The War Being Waged Within
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Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
There’s a war being waged in our very midst, but not many people are aware of it or they’ll try to deny it. The tyrant who once ran roughshod has been defeated for some time now, but there are still pockets of resistance. A remnant faithful to the previous regime stubbornly holds on. Insurgents stream in, wreaking havoc.
Oh, I’m not talking about Iraq or Bin-Laden or any part of the so-called war on terror. I’m speaking of a war much closer to home right now in our very midst. It’s the war being waged within each Christian every day of our life.
Many people think Christian faith is about having a good attitude. Just try hard enough to follow God’s law and you’ll be able to live a Christian life. Such people haven’t truly experienced Christian faith. They don’t know how it works.
Yes, Satan, that old, tyrannical dictator has already been defeated and is now imprisoned, but he still wields considerable influence. His allies—the world and our own rebellious flesh—continue to provoke us to sin and attempt to lead us to eternal death. Though our Old Adam was crucified with Christ and buried with Him in Baptism, he still clings to our flesh. In fact, the old Adam becomes more tenacious as we increasingly struggle to carry out the will of the Lord.
Before I go on, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit not all these words and thoughts are original. Some are a paraphrase of an important work by Martin Luther called On Christian Freedom. But as brilliant a theologian as he was, Martin Luther did not come up with this understanding on his own, either. About 1,500 years earlier, St. Paul described this war in our text for today, Romans 7:22-23: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”
The faith of a Christian can be summarized with two statements:
- · A Christian is the most liberated master of everyone, and subject to no one.
- · A Christian is the most dutiful servant of everyone and subject to everyone.
These statements seem contradictory, but they are not. To serve and obey whatever it loves is the very nature of love. Christ Himself was therefore both free and enslaved. He was in the form of God and the form of a servant (Philippians 2:6-7). Christ was Lord of all, but born of a woman, and under the law (Galatians 4:4).
A Christian finds himself much in the same situation. We also have two natures: a spiritual nature and a fleshly nature, sometimes called the new man and the old Adam. The reason why seemingly contradictory statements are often made in the Bible about Christians is due to this two-fold nature. The simple fact is that within each Christian two natures constantly oppose each other. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh,” St. Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:17.
Let’s examine more closely the two sides in this great war that is being waged even as I speak. We will begin by considering the new man. There we will discover how a person is justified, liberated, and truly a Christian.
We must admit that no situation in life has any power to produce Christian righteousness or freedom. This fact can be demonstrated with a simple argument: What benefit is it to the soul if the body in which it resides is in good shape, enjoys political freedom, and lives a fulfilling life by eating and drinking whatever it likes, and doing whatever it wants? The most un-Christian person addicted to every kind of vice does the same thing. On the other hand: How is the soul harmed by a body which is out of shape, and experiences hunger, thirst, and every other type of external evil? Even the best Christian who enjoys a clear conscience is forced to deal with such things. It is obvious then that neither of these outward circumstances in life can have anything to do with either the freedom or the slavery of the soul.
No, something drastically different than such outward actions is needed to justify and free your soul. Only one thing is needed for life, justification, and Christian freedom: the most holy Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Christ Himself says: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25). “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Yes, your body needs food, water, rest, clothing, and shelter. Without them it will soon die. But your soul can do without anything except the Word of God. Without the Word of God your soul receives absolutely nothing that it needs. With the Word of God your soul is rich and needs nothing else; for the Word of God is life, truth, light, peace, justification, salvation, joy, freedom, wisdom, virtue, grace, glory, and everything good.
Faith in Christ alone—His merits, His atoning sacrifice—justifies the Christian. No good works of ours, not even all the good works we’ve ever done, can compare with faith. No work can hold fast to the Word of God or be found in the soul. Only faith and the Word of God are found in the soul. As iron exposed to fire glows like the fire because of its union with it, so is the soul fashioned by the Word of God. Therefore faith accomplishes everything for you.
So what about the old Adam, the outer nature? Here we need to respond to those who by this point may be thinking: “If faith does everything and by itself is enough for our justification, why does God command good works? Are we to take it easy and do no good works? Should we be simply content with faith?”
Now if we were thoroughly and completely inner and spiritual Christians, that would certainly be the case. But such a spiritual state was lost to mankind in the Fall and it will not be seen again until the Last Day when the dead shall rise again. What we have now spiritually, is the first fruits of the Spirit. In the future, we shall have everything and the fullness of the Spirit. This is the reason for stating what I did before: The Christian is the servant of all and subject to all. In that part of life in which he is free, the Christian does no works. In that part in which he is a servant, the Christian does nothing but works. Let’s examine why this is so.
Inwardly, according to the Spirit, you are justified by faith, having everything you require spiritually. This very faith and abundance ought to increase every day until the future life. Nevertheless, you remain in this mortal life on earth, where it is necessary that you rule your own flesh and interact with other people. This is where the real work begins. This is where the war is waged. On this earth, you must not take it easy. Here you must exercise your flesh by fasting, praying, and other such disciplines. You do this so that the flesh is subdued by the Spirit, obeys it, and is conformed to the new man and faith.
The new man, being conformed to God and recreated in His image through faith, rejoices and delights in Christ as the source of all blessings and so has only one thing it must do: freely and joyously serve God in love. When your new man does this, however, it comes into conflict with the contrary will residing in your own flesh. The will of the flesh strives only to serve the world and seek its own gratification. The spirit of faith cannot and will not bear the will of the flesh, and so constantly strives to keep it in submission and restrain it.
This is why St. Paul writes in our text: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Romans 7:22–23). Later he likens this action to training for a boxing match: “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). And, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul exhorts: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).
Such works, however, must not be done with the thought that it can justify you before God. Faith alone makes you righteous before God. No, the works of the Christian are for one purpose alone: to focus your efforts solely on bringing the body into submission and thus purify it from its sinful desires. Because of the basic requirements of your body, therefore, you cannot take it easy, but must, because of it, do many good works in order to keep it under submission.
These works do not justify you before God. You do them out of love, in service to God. You do good works for no other purpose than to do what is pleasing to Him whom you desire to obey in all things. Accordingly, it is up to each Christian to decide in what way you should subjugate your own body.
By this point, the reason for either shunning or embracing good works should be clear. If works are understood to be the reason for your justification, or if works are done with the misunderstanding that you can even pretend to be justified by them, then a yoke of necessity is laid upon you. Such a yoke is heavy and burdensome. It extinguishes both liberty and faith. When the yoke of necessity is added to works, they no longer can be considered good, and in reality, should be condemned because they blaspheme the very grace of God, which alone is the reason we are saved and justified through faith.
In our Gospel, Jesus says to all who are wearied from the war being waged within: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). I have lived the perfect life that God’s law demands. I have died the death you deserved. On the cross, I exchanged my righteousness for your sin. Baptized into My death and resurrection, you have salvation and eternal life. Indeed, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.