep close to our Lord’s holy word and sacrament. Through these He is mightily at work strengthening us in the faith and giving us His gifts and blessings.
What a marvelous peace we then have. We have the marvelous certainty of the forgiveness of our sin and eternal life and that even now things are right between us and God. In the midst of our struggle against sin, we are certain that since there is a struggle we are walking by the Holy Spirit and this results in the blessed fruit of righteousness now and perfectly in the eternity of heaven. INJ