A tent and a building

 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord,  for we walk by faith, not by sight.  Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (II Corinthians 5:1-10)

              For centuries, thinkers and philosophers have tried to figure out what it is that makes us the people that we are. What is it that makes me me? What is it that makes you you? We have many words to describe that unique individual experience that belongs to each of us. We speak of the spirit, the soul, the mind, the heart, and the self. In India it is called atman; in China it is called chi. Some people think that only human beings have this individual self; others see the life force flowing through animals, through plants, even through rocks and rivers and mountains. Science has tried to find this self, but it cannot be located or measured or described scientifically. We generally assume that we have a soul or a spirit. Most religious descriptions of people include a soul or a spirit. It’s hard to imagine ourselves without a soul or a spirit. But the information we have about our souls and spirits comes, not from scientific investigation and study, but from the Bible, the Word of God. Since God created us, we willingly learn from him how we are made.

              Since we each have a soul or spirit, we want to know: what happens to that soul or spirit when we die? Does it disintegrate, as a dead body falls apart over time? Does it linger in this world for a while, haunting places as a ghost or a phantom? Does it come back again and again, born in a new body each time, experiencing the world repeatedly through history? God’s Word assures us that some part of us survives the death of the body. It does not return again and again—it goes somewhere to wait for the resurrection at the end of time and for the new creation. For believers, that waiting place is called Paradise. We are with Jesus in Paradise, in the hands of God the Father. For unbelievers, that waiting place is called Hades. The Bible describes Hades as an uncomfortable place, but it still involves waiting until the resurrection and the final judgment. On that Day Jesus will divide us into two groups, welcoming his saints into the new creation where we will live with him forever. The other group, the sinners who refused to believe in Jesus, will be locked outside of that new creation, stuck forever in the outer darkness.

              The apostle Paul describes our current bodies as tents. We are camping on a battlefield, dwelling in tents, surrounded by a world polluted by sin and evil. The only existence we know is life in these bodies, but we know that this life is temporary. Even if we survive in this world and make it to one hundred years, that century is merely a drop in the ocean of eternity. We have been promised eternal life in a better world, a world without sin and evil and death. We are looking forward to that new creation. We camp in tents today, but God has prepared buildings for us in the new creation, bodies that will last forever without sicknesses or injuries or allergies. Paul says that today we walk by faith, not by sight. Our hope is not merely to leave these bodies behind and to live as spirits with God in Paradise. Our hope incudes the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. We eagerly await our final destination, the new bodies God will raise from the grave, changing them so they will last forever.

              Today we cope with what we have. We take care of these bodies, these temporary dwellings, these tents. Consider how much time we invest in our teeth, our hair, our faces. We clean these bodies and then we cover them with nice clothes. We prepare food and eat food and then wash up after each meal. We give these bodies rest and exercise. We shelter them in buildings, and we keep those buildings at comfortable temperatures in the summer heat and the winter cold. God gave us these bodies. Good stewardship includes caring for these bodies, making them fit for the good works that God intends us to do in this world. But many people become obsessed with their bodies, their earthly tents. They forget that we have a heavenly dwelling, prepared by God. While we are in this tent, we groan. We are vulnerable to the many things that go wrong in us and around us in a sin-polluted world. We think about our health and comfort today and tomorrow, investing our time and energy in maintaining these current tents. Meanwhile, we neglect our purpose in this world. As Paul says, we should make it our aim to please God today. We will receive what is due us for the way we have served God while camping in these bodies. Stewardship is more than keeping our bodies fed and clothed and clean and healthy. Stewardship is also living actively in these bodies, loving God and loving our neighbors. Stewardship includes using these bodies to do good works, works that help the people around us and bring glory to God, because we are God’s people. We are Christ’s body, doing his work in this world.

              Doing good works is half the struggle. Camping on this battlefield, we also face temptations to sin. The devil and the sinful world around us are constantly showing us where we can do things for our pleasure rather than for God’s glory. The sin still within each of us would like to follow the path of temptation and sin rather than following God’s path. Different people are tempted in different ways. For some of us, the temptations are different at different ages, different stages of life. But temptation is always available. We aim to please God, but our aim can be diverted by the cloud of temptations that surrounds us.

              We have learned how to protect ourselves from viruses in this world. We wash our hands for twenty seconds; we wear masks in some situations. But how do we protect ourselves from spiritual danger? How do we purify ourselves from threats to the soul? We are under attack. We are constantly being threatened with evil. What mask, what sanitizer, will keep us safe from temptation?

              Martin Luther said this about temptation: you can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair. Temptations will surround us as long as we live in this world. Jesus was tempted as we are. How we respond to temptation is what matters. We realize that we should just say no. Many times a day, that is exactly what we say. But it is one thing to say no; it is another to move on past the temptation and not linger in the thought and imagination of what we could be doing. Holding on to our anger can be as sinful as striking out in anger. Remembering and reliving a temptation can be as sinful as giving in to that temptation. But even when we resist temptation, the devil has not finished with us. He can still battle us with the temptation after we have said no. He can make us feel guilty for being tempted. When he tries that attack, we remind ourselves that Jesus was also tempted, that Jesus said no, and that Jesus has given us the strength to say no. We should not feel guilty for being tempted; we should only feel guilty for surrendering to the temptation, for sinning, or for hanging on to that temptation and enjoying the thought of sin.

              When we have resisted temptation, when we have moved on to good works instead of living in the temptation, Satan’s other attack is the sin of pride. He wants us to keep score of our goodness. He wants us to measure how good we are, how many sins we have avoided. When he has us measuring ourselves and taking pride in ourselves, he helps build barriers that separate us from God. Even though, at first, our aim was to please God, soon we are pleasing ourselves by our goodness. We will be in big trouble on Judgment Day when we stand before the throne of God, boasting in our goodness, because our goodness never will be good enough to bring us into God’s perfect new creation.

              We will receive what is due for what we have done in these bodies, these tents, whether we have done good or have done evil. But God’s standard calls for perfection. The smallest sin, the smallest surrender to temptation, can bar us from the new creation. When we think of that Day when we will stand before the throne of God, we must remember how Jesus prepared us for that Day.

              Jesus lived among us as one of us. Jesus resisted temptation in our name. Jesus lived the perfect righteousness that earns a place in the new creation. Jesus then exchanged lives with us. Jesus took upon himself the guilt for our sins. Jesus paid our debt in full on the cross. Jesus has sanitized our lives to make us pure and acceptable in the sight of his Father. What we receive on Judgment Day is shaped by the work of Jesus. God will see no evil in us, because Jesus has removed every sin. God will see only good in us, because Jesus has credited each of us with his righteousness.

              Paying attention to Jesus and not to ourselves, we begin to imitate Jesus. We do good things that help our neighbors and bring glory to God. Again, the devil tempts us to take credit for those good things, to focus attention on our selves, to forget Jesus and the changes he has made in our lives. Our growth comes, not from our efforts to imitate Christ, but from his power working within us. The kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like seeds that grow. The seed is planted, it sprouts, it produces roots and stems and leaves; eventually a crop appears, whether grain or grapes or mustard or apples or figs. A healthy tree produces fruit: the fruit does not give life to the tree, but the tree naturally produces fruit if it is alive. In a similar way, a Christian life is recognized by good works. Good works do not create Christian faith—faith is God’s gift, and life and growth come from that faith. When we focus on Jesus, these good things happen in our lives. When we focus on ourselves and forget Jesus, whatever good we accomplish is tarnished with pride and self-righteousness.

              Jesus Christ defeated sin and all its consequences, including death. Jesus Christ grants new life to his people. Jesus Christ lives in us, working in us the good things that God had in mind when he created us. Jesus Christ also sustains us in this new life. As seeds, when they have sprouted, need sun and rain and soil and tending, so we need the continuing work of Jesus in our lives. We need his Word, which guides us and also gives strength for our faith to grow. We need his Church, as Jesus works in us to build our faith and to make one another strong in the faith. We need his Supper, as Jesus nourishes us by his own body and blood, removing our sins and guaranteeing us eternal life. God’s Holy Spirit, given to us as a guarantee of all his promises, works through the Word and the Church and the Sacrament to give us faith and to help that faith grow and remain strong.

              We are always of good courage. We live today in tents on a battlefield, at home in the body and away from the Lord. One day we will leave these tents behind—we will be with the Lord and away from the body. We will be with Jesus in Paradise. But the best is still to come. God has eternal mansions for us, new bodies that will live forever in a new creation. Our place there is guaranteed, not by what we do for Jesus, but by what Jesus has done for us.

Eye, hand, and heart

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body should be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).

Jesus tells us to get rid of anything that might tempt us into sin. Anything that keeps us from being pure in heart should be removed from our lives. After all, the sacrifice of something valuable—even part of the body, an eye or a hand—is worth the price of heaven. Does your favorite television program tempt you to sin? Do not watch it anymore. Is there a magazine or book that tempts you to sin? Get rid of it. What about a site on the Internet that tempts you to sin? Stop visiting it. Is a friend tempting you to sin? If you cannot persuade your friend to stop tempting you, then end the friendship. It is better to lose the friendship now and still have eternal life than it is to preserve the friendship and risk eternal punishment.

Elsewhere, Jesus challenges his followers to hate their parents, spouses, children, friends, jobs, and even their own selves. We must love Jesus more than any of these. Anything that comes between us and Jesus is a threat to our salvation. Anything that might make us willing to break the commands of Jesus is a danger that should be avoided.

To place ourselves entirely out of danger, we might have to lock ourselves in a church building and never enter the world. But people have tried that in the past, and it didn’t work. Even in the church building we still sin. Moreover, locked in the church building, we neglect many of the commands of God that tell us to love and to serve our neighbors. We will find it better to stay in the world and to learn self-control. Maybe we can teach our eyes and our hands not to sin. If we were to remove both eyes and cut off both hands, though, our hearts and our minds would still be sinful. Jesus recommends radical surgery, but removal of eyes and hands does not go far enough to meet his standards. We need new minds, new hearts, and new spirits.

Jesus promises to bless us by making us new from the inside out. His life and death and resurrection make us brand new. As King David prayed in Psalm 51, and as the prophet Ezekiel promised in Ezekiel 36:26, Jesus gives us new hearts and new spirits. Jesus makes us pure in heart, and being made pure in heart rescues our eyes and our hands as well.

We still live in a sin-polluted world. From time to time, we will be tempted to sin. Our sins are forgiven through Christ and the cross, and Christ is always blessing us with new lives. Every day we are born again by his power. The mistakes of the past are washed away and already forgotten. The future is guaranteed to us by his promises. J.

The pure in heart

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

Being pure in heart is not easy. Every day we are surrounded by temptations to be impure, to think and say and do things which go against God’s plan for our lives. Marriage and family are under attack. Honesty and courtesy are becoming obsolete. Thoughts about God are pushed to the side—they still have their place, people say, but that place is not first on the list, higher than everything else.

When we confess our sins to God, we describe the wrong things we have done. That is a good start, but it is not enough. The wrong things we planned to do and never got around to doing are also sins, even if something prevented us from accomplishing our plans. Being tempted is not sinful—even Jesus was tempted—but enjoying the temptation is a sin. Spending hours considering what it would be like to do those things we know are wrong is a sin. Our thoughts and minds and hearts are not pure when we use them to live in a world of sin, a world which we do not have the courage (or the opportunity) to enter with our bodies.

We are going to see God! That vision is his blessing, his promise to us, in spite of our sins. Even though our thoughts and plans have not been pure, even though those thoughts and plans have resulted in sinful lives, Jesus has lived and died for us to take away our sins and to promise us eternal life in a new creation. We are going to see God! We will spend eternity with him. These same eyes that have seen the tragedy of sin and evil will also see a world without evil of any kind.

Because we will see God, we want to keep our hearts pure today. We want this, not to earn the blessing (because blessings cannot be earned); we want to keep our hearts pure because of the joy of the blessing. Because we will see God, our lives are different today. Jesus in this sermon will suggest that we would willingly cut off a hand or gouge out an eye if that was the price we needed to pay to keep the blessing of one day seeing God.

We do not need to pay that price. The price has already been paid. Jesus gave his life on the cross so we can see God. But we still sin every day. Our hearts are still impure. Our minds still travel paths that are not acceptable to God. Therefore, we pray the prayer of King David, written in Psalm 51: “Create in me a new heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Every day we sin. Every day we need to be purified and remade. By the power of Christ’s blessing, we have new hearts—pure hearts—and right spirits every day we spend in this sin-polluted world. J.

Jesus’ message to the Church in Thyatira (and to Christians today)

“Only hold fast to what you have until I come” (Revelation 2:25—read Revelation 2:18-29).

Like the congregation in Pergamum, the congregation in Thyatira was too tolerant. In this case, they were tolerating a woman whom Jesus calls Jezebel. In the Old Testament, Jezebel was queen of Israel, the northern kingdom. She was married to King Ahab, but she was not an Israelite. She came from Lebanon (Phoenicia) and was devoted to the Canaanite gods, especially Baal. The showdown Elijah prompted between the Lord and Baal involved Jezebel, who vowed to kill Elijah after he humiliated and destroyed the priests of Baal.

The Jezebel in Thyatira, according to Jesus, was seducing his servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. Paul addressed the topic of eating food sacrificed to idols in his letters to the Romans and the Corinthians. On the one hand, food is food, and the fact that it had passed through a pagan temple made no difference to the Christian whose faith in God was secure. On the other hand, some Christians are insecure in their faith. Seeing fellow Christians appearing to conform to pagan beliefs could damage their relationship with Christ. Therefore, Paul resolved—and advised others—to do nothing that would damage the faith of the weak. A Christian was free to eat food offered to idols privately. Out of love for others, the same Christian would not eat such food in the presence of someone whose Christian faith might be damaged by such eating.

The applications for today are numerous. A loving Christian would not drink beer in the presence of a recovering alcoholic, let alone offer that person a beer. Certain kinds of music trouble the consciences of some Christians, as do certain entertainments such as dancing or playing cards. Each Christian makes up his or her own mind about whether to do these things privately or to give them up as a sacrifice to the Lord. To encourage a Christian to change his or her personal rules, to end a voluntary sacrifice, neither honors God nor shows love for that fellow Christian.

At the same time, no Christian should confuse his or her sacrifices to the Lord with the sacrifice of Christ. Only Christ’s sacrifice removes sin and reconciles a sinner to God. The sacrifices we offer the Lord are only thank-offerings. They earn neither God’s forgiveness nor our place in heaven. The Christian who gives up drinking or dancing in the belief that such a sacrifice earns forgiveness of sins should be gently and lovingly corrected.

Sexual immorality is always wrong. God created us male and female so we could be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Also, we are male and female so we can be loving partners, supporting and upholding one another. Every marriage is a picture of God’s love for his people; he is a husband to us all. Every thought, word, or deed that tarnishes marriage is an insult to God as well as a sin.

Christians today are being asked to tolerate many insults to marriage. The spirit of Jezebel is as active today as it was in ancient Thyatira. Jesus knew many good things about the Christians in Thyatira. He mentioned their good works, their love and service and patient endurance, and the fact that their latter works exceeded the first. They had not lost their first love, as the Christians in Ephesus had lost. But tolerating Jezebel and her seduction of the saints was a blot on the record of this congregation. Jezebel was drawing them into what she called “the deep things of Satan.” Jesus does not want us to blend truth with falsehood. He does not want us to try to please both the Lord and Baal, both Christ and the sinful world.

Therefore, Jesus says that he has no additional burden for them. They are to hold fast to what they have until he comes. Jesus will come in judgment to strike down false religion and to punish all those who pervert his teachings. We do our best to warn others against the corrupting influences of the world, but we cannot defeat evil. Only Jesus can overcome and provide the victory. Because Jesus has already won this victory, we rest securely in his arms, finding strength in him to do what is right and knowing with confidence that we belong to his eternal kingdom.

From “Unveiling Revelation,” a work in progress. J.

Advent thoughts: December 1

“I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring [Jesus]. He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15—read Genesis 3:1-21).

On the same day of the first sin came the first preaching of the Gospel. God had created the world and all that exists. He had planted a garden, and in that garden he put the first man and the first woman. They were to care for the garden and all it contained, both plants and animals. They were to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. They were to rest every seventh day. Any of these commandments they could have broken for the first sin. Instead, they ate the fruit of a tree that had been forbidden to them. This act of rebellion against God’s clear commandment caused them to know what evil is. They feared God and tried to hide from him. They looked for someone else to blame for their sin. Being separated from God, they were spiritually dead, and eventually they would physically die.

Yet when God confronted them, they did confess their sin. Adam tried to blame Eve (and also, indirectly, God—“the woman You gave me”), and Eve tried to blame the serpent. They both pointed the finger of blame elsewhere, and the poor serpent had no finger to point. But they confessed: each of them admitted, “I ate.”

Satan had taken the form of a serpent to tempt Eve—and through her, Adam—to join him in his revolt against God. God let Satan know that the shape he had taken foretold his fate. He would crawl on the ground and eat dust—in other words, Satan was going to lose. On the other hand, God already had a plan to rescue and redeem Adam and Eve and their descendants. As Satan used a tree to defeat them, so God would use a tree to defeat Satan—the tree of the cross. Satan did not gain allies in his revolt: he gained enemies. He would cause harm to humanity, and even to God when God became human. God would suffer on the cross, but his suffering was small compared to Satan’s suffering. His suffering led to victory; Satan’s head was crushed in the victory Christ won on the cross.

Christians are called to bear fruit for the Lord. His commandments tell us why he made us. They tell us how to love and honor him, and they tell us how to love and serve one another. Without God’s redemption, though, no one can bear fruit pleasing to the Lord. We are like an orchard of bare, dead trees. We are fruitless. We are worth nothing except as fuel for the fireplace.

On one dead tree, Jesus changed all that. On the dead wood of the cross, Jesus gave life to his people. Now all those who trust in Jesus have their sins forgiven and removed. All those who trust in Jesus are clothed in his righteousness. All those who trust in Jesus bear fruit pleasing to God, and, as a result, we are certain of a place in his kingdom. We will live forever in his new creation.

Adam and Eve tried to clothe themselves with fig leaves because of their shame. God provided them instead with garments of animal skins. The death of those animals pictured the death of Jesus, because by his death and through Baptism he clothes us in his righteousness.

Adam and Eve heard the promise about Jesus, believed it, and were redeemed. We also hear this promise, believe it, and are redeemed. Nothing has changed since the beginning, expect for this: Jesus has come and has kept the promise. Thanks be to God! J.

Driving me crazy

When Jesus was growing up in Nazareth, his family must have owned a donkey. It was a stubborn creature, old, unreliable, and mean-tempered. They did what they could with it, but it tested their patience. They would have preferred a different beast of burden, but it was all they could afford. In fact, keeping it fed and in good health cost them considerably, but their family needed it to get things done.

The Bible and the Church assure us that Jesus understands us because he is one of us. He is fully God, but he is also fully human. He was tempted in every way we are tempted, but he never sinned. When we pray about our problems, he understands, because he has faced the same problems himself.

My car is a twenty-year-old Escort. It’s not a Lincoln or Cadillac or Buick—just a common Ford to carry me home. It still gets decent gas mileage—about thirty miles per gallon, sometimes better on long journeys. I have the oil changed regularly and other maintenance as needed. But like the donkey back in Nazareth, there are days when my old car tests my patience and tempts me to sin.

Tuesday was one of those days. I left work, walked to my car, got in, and turned the key. It coughed once and died. The reason was obvious: a dead battery. I have enough experience with cars to know when a battery can be jumpstarted and when it is simply dead, dead, dead. This battery was beyond hope and needed to be replaced.

I called home for help. Fortunately a member of the family was available to bring me my tools and give me a ride to Walmart. Less fortunately, Walmart was out of stock of the battery my car needed. We made another stop at an auto parts store and bought the right battery for thirty dollars more than Walmart would have charged. I was driven back to my car, put in the new battery, and was ready to drive again.

Thursday was another of those days. As I drove to work, I saw that one of my warning lights was flickering on and off. The meaning of the warning was low oil pressure. I left work early that afternoon and took the car to our regular mechanic. The warning light did not come on during that afternoon drive. I described the problem to the mechanic and suggested that the oil be changed, since the scheduled change was only a few weeks away. He changed the oil and checked the other systems for the usual fee. He assured me that the oil level was not low and suggested that the light could have been triggered by a faulty sensor.

God does not permit problems in the lives of his people for no reason. We are told that suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. Our hope is in Jesus, who lived among us as one of us and faced all the problems we face. He was tempted, but he never sinned. He shares his victory with us. Because he suffered for us, we are victorious even when we suffer. We are more than conquerors, because he has defeated all our enemies and welcomes us to be partners in his celebration.

Jesus never changed a car battery or a tire. He never had a computer crash, losing all his writing and his photographs. He never had to call a plumber or an electrician. He never had to file an insurance claim. Yet his first-century life had its share of frustrations, no doubt. Jesus had to battle traffic in Capernaum and Nain and other cities. He probably had rude and annoying neighbors. And of course there was that donkey.

Jesus understands our problems. Technology has changed the way we live, but it has not changed human nature. Annoyances and frustrations and unpleasant surprises happen to us all. They always have, ever since sin entered the world, and they always will, until Christ appears in glory to make everything new. But God’s grace and mercy and love are also unchanging. Hope does not disappoint us. The Lord is in charge, and we can rely upon him in all things. J.

And lead us not into temptation

Jesus said, “When you pray, say ‘…And lead us not into temptation….’”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”

Salvageable adds: Last month during an interview Pope Francis remarked that he would like to change the wording of the Lord’s Prayer to remove the suggestion that God tempts people to sin. Martin Luther did not need the pope to tell him that “God tempts no one.” We pray that God would protect us from temptation and would guide us on paths that are safe for us and pleasing to him.

God leads us, even when we do not pray for his leadership. By his commands he tells us how to love him properly and how to love our neighbors properly. God tells us what to do and what not to do, not as a dictator who likes to bully others, but as a Creator who knows why he made us and what our purpose is in this world. When you wonder why you were born, turn to the Bible and read the commands of God. They will tell you why God put you here and what he expects you to do.

Like sheep, we go astray. We enjoy temptation. We enjoy walking along the edge of temptation, promising ourselves that we will not fall into sin. Jesus warns us that we are safer removing a hand or foot or eye rather than allowing them to drag us into sin. Of course our hands and feet and eyes only do what we tell them to do; they do not cause us to sin. Sin comes from deep within us, from within our hearts. The devil tempts us to sin, and he is called a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour—but he is a caged lion, restrained by the Word of God, with only the power of his lies available for him to harm us. The sinful world around us tempts us to sin, to sink to its level of evil, but again God’s Word directs us away from sin and keeps us safe from the perils of the world. When we prefer the sinful world to God’s Word, that choice comes from a sinful heart. Rather than removing hands and feet and eyes, we need a new heart. So we join with David, praying, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

God answers that prayer. Jesus is the heart donor who has given us a clean heart and a right spirit. Far more important than the heart we give to him is the heart he gives to us—a pure heart that keeps us alive and leads us away from temptation on paths that the Lord has chosen for us. God tempts no one. He leads us on paths of righteousness for his name’s sake, and he will lead us across the valley of the shadow of death to dwell in his house forever. J.

 

Know your enemy–the flesh

Adam said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Eve said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Flip Wilson used to say, “The devil made me do it.”

As much as we would like to blame the devil or the sinful world for our mistakes–our sins–we must confess that each sin is a deliberate act, a result of a choice which we have made. The devil and the world are God’s enemies, and they tempt us to join their rebellion. Sometimes we resist temptation, but often we give in to temptation and do the wrong thing instead of the right thing.

Paul wrestled with this tendency in his letter to the Romans, chapter seven. He wrote, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” In language that would inspire Sigmund Freud’s depiction of the ego, the superego, and the id, Paul insisted that part of his person was evil, making the wrong choices, doing the wrong thing. Even though Paul knew God’s commandments and wanted to obey them, his flesh continued making him do the wrong things.

As with the word “world” in the Bible, so the word “flesh” has more than one meaning. When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he did not become a sinner. But when Paul speaks of his flesh, he describes a sinful nature. I do not want to debate the origin of that sinful nature. It suffices that the flesh exists. John knew that the flesh is real. He wrote, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Even Christians sin. We sin every day. The devil, the world, and our flesh confront us every day until the day we die or until the Day Jesus appears in glory, whichever comes first.

We do not alternate between being sinners and being saints. At every time each of us is a sinner who needs a Savior and is a saint who knows the Savior. The sins we commit show that we are sinners, but our faith is in Christ Jesus. The Bible describes the work he has accomplished as our Savior. The Bible promises that through the work of Jesus we are forgiven all our sins and have victory over all our enemies.

This forgiveness and victory give no one license to sin. Since our flesh was conquered by Jesus on the cross, we do not want to strengthen it or encourage it by following its suggestions. Yet, as Paul and John remind us, we still are under control of the flesh. The flesh that was drowned in Baptism continues to bob to the surface and inhale another gasp. When we look at ourselves, we see the flesh and can find no hope of salvation. Only when we look to Christ do we understand that we are already rescued, that we are already forgiven, and that we are more than conquerors over the devil, over the world, and over our flesh.

Acknowledging the reality of our flesh is called “repentance.” We repent not only of specific sins, but also of a sinful nature that makes us God’s enemies. The Holy Spirit guides our repentance through the commandments of God as he also builds our faith through the promises of God. Therefore, the devil and the world and the flesh battle against the Spirit. They entice us with temptations; and when we sin, they strike us with guilt. Guilt from the Spirit moves us to repent, but guilt from our enemies makes us doubt God’s promises. Like a dog dragging the trash from the curb back into the house, our flesh stirs up memories of past sins and renews our sense of guilt. When that happens, we are free to resist. We remind our flesh that every sin is already forgiven by God and even forgotten by God. God cannot lie. He is so powerful that anything he says becomes true. God says we are forgiven. God says we are saints. God says we are his children. When we remember and repeat what God says, we battle effectively against the devil, the world, and our flesh. J.

Know your enemy–the world

Although some people blame the devil for all the problems of the world, he is not capable of causing that much evil. He is not almighty like God, nor is he present everywhere like God. However, the devil has help in his rebellion against God and against all that is good. Traditionally, Christians speak of three enemies that work together to oppose the will of God. They are the devil, the world, and our flesh.

In the Bible, the word “world” can be used in different ways, just as the word “heaven” has several different meanings. The world that works with the devil and opposes God’s will is not the same world that God loves so much that he sent his Son to redeem the world. The world that needs redemption consists of sinners, and so does the world that opposes God’s will, but the sinners who oppose God’s will are using what they have to tempt other people to sin.

This sinful world includes politicians, entertainers, and many other kinds of people. The world confuses selfishness with love and composes poems and songs that talk about love as a feeling people can catch or lose. The world also includes schoolchildren who encourage one another to steal from the store or to try illegal drugs. The world includes parents who set bad examples for their children. The world even includes children who shock their parents by repeating profanities that they heard at school or on television or from the mouths of their parents.

Any material thing that might tempt you to sin is part of this sinful world. We cannot avoid temptations, so we must resist them. Even Jesus was tempted in every way, as we are, but he did not sin. A saying about temptation has existed for hundreds of years: “You cannot keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” Whenever a Christian enjoys temptation and keeps returning to situations where he or she might be tempted again, that Christian has already crossed the line into sin.

We resist temptation from the world in the same way that we resist temptation from the devil: we stand on the Word of God. God’s Word tells us what is right and what is wrong; God’s Word teaches us what we should do and what we should not do. God’s Word also promises forgiveness to sinners. Tempters from the world might say, “Why don’t you do this thing that you used to do?” The power of God’s forgiveness sets us free from sinful ways; we do not have to remain slaves of sin after God has set us free.

In some places the world’s powers persecute Christians. In many more places, the world’s powers tolerate Christians while trying to seduce us away from faith. Jesus wants us to stand firmly on his Word, and he gives us the power to remain firm. The world may be stronger than we are, but the world is not stronger than God. Through him we are always safe, even while living in the world. J.

Christ in Genesis:The Better Garment

Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, disobeying God’s command and bringing sin, evil, and death into his creation. Their first sin did not happen when their teeth touched the fruit and they bit and chewed and swallowed. Their first sin did not happen when one of them reached out a hand to pick the fruit. Their first sin was the decision to doubt God’s word, to believe that he had been less than truthful with them, and to test him by breaking his commandment.

Genesis describes the tempter as a serpent. Revelation 12:9 gives us his full identity: “the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” Satan was one of the good angels God had created, but through pride he rebelled against God. A Muslim tradition states that Satan rebelled when God told him to worship and serve Adam. I suspect that the devil’s pride and arrogance are the result of a lack of understanding. He has contempt for the love of God. He understands power and authority, but not love. He thinks that he can run the universe better than God is running it, so he is trying to take authority over creation. One of his first acts of rebellion was to invite Adam and Eve to join his rebellion.

God had commanded Adam and Eve to do several things: to be fruitful and multiply, to care for the earth and its living creatures, and to rest every seventh day as God had rested on the seventh day. Any of these commands was an opportunity for temptation to disobey. Satan chose the fruit as the easiest way to challenge Eve’s faithfulness to God’s commands. His suggestion that God had forbidden them to eat from any tree in the Garden seems ludicrous, but it shows his usual procedure. He wants to make God seem overbearing and unloving. By twisting God’s commands, Satan hopes to inspire resentment and rebellion in our minds.

The devil misquoted God’s command. He showed that he knew exactly what God had said—when Eve said, “lest we die,” Satan responded, “You will not surely die.” Even as he calls God a liar, Satan corrects Eve’s recollection of what God had said. Of course they did not physically die the day they ate the fruit; Adam lived another 930 years. There are worse things than physical death. Spiritual death is separation from God. Adam and Eve spiritually died with their first sin. Whoever is spiritually dead when he or she physically dies will be eternally dead. Whoever is spiritually alive when he or she physically dies will have eternal life. Jesus experienced spiritual death on the cross when he was forsaken by his Father; he went there so that Adam and Eve and each of their descendants would not have to go there.

Satan persuaded Eve that eating the forbidden fruit would make her and Adam more like God. They had already been created in God’s image. There was no way for them to become more like God. Eve saw that the tree was good for fruit and pleasing to the eyes. Believing that it would also make her wise, she ate and she gave some fruit to Adam and he ate. Being separated from God by their sin, they observed their nakedness and were ashamed. Therefore, they made loincloths for themselves from fig leaves.

A fig leaf loincloth will not last very long. The leaves quickly wither and crumble, leaving the maker naked again. All our efforts to fix our own lives are equally futile. We cannot hide our sins from God, even if we think we have hidden them from ourselves.

After God had confronted them about their sin, he also provided for them. In place of their fig leaf loincloths, God gave them garments of animal skins. The clo0thing that God provided was more useful than what Adam and Eve made for themselves. However, this gift from God meant that some of the animals Adam and Eve had known now were dead, just to provide them with clothing. Physical death was made real to them in this way, now that they had experienced spiritual death. The animals gave their lives to clothe Adam and Eve for their protection and for the sake of decency.

These animals that died are images of Jesus, who would also die to cover our sins. We are clothed in his righteousness, which makes us acceptable in the sight of God and protects us from evil. Throughout the Bible, clothing takes special significance, picturing a life that is pleasing to God. Jesus was stripped of his clothing on the day he died; it was claimed by the soldiers who executed him. Yet Jesus has also clothed us, surrendering his life so we could inherit his righteousness.