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Walk by the Spirit: Part 7

Christians have dual citizenship. We are children of God and part of his kingdom, yet we still call this world home.

John A. Braun

We got off the plane and headed to the baggage carousel to pick up our luggage. The sun was shining through the windows after the long transatlantic flight, and we were ready to travel. But we were not free to travel yet. Our passports had to be checked before we could enter the country. The process is familiar to anyone who has traveled across an international border.

As I stood in line waiting to be admitted to another country, I remembered Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). He explained, “Flesh gives birth to flesh.” My parents gave me flesh and blood. Flesh gives birth to flesh. I couldn’t change my birth. I didn’t do anything to gain citizenship in the United States. I didn’t pass a test. I didn’t pick my parents, my ethnic origin, my language, or the culture or history that surrounded me. I had a passport, I thought, as I stood in line and waited.

I thought a little more about what Jesus told Nicodemus. I am a born a human. That’s a good thing, I am happy to be alive and enjoy life, but there’s a downside as well. Just because I was born doesn’t mean I can enter the kingdom of God. None of us can. On our own we’d stand in line outside the kingdom of God forever. God requires more than one birth certificate. Born again, Jesus said. There’s a checkpoint we must pass before we can enter into the kingdom of God.

Why? Birth here only allows us life and breath. The downside means that human birth pits every human against God. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, “The flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit.” He also described us as “dead in [our] transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Something must change. Jesus says it clearly. We must be “born of water and the Spirit”

By the gospel in Word and sacrament, we are forgiven and changed. God makes us his children and citizens of his kingdom. I didn’t do anything for that status any more than I did for my natural birth. Born again, baptized, and now a citizen of God’s kingdom, I have a second passport. This one is emblazoned with the cross of Christ and “kingdom of God” stamped on its cover. Jesus has secured our status as his children. Paul wrote about that too: “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ” (Galatians 3:26,27).

More than a change in status

Jesus was crucified once and for all. When the Holy Spirit brought us to faith, we were changed. All that kept us out of the kingdom was nailed to the cross. We are children of God and citizens of God’s kingdom because Christ’s blood cleanses us of all sins and gives us eternal life.

We become drop-jawed sinners, awed by God’s love in rescuing us from our addiction to the sins of the flesh and the death that comes because of them. We hold the passport to his kingdom now and to the one to come. But it’s not just a status change. It’s the privilege of turning away from the passions and desires that come from our natural birth. We are no longer trapped by them or slaves to them. Within those who are citizens of God’s kingdom lives a desire to please the One who has rescued them and destined them for eternal life.

Like others before us, we leave sin behind and move forward to eternity with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—the fruits of the Spirit—showing the change in our lives. Now we live as foreigners, aliens, and exiles in the world in which we were born (1 Peter 2:11). We know we don’t belong here, so we turn away from sinful desires and act as citizens of heaven. Sins forgiven, we will walk through the gate clothed in the righteousness of our Savior.

Changed but still not perfect

That’s not a new thought to anyone who is a Christian, but here too there is a problem. If we use the analogy of the passports, we have two passports as long as we live here in this world. One of them belongs to the sinful world and the other to the kingdom of God. As long as we live here, we have a dual citizenship. We see and understand both. We know that the passport to the sinful world leads away from life and eventually will be stamped by Satan. He will greet those he welcomes to hell with a satisfied grin. We also know that the passport to the kingdom of God entitles us to forgiveness and life. Jesus will welcome us with open arms into his heavenly and eternal mansions.

While we are here, we have not surrendered the passport of the flesh. When we look back on the acts if the flesh, we discover a longing desire to return to their attractions. We are not alone in that pull backward. Lot’s wife had it, and so did the apostle Paul. He wrote, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). Like Paul, we sometimes stuff the passport of the kingdom of God out of sight and show our passport of the flesh instead.

You may have hidden your kingdom passport, but by God’s grace you can pull it out again and return to being a child of God. It’s called repentance, and it happens in all our lives. The longing to return to the pleasure of sin is in constant conflict with the desire to live in gratitude for all Jesus has given us.

The apostle says it so clearly in Galatians 5:24,25. We belong to Christ. By faith we are connected to him who was crucified for all our sinful passions and desires. That happened once just outside of Jerusalem, and it was for all people. All those sins were buried with him. Our record is wiped clean. We are heaven bound, but we are not there yet. In this life, conflict remains because of our dual citizenship.

That’s why Paul and the entire Bible continue to encourage us to avoid sin and live as children of God. “Let us keep in step with the Spirit,” Paul urges. The temptations along the way beckon us, so we need the reminders to stay on course. We dare not surrender our kingdom passport and be denied at the gate.

 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the concluding article in a series on acts of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. 


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Walk by the Spirit: Part 6

God warns us about being drunk and encourages us to practice self-control. 

John A. Braun 

Some say the Bible is ancient, out of touch, and old-fashioned, but they have not read Paul’s two lists in GalatiansRead the section again (Galatians 5:19-23), and you will see just how contemporary it is. Paul includes drunkenness as one of the acts of the flesh. Drunk drivers, shootings outside bars at 2:00 in the morning, or even loud arguments after a few beers testify that the Bible is not as old-fashioned as some want to believe. 

At the same time Paul’s list of fruits of the Spirit are just as contemporary. The virtues listed are as important today as they were in Paul’s day: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness. As a concluding fruit of the Spirit, Paul lists self-control. What could be more contemporary in a world given to excesses?  

Acts of the flesh: Drunkenness and orgies 

Scotch, bourbon, gin, wine, beer. Do you have a favorite? Almost a century ago it was all illegal. In 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution made it illegal to produce, import, transport, or sell alcoholic beverages. Prohibition attempted to eliminate the problems that comes in the wake of alcohol abuse. But instead bootleggers, organized crime, and speakeasies created more trouble for society and police. The amendment was repealed in 1933.  

Perhaps the Christian temperance movement of the 1920s took Paul’s inclusion of drunkenness in his list of acts of the flesh as justification for its efforts to remove alcohol from our society. No one would disagree that drunkenness belongs on the list, at least no one who pays any attention to the news today. For example, drunk drivers are a plague on our roads. They cause almost half of the accidents. DUI (Driving Under the Influence) or OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) appear in many tragic stories of drivers killing children, mothers, friends, and police officers because they could not control themselves or their vehicles. Speeding, running red lights, failure to yieldand reckless and inattentive driving all mask the problem of drunk drivers. 

And there’s more. College age students pass out from drinking too much. Some wander away from the bar and stumble into the cold to die of exposure or ramble off and drown in nearby rivers and lakesAlcohol abuse defies age, race, and all social classifications. Persistent alcohol abuse traps many in an addiction that is difficult to escape and destroys lives, families, and futures.  

Paul combines drunkenness with another companion act of the flesh: orgies or carousing, as some translate the Greek word. The two go together, and in our world today carousing might be called simply, “drunken parties.” Too much alcohol often leads to the loss of inhibitions. The contemporary version of this dangerous combination comes disguised as just having fun. All too often “having fun” gets out of control and leads to abuse, addiction, brutality, or sexual exploitation, and leaves behind black-eyes, bruised bodies, and arrests for disorderly conduct or worse.  

Excess is the problem, not parties or responsible drinking. The sign at the edge of our Christian path beckons us to have fun and enjoy a few laughs. There is nothing wrong with that. But all too many follow the path; lose control; and bring trouble, pain, and disgrace to themselves and the Christian way. Sadly, some are also lost to those vices because they often breed other vicesThat’s why Paul warned against these acts of the flesh.  

Paul is not alone. Solomon also warned “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler: whoever is lead astray by them is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1). 

Fruit of the Spirit: Self-control 

God’s Word suggests an alternative: selfcontrolLoss of control is the engine that pulls freight marked hatred, rage, jealousy, envy, and drunkenness. It sets aside the freight of the fruits of the Spirit: patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness. Self-control through the power of Christ pulls those virtues, and it seems like an easy prescription for our Christian path at every crossroad. It could be a billboard with the words of Solomon, “Like a city whose walls are broken throughis a person who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28). 

Like others in this worldself-control eludes Christians at times. Satan prowls looking for opportunities to bring misery into our lives (1 Peter 5:8), and at times we are willing accomplices. The failure to control ourselves in various situations is listed on the resume of more Christians than we want to admit. Perhaps it’s even on the record of our own personal behavior. 

What of those who see our lapses? At times our failure to live as disciples of Jesus may keep others away from our Savior. How often have we heard that we are hypocrites who carouse and drink to excess on Saturday night and then show up in church with a hangover on Sunday. Those who see such behavior wonder because we have polluted the Christian confession of our lips with the confession of our actions. We place a barrier for non-Christians to overcome before they are ready to listen to the gospel and our witness. 

And there’s more. What we do affects those close to us: our families, our coworkers, and our fellow believers. And always, with every sin, we do not follow the will of our Savior. With each step we take along the path of sins of the flesh, we abandon the Christian way and chart a path away from Jesus. Yet as part of his family—his children by faith—we turn to him with shame and regret to beg for forgiveness: “Lord have mercy.”  

The Christian way is a way of repentance. We are children of God through Jesus, and yet we still are troubled by our sinful nature along our journey to heaven. So we find it necessary to repent often. We turn away from our failures and beg for forgiveness. In his love for us, Jesus forgives. With that forgiveness he gives us the will and ability to do his good pleasure (cf. Philippians 2:13).  

The Christian way is a way of repentance, but it is also a way of choices. Once we are free in Christ, we have a new spirit that wants to choose the fruits of the Spirit. Then three factors become important. First, we clarify what Jesus wants from us; his commands are always intended for our own good. Second, we think what our choices will mean for us personally, considering the consequences we may face because of our disobedience. Third, we think what our behavior also will mean to others—our spouses, our children, our fellow believers in Christ, and those who do not yet know Jesus. Then, by God’s gracious power, we choose the fruits of the Spirit and stay on the narrow way that leads us home. 

We are different in this world. We walk in the Spirit and turn away from the vices of the sinful nature. Jesus himself encourages us, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the final article in a six-part series on acts of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. 


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Walk by the Spirit: Part 5

Dissentions and factions create roadblocks along the Christian Way. 

John A. Braun 

Paul’s acts of the flesh include some hazards we must avoid on our journey. He lists them as dissensions, factions, and envy. But he does not leave us paralyzed, unable to move toward our heavenly goal. He also cites two important fruits of the Spirit to help us make progress: faithfulness and gentleness. 

Acts of the flesh: Dissensions, factions, and envy 

Paul’s world was different from our own. It’s hard to imagine that Paul faced protests for civil rights, abortion, or other political causesRoman law and power settled almost all such issues. Most found little tolerance for social or political protestsYet Paul was in the midst of a vehement protest with Demetrius and the silversmiths. That disagreement turned into a riot in Ephesus (Acts chapter 19). That was an example of dissention, faction, and envy caused by the message of the gospel.  

It was ugly and dangerous. “Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there [in the theater] (Acts 19:32). Finally the city clerk quieted the crowd and told the people to take their grievances to the courts, warning them of the danger of causing a riot. The crowd melted away.  

In our own age, protests and divisions are part of our everyday newscasts. Differences escalate into heated confrontations. Like the riot in Ephesus, some shout one thing and some another. Perhaps such displays of factions and dissension are part of our system of government. We vote and contend for our positions in a way people in Paul’s world did not. Roman soldiers did not stand by in riot gear awaiting flying stones.  

That factor doesn’t matter much today. What does matter is that dissensions, factions, and envy have not disappeared. The sinful nature within asserts itself from time to time and creates conflict. Paul’s list is not just a list of ancient characteristics we no longer have. His acts of the flesh persist in our age because the sinful nature persists. Envy persists. Factions persist. 

Paul adds envy to the list, I think, to help us understand. Envy distorts every thought to help others. It is subtle at times; at other times, it is blatantly obvious. Sometimes we allow envy to blockade our ability to listen and love. As a result, we become harsh and hostile, ready for a fight or argument. It’s so much a part of our world, we are carried along without thinking. We fall for the temptation to be disagreeable, assert our own rights or thinking, and oppose others.  

It is bad enough that the conflicts arise in our country and society, our marriages and families, our neighborhoods and our government at all levels. Sadly, they also arise within the churchamong God people. Paul was no stranger to them. To the Galatians he warned, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (5:15).  

Yes, these negative attitudes reside in Christians as well. Paul saw divisions rise up in the churches he founded. He warned against “false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ,” reminding the Corinthians that even Satan masqueraded as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:12-14). He also told the Romans to avoid those who taught false doctrines (Romans 16:17).  

Paul’s view of the future of the Christian church emerges from his words to Timothy, “The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3,4).  

Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness and gentleness 

Throughout history, the church has often had to contend with those who have not put up with sound doctrine and claimed to be right. Sadly, they claimed to be righter than right. That sentence doesn’t make any sense grammatically or theologically, but it raises the question of who is right and who isn’t. There can’t be two rights or a righter than right. How do we navigate differences and factionsPaul suggests two fruits of the Spirit: faithfulness and gentleness. 

Faithfulness first. The antidote to all the false teachers and heretical factions wasand still isfaithfulness to the Word of God. The Holy Spirit has created a desire within us to treasure the Scriptures that tell us of Jesus and of all of God’s promises. So we remain faithful to the Scriptures. They are our authority for truth, our Supreme Court, to decide what is right and what is not. Faithfulness to that truth will move us to compare anyone’s teaching with the Scriptures and evaluate it on the basis of that standard. John suggests, Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).  

Then, with firmness in the truth, Paul advises gentleness. Peter advises the same attitude when he said that we are to share the hope we treasure with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). No one wants divisions, and we must deal with love and kindness with those who think differently. When they will not listen to the truth, then we have no alternative but to avoid those ideas and the groups that proclaim them. 

But not all disagreements are about doctrine. Sometimes Christians have arguments and quarrels about whether or not to have carpeting in the church and what color it should be. Some question which preacher is better—even Paul mentioned this disagreement (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)others anguish over how the budget was set and whether we should spend money on the school or on the front steps of the church. Every church has these differences or others like them.  

Faithfulness and gentleness are valuable in all these discussions. We remain faithful to God’s Word and also faithful to Jesus command to love one another. Then we can be gentle in our disagreementsnot belligerent or harsh. 

Dissensions and factions dog every step of our journey, and our sinful flesh is often tempted to feed them. They become group activities. One person solicits support from others who are like-minded. Then another person gathers others who disagree. The result can be belligerent, bitter, and divisive.  

We should not let differences get out of hand. Even everyday disagreements may become roadblocks to the Christian concept of loving one another and may block the work of the congregation and the larger church. They will turn the character of a congregation sour. Perhaps they also will turn some away from the path we follow together. Let us walk by the Spirit and not gratify the desires of the flesh. . . . Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Galatians 5:16,25,26). Remain faithful to the Scripture and gentle in our dealings with each other. 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the fifth article in a six-part series on acts of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit. 


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Walk by the Spirit: Part 4

Solomon wrote, “A gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). Yet sadly those on the Christian Way easily turn down the road to jealousy and anger. 

John A. Braun 

Road rage is a relatively new term. One expert said that it was coined in 1988. Today the local news frequently carries a story about two drivers enraged and creating danger not only for themselves but also for other drivers.  

The apostle Paul never drove a car or truck down a freeway, but he listed “fits of rage” in his list of acts of the flesh. Two additional attitudes—jealousy and selfish ambition—help us see what lies within us allPaul also knew the fruits of the Spirit—kindness and goodnessthat were different and part of the Christian way of life.  

Acts of the flesh: Jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition 

All three of these acts of the flesh—jealousy, fits of rage, and selfish ambition—flow from the natural sinful tendency within us. Sometimes they lie hidden behind a face of respectability. At other times they erupt into acts that are destructive and sometimes violent.  

For example, a driver cuts another driver off, almost oactually creating an accident. Most of us have been in that situation. We feel the sudden surge of anger. We may control the impulse and drive on, still seething. But the urge doesn’t disappear all at once. At times it explodes like a volcano, sending sparks and hot angry retaliation. We don’t even think. We just react as our blood pressure spikes and our sinful natures take over.  

We easily see the trouble with road rage. It’s explosive and dangerous. Yet fits of rage also show up in marriages. Ask any police officer about domestic abuse calls. Bruises, broken bones, even gunshot wounds are familiar to police who must calm a fit of domestic rage. Shelters for abused women and children exist because of such fits of rage. Some of those angry outbursts hide behind closed doors and never rise to the level that requires a police report. 

There are victims. Children are abused, starved, beatennot just by fathers and boyfriends, but also by mothers. Sadly, children sometimes are in the middle of a family dispute and are hurt in the crossfire of words, fists, and whatever else is handy to throw. These acts of the flesh are obvious as Paul says (Galatians 5:19), and they are destructive at so many levels. Even if we have escaped the worst of the consequences, wall have felt the anger and rage within. Sometimes we have painfully learned how destructive rage can be. 

Jealousy and selfish ambition may hide from public view, but they also lurk in the sinful human heart. They quietly take over, sometimes with just a slight bump of discontent. Shakespeare described jealousy as a green-eyed monster in the Merchant of Venice. His story tells how jealousy can destroy love, distort words, imagine the worst, and bring destruction. Jealousy sours marriages, families, and friendships. It removes contentment not only from the vocabulary but also from the heart. All the while it hides behind that face of respectability while consuming us from within.  

Is selfish ambition any different? Maybe a little, but it’s related to jealousy. Perhaps it does not hide as cleverly as jealousy. We should remember that there is nothing wrong with ambition and a desire to achieve. But selfish ambition drives people to action in order to seek an advantage over someone else at all costs. A person’s desire to move ahead can leave wounded and bruised people who have been sacrificed for advancement. The wounded know they have been run over or used, but they are in the rear view mirror of selfish ambition and no longer count. The greatest casualty of selfish ambition is love and concern for others. The same casualty comes in the wake of rage and jealousy. Personal agendas and desires trump love for others. 

Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness and goodness 

The counterweights to rage, jealousy, and selfish ambition are kindness and goodness. These are created within us by the Holy Spirit. We remain sinners, forgiven, but still retaining our sinful flesh. So the works of the flesh show up in our lives, and at the same time so do the fruits of the Spirit. We are both saints and sinners.  

Others, even those that do not know Jesus, are often gentle and good. We should rejoice and give thanks for those qualities no matter where we find them. They contribute to the welfare of our neighborhoods and society. At times they put Christians to shame. Yet our kindness and goodness on the way to heaven has a distinctively Christian characteristic. 

What lies behind Christian goodness and kindness? Two things. First, our faith in Jesus has changed us. We know the love Jesus has for us unworthy, angry, jealous, and selfish sinners. We are deeply loved and forgiven. That warms our hearts and changes our attitudes. We see things differently. Second, our attitude has changed so we want to do as Jesus directed. When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart. . . . The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself  (Mark 12:30,31). We are familiar with his two commandments and also know his example. We understand his compassion for us and for those who suffer in this world. We know that he did not show rage, jealousy, or selfish ambition while he lived here. We are his disciples here and now and want to be like him. We want our lives to show our compassion, our generosity, and our willingness to do what is right and good for others. 

So the Christian Way is a path of kindness and goodness. It is also a way of repentance. We all find it difficult at times to wrestle with and control the acts of the flesh when we feel the strong urge to be angry, jealous, or selfish. Again and again we must repent of our failings, turn toward the mercy of our loving Savior, and resolve to be better disciples.  

The works of the flesh erupt so quickly in our marriages, families, and daily lives. It’s no wonder that we learned “the old Adam in us should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance, and that all its evil deeds and desire be put to death. It also means that a new person should daily arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Baptism, The Mean of Baptism for Our Daily LifeFourth). Note the word “daily.” 

We are to be lights in this world and let our good deeds—including our kindness and goodnessbe seen so others can give glory not to us but to our heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16). When our light is dimmed by our rage, jealousy, or enmity toward others, Jesus beckons to us embrace the forgiveness we need, to turn away from those acts of the flesh, and to repent, so that we can reignite the light of kindness and goodness on the way to heaven. 

 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the fourth article in a six-part series on acts of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit. 


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

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Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Walk by the Spirit : Part 3

Quarrels and hatred come so naturally from our sinful nature. Yet our patience comes from Jesus. 

John A. Braun 

On our Christian journey to heaven, signs often point us to paths that lead away from our destination. Paul identifies one of those signs as hatred and discord. We don’t even need this sign to beckon us to these acts of the flesh. They arise quickly within our sinful hearts and burst from our mouths with bitter venom. Without much coaxing, so often we cause heartache and cripple positive action even among our fellow believers in Christ. 

Acts of the flesh: Hatred and discord 

Arguments arise at all levels and in all kinds of ways. Sometimes those arguments are over silly and unimportant issues. The neighbor’s dog leaves a deposit on your lawn, and you step in it when you’re mowing. You get angry, and the words that tumble out of your mouth make your neighbor angry. It doesn’t take long for you to be on the road to discord and quarreling. Husband and wife easily turn down the road, and so do parents and children. 

It happens in neighborhoods. It happens in families. We are frustrated or hurt by what someone says or does. A little further down the road something else happens to fuel the tension. Soon we have turned down the road where hatred awaits. Hostility and enmity characterize conversation and action. A couple more steps and we are off the Christian way and building a hate wall. 

Sometimes the turn from the Christian way seems so natural. Our prejudices and thinking contribute to building the wall. We know we are not “one of them.” It seems natural to call different ethnic groups by offensive names, and they in turn label our ethnic origins in demeaning ways. The road of discord and hatred includes waysides were like-minded people stop and feed on the racial hatred of each other. 

And racial hatred has a twin—ideological hatred. Both are born from a human heart that has turned away from the Christian way. We hate Democrats. We hate Republicans. We hate this politician and his or her supporters of the policy or personality we detest. Yes, we can disagree about differences on any subject, but the human heart is a perverse thing. Actions of the flesh all too often play out in destructive rhetoric that destroys peace and hardens the discordeven turning it into hate. If there is any doubt, surf social media and read the vicious attacks on all sides of almost any issue. 

Name calling and disruptive actions that flow from hatred of others are not part of the Christian way, and they destroy neighborhoods, families, friendshipsand society in general. Jesus suggests, “Anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. . . . Anyone who says ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:22).  

We should not be surprised that hatred, enmity, discord, and antagonism are so easy to find in our own hearts. We know the Christian way, but we also still have our sinful flesh. We know better, but we quarrel, and words hurt. Paul knew his own sinful heart and ours: “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:18). It’s a short trip from disagreement to enmity, hatred, and malice. It happens in the congregations of Christians too. Arguments create a stew that can bubble and boil over to set members against members. Paul reminded the Galatians “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other (Galatians 5:15).  

In this discussion, we should remember that God allows us to hate only one thing—whatever opposes his grace and mercy in Christ. We hate such evil with God’s blessing, but we do not have his approval to inflict harm on others who do not share our beliefs. We are reminded not to turn the other cheek and speak the truth in love. Peter advises, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing.” He continues by reminding us that we are to share our faith with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:9,15).  

Fruit of the Spirit: Patience 

One sign calls us back to the Christian way. In large letters it says, “Patience.” Yet in the heat of arguments and disagreements, the sign is difficult to see. Our first reaction to verbal attacks is to raise our voice and retaliate. We forget that we are children of God who know his love. Because we are redeemed and forgiven by a Savior who has shed his blood for us, we can stop, remember our Savior, repent, and be patient with others. It is not easy, but the love of God for us unworthy, wayward, and rebellious sinners can soften our attitude toward others.  

We are told to stop, drop, and roll when our clothes are on fire. Good advice! It’s good advice also when we are on fire with hatred and discord. Stop! Drop to your knees and roll yourself in the forgiveness and love of Jesus. Then stand up as a child of God and be patient.  

The word Paul used for this fruit of the Spirit could also be translated as “forbearance” or “long-suffering.” Those two words are helpful. In the malice and anger that are directed at us, we can find the strength in Jesus to hold back, forbear, and be patient in spite of provocation. Longsuffering is similar. Endure whatever personal attack you experience—suffer the insult quietly, and do not be quick to retaliate.  

How can we do this? Remember Jesus who has endured our sins and paid the penalty for our anger, harsh words, and malice. In spite of our sins, he went to the cross to claim us as his children. Think of what that means. His perfect example of patience in the face of discord has achieved the good our sinful flesh lacks. He did what we could not do. His righteousness covers our unrighteousness.  

And yet there is more. He wants us to be like him here in this life and has given us a perfect example to follow. Think of Jesus responding to the Pharisees who claimed that he had supernatural power from the devil (Luke 11:14-28). Think of Jesus before the high priest and before the crowds that called for his death. Think of Jesus standing before Pilate. He quietly endured and is a perfect example of longsuffering, forbearance, and patience. Like him we are to be peacemakers and not agents of hatred in this world of discord, quarrels, and enmity 

When we walk along his way, he knows that our steps will not be steady and resolute. We stumble and fall. It’s an ongoing struggle to avoid the quarrels that come so naturally from our sinful nature. Yet he calls us back, encouraging us to repent and turn once again to the way that leads to the eternal home he has prepared for us. He seeks to renew our hearts and attitudes with his forgiveness and his example. 

 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the third article in a six-part series on acts of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit. 


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Walk by the Spirit : Part 2

In spite of the First Commandment, idolatry still persists in our world. 

John A. Braun 

Idolatry? Today? Yes! And in familiar and unfamiliar forms. Paul walked the streets of Athens and noted the statues of idols almost everywhere. When he spoke to the Athenians, he said, “I see that in every way you are very religious” (Acts 17:22). He had passed altars dedicated to Zeus, Athena, and a host of others, including “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. The ancient world was full of gods and knew little of the God of grace, peace, and joy. 

Acts of the flesh: Idolatry and witchcraft 

Has anything really changed? Gods abound in many cultures. For many, demons and witches populate their everyday life so that they need to call a shaman, witch doctor, or some other priest to exorcise the demons from their homes and lives. Even without these obvious illustrations of idolatry, imitations of the true God abound. Many like to think that all gods or all theologies lead to the same place and have the same goals, but just a little research shows that to be only wishful thinking to justify rejecting the true God. 

Paul lists idolatry and witchcraft as acts of the flesh. Humans create gods because of the natural knowledge of God embedded within their hearts. The gods they create are talismans to soothe human worries and fears or to bring good fortune. They believe their imaginary gods will guide them through the unknown and help them journey through death. Such gods all require obedience or rituals to earn something. Perhaps it is easy for us to see them as acts of the flesh flowing from superstition and fear.  

We may easily think we have kept the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” These gods or idols don’t interrupt our Christian way too often. We may encounter them in Wiccans, those who worship Satan, and others, but they are mostly far away from our Christian way of life.  

Yet see how Luther defines god: “Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god” (Large Catechism I:3). With that definition the acts of the flesh come into focus, and we realize that the temptations to adopt a different god cross our path frequently. 

Jesus warned us about one of them, “No one can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Too many people in our world today set their heart on money and put their trust in wealth. Jesus warned how difficult it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:24). If our focus is on what we possess and we have no time for the God who sent Jesus to save uswe have created an idol and yielded to the temptations of the flesh.  

But it’s not just money. It is anything that we choose that eventually becomes more important than our loving God—pleasure, free time, friends, sleep, career, sports, even family. God gives us all these things to use and enjoy—money included—as long as they do not replace God and remove him from our lives 

Our sinful flesh has an arrogant pride that resists the true God. Our natural tendency is a desire to control our lives without interference or direction even from God himself. That sinful flesh wants to elevate our thoughts and ideas above God’s. How often that tendency crosses our paths. When God tells us one thing in his Word, our sinful flesh can find all kinds of explanations or opinions more appealinthan what God wants. Sometimes those thoughts even make more sense to our way of thinking. But that’s our way of thinking, not God’s. When we abandon what God reveals in the Scriptures, we make gods of ourselves. When we respect the opinions of others instead of God’s Word, we elevate their ideas above God 

Why the warning? Jesus reminds us that everything in this world is temporary. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). Building lives on the disappearing promises of this world—even when they are attractive and alluring—is like building our house on sand (Matthew 7:24-27). If we abandon God and choose the idols we create for ourselves, we do not heed the warning of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). 

Fruit of the spirit: Joy and peace 

When Jesus warned about the treasures we value on earth, he took one more step and said, “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). The treasures Jesus spoke about were those that he himself gave. Paul identifies two of them as fruit of the Spirit—joy and peace. They are gifts to us by the grace of God through Jesus. 

Paul reminded the Roman Christians of the peace we have, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:1,2). When we see our God on Mount Sinai in thunder and lightening, he strikes fear into our hearts. Demanding perfect obedience, we fail and deserve punishment. But the obedience we could not give him, he provides freely for us. Jesus suffered the fierce punishment for the sins of all humanity and then rose again to provide victory over death. We are justified—declared acquitted of our sins—and have peace with God. In Jesus, he is not angry with us.  

That peace with God because of Jesus fills us with joy. We rejoice because we have treasures in heaven waiting for us. Jesus has prepared a place for us and reminds us, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). As Christians we are on the way to heaven and choose not to be distracted from that goal. 

With all this in mind, it is important to remember that any concept of God that excludes Jesus or minimizes what he has done is only the vain imagination of the human mind and an idol. Sadly, many live devoted to such gods and spread their notions aggressively. On our journey through life as Christians, we encounter them often. At times their concepts appeal to our sinful human nature. Many follow that path, as Jesus reminds us (Matthew 7:13).  

But Christians are different and follow a different way. The Spirit has changed us so we understand that without Jesus we lose the peace and joy he provided. Only Jesus has the words of eternal life (John 6:58), so we turn to him to reap the fruit of the Spirit. 

 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him” (Romans 15:13). 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the second article in a six-part series on acts of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit. 


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Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Walk by the Spirit : Part 1

We are surrounded by immorality, but we are different. In the love of Jesus, we find strength to love. 

John A. Braun 

When the Holy Spirit brings us to faith, he sets us on the path to heaven. The early Christians described that path as the Way (Acts 9:2; 24:14). We know Jesus is the Way. Wwalk on that path through life to the destination of heaven, but it is also a way of acting and thinking.  

As we follow the path, we encounter crossroads that can lead us in different directions. We know they lead us away from the Way, and our sinful flesh is often tempted. As saints and sinners at the same time, we often need correction to avoid paths that lead us astray 

In Galatians 5:19-23, the apostle Paul warns us about the crossroads he calls acts of the flesh, and then he encourages us to retain the fruits of the Spirit.  

First on the apostle’s list of acts of the flesh is “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery.”  

Acts of the flesh: Sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery 

These acts of the flesh are not hard to find. Again and again they cross our paths to lure us from our way. We see them as we browse the Internet, as we watch television and the movies, and as we read magazines or books. Their temptation invades much of what we hear and see in our entertainment choices. And because we still have the sinful flesh, we are not immune to their attraction. 

We find ourselves leaning a bit toward immorality. We laugh at situations and jokes that are off-color. Our entertainment choices push the buttons on our desires of the flesh. We monitor what our children watch in order to shield them from the worst influences, but our own choices sometimes reveal a compromise with the acts of the flesh. We find it difficult to resist some of the influences, and sometimes we pause at the crossroad, looking longingly down the road of temptation. 

But it all leads in the wrong direction. Child pornography and sexual misconduct lead to latenight news stories exposing teachers, politicians, reporters, clergy, and even news agencies. Some lose their jobs. But the immorality persists. Even these consequences are not enough. Some of it still attracts us and can lure us into sin.  

But we don’t like to hear that word sinThat word confronts us with its accusation. If as children of God we use it to describe these acts of the flesh, we are sometimes ridiculed as prudes, oldfashioned, and out of touch with the modern worldWe live in that world and mingle with people who have a different attitude toward sexual immorality. We do not wish to be ridiculed for our morality so at times we go along and hide our Christian way of thinking 

The world doesn’t think carefully about how destructive these temptations become. A family is destroyed by sexual unfaithfulness. A child is murdered by a live-in boyfriend who is not the father. Pornography addiction quietly ruins relationships and marriages. Drugs and human trafficking flow from these acts of the flesh to destroy men and especially women. Children are considered objects of desire, not precious gifts of God. Love is distorted, as some look for love only in intimacy. It results in a “total eclipse of the heart,” as the popular song even acknowledges. 

But we must not become Pharisees and point the finger at all this evil as if it remains on the other side of the street. Christian marriages are sometimes heaped on the jagged rocks of acts of the flesh. Lives have been destroyed. Pornography seeps quietly into Christian lives, destroying some and altering others. It distorts the attitudes of Christian love and marriage. Parents don’t teach their children about alternatives to immorality. Pastors, teachers, church leaders, friends and relatives abandon fruits of the Spirit for acts of the flesh and discredit the message of Christ. 

Fruit of the Spirit: Love 

The Holy Spirit through the gospel has created a new attitude within us. We are children of God by faith (Galatians 3:26). But we are not perfect yet. Within us we still carry the old sinful nature and the desire to yield to those temptations of the flesh. We want to live as children of God, but so often we discover a desire to be rebellious and disobedient renegades. We struggle. Paul says the Spirit and the flesh are “in conflict with each other” (Galatians 5:17). Paul mentioned sexual immorality first among the acts of the flesh. He also mentions love first among the fruits of the Spirit 

The path to sexual immorality will frequently beckon us. When it does, the love of Jesus gives us strength and the willingness to take positive steps as children of God. Love is part of our thinking and acting on the Christian way. We love. Of course, love has many applications. One of them is that it is the opposite of the sexual sins. So Paul mentions it here. 

While many have a distorted view of love, Christians understand love from Jesus. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16). How different the Christian concept of love is. Paul expands the definition: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:9,10; cf. 1 Corinthians 13).  

Jesus unselfishly did what we could not do for ourselves. He shed his blood for us, while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). He gave himself for us. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). We are his. We love and have the fruit of the SpiritWe have an unselfish concern for others that changes our relationships and alters the way we think of sex and immorality.  

Paul encourages us to turn away from acts of the flesh. Love, as Jesus taught it, helps partners in marriage remain devoted to each other and find a Godpleasing place for sexual intimacy. Our relationships in families and friendships honor others and seek their good. We do not exploit others to gratify ourselves. We pursue what is good and turn from what is evil.  

Yet we struggle with our sinful nature. We may have seriously underestimated its grip on us, even as Christians. Acts of the flesh may have destroyed our relationships with spouses, children, friends, and others. The boundless love of Jesus calls us to repent, turn away from our failures, walk by the Spirit, and refuse to gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). The loving arms of Jesus are always ready to embrace us with forgiveness and strength. When we stumble, he can plant our feet firmly on the correct path and keep us headed toward our room in his Father’s mansion.  


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the first article in a six-part series on acts of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit. 


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Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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