The language of “walking” resonates throughout the whole Bible.  Enoch is the first said to “walk with God” (Genesis 5:21-24), and he was taken up into heaven because of his faith (Hebrews 11:5-6).  Noah also walked with God, being blameless in his generation (Genesis 6:9).  Abram, before receiving the name of the promise, hears God’s command to “walk before me, and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1).  What further connects these passages together is the tense of the verb:  all of them share the same unusual Hebrew tense found in Genesis 3:8.  In other words, they are walking in the same way that God walks.

This concept also occurs in other passages of the Old Testament.  Proverbs 4 gives an excellent example of the “two ways” found so often in the Wisdom literature.  Men must walk one of two ways, either the way of wisdom, in which is life and salvation, or the way of evil, which ends only in death.  Psalm 1 states that the righteous man does not “walk in the counsel of the wicked.”  Jesus also describes Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), further cementing the language of walking with God.

Paul’s admonition, therefore, to “walk by the Spirit” sets before us these two ways.  Being a Christian is not a static thing, but a movement in conjunction with the Spirit.  Even the word Torah, often translated as “law” in the Old Testament, carries a moving, directional connotation, since it shares the same root as words meaning “to shoot.”  If we are walking in step with the Spirit, then we are not walking down the way of the flesh.  It has to be one or the other.  The Christian cannot stand still.

Because the tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20), the righteous and the wicked are distinguished by their actions.  Nor is this hidden, because Paul says that “the works of the flesh are evident” (Galatians 5:19).  Christians cannot engage in such destructive actions and expect to escape unscathed.  Paul’s list is extensive and straightforward.  “Sensuality” refers to a lack of self-control.  “Sorcery” is more literally “using drugs,” since the original word is related to English words like “pharmacy.”  Within the context, Paul cannot mean that all drugs or material cures are forbidden, since the Bible refers positively to physicians in many places.  Rather, like Asa who sought the help of doctors in his distress instead of seeking the Lord (2 Chronicles 16:12), it is an attempt to gain control through physical means of what properly belongs to God.  This is why the word is translated more broadly to include magic, since it is quite possible to trust in God’s gift of healing more than God Himself.  Finally, “orgies” are not exclusively sexual in the way that we often use that word today, but can refer to any kind of unbridled partying, including excessive feasting and drinking.

Is it possible that a Christian may fall into such activities from time to time due to the weakness of his flesh?  Of course it is possible.  Paul laments this weakness in Romans 7.  Yet weakness is not an excuse for such things.  They will exclude one who does them from entering the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21).  They are deadly poison, not indifferent matters.  Walking in the Spirit means fighting against such things.  Claiming that one couldn’t avoid doing it or even reveling in such things as if they glorified God’s mercy runs the serious risk of becoming hardened in them.  Sin repeated is sin strengthened.  Christians, flee from the works of the flesh!

But on the other hand, the fruits of the Spirit are equally evident.  These are not generic virtues, as if “love” in the abstract is a fruit of the Spirit.  Rather, these are Christian virtues because they come from God and God alone.  Christian love, for example, is not permissive, but transformative.  It builds up the whole rather than accepting things as they are.  Christian joy is not merely feeling happy, but joy in Christ, knowing that this present evil age is coming to an end and that Christ has redeemed us from the depths of our sin.  Christian peace is the peace which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7; John 14:27), knowing that Christ is with us always.  And the list could go on.  But Paul’s point is clear:  “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”  The fruits of the Spirit flow forth from walking in the Spirit, which puts to death the old way and no longer walks down it.  Death breaks forth into life, because we are in Christ.

What we say and what we do go together in the Bible. But what happens when we become so focused on what we say that we forget that the Kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power? Maybe we end up explaining the Bible away. Join us as we discuss the dangers of slogans and the promise of letting the Bible speak for itself.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Regular Guest: Rev. Adam Koontz
Episode: 28

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The First Sunday in Advent marks the beginning of the church calendar, therefore it is an opportune time to change the choice of lectionary studies. Beginning with this Sunday, I will now focus on the Epistle readings, just as I had previously focused on the Old Testament.

Romans 13:11-14 falls within the wider subsection of Romans 12-15. In the previous section of Romans 9-11, Paul demonstrates that, while Israel has stumbled and is under a partial hardening, God’s purposes in election have not failed. Israel cannot boast in the flesh, just as the Gentiles cannot boast in being grafted in to the tree in place of Israel. There is no room for boasting anywhere. “For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy” (Romans 11:30-31). The Lord has not chosen based on merit. His election is sure and done for His own purposes, and the faithful are counted among the elect purely by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9; Deuteronomy 7:6-11).

But election is not a trump card. That was Israel’s sin that brought judgment upon them until the fulness of the Gentiles comes in. One cannot be elect and lack faith, as if being part of Israel according to the flesh was enough for salvation. The Lord chooses to have mercy on whom He will have mercy (Exodus 33:19; Romans 9:15). But wherever this faith is, there are also the fruits of faith (Luke 6:45), which is Paul’s point in Romans 12-15. For those who know the Lord’s mercy walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. Paul exhorts the Romans toward this living faith, a faith which does not delight in the division which plagued the Roman church, but seeks “the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

While there is much that is descriptive about this section, such as Romans 12:9-21 which in the Greek is composed primarily of sentence fragments without verbs, Paul does not hesitate speak commands as well. Romans 13:1, for example, is a clear imperative: let this be the case, and not otherwise. Exhortation is not merely descriptive, but also prescriptive, because the Christian struggling in the flesh needs to learn what the will of God means, often in rather concrete formulations. As Paul said in the beginning of this section, conforming to the Spirit rather than to the world involves testing and discernment, both of which are not automatic processes.

Thus, the reading for the First Sunday in Advent is a strong exhortation to put off what is evil and to cling to what is good. Paul highlights the urgency of this message by noting what the Christian should already recognize: the time is growing shorter and shorter with each passing moment. The Judgment of Christ is fast approaching. “Salvation,” by which Paul means the fullness of our salvation when Christ returns in glory, “is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11). Wake up! Do not slumber in sin! The end is near (Luke 21:28; Matthew 25, especially Matthew 25:13). The night of God’s patience is fast coming to an end; it is the moment just before the dawn. Even now the night is beginning to brighten in the east.

Since the time is fast approaching, Paul exhorts us to cast off “the works of darkness,” which he describes briefly here and more fully elsewhere (Galatians 5:19-21; Colossians 3:5-11). There is a sense in which this call shows the reality of sin in this life. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:18). But Paul is not describing the struggle here, but commanding. Will we walk as is befitting for Christians? Or will we turn again to the works of the flesh? Orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, sensuality, quarreling, and jealousy belong to the former way of life. The Christian must choose whether to seek after life or seek after death (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). Only those who are in Christ have such a choice, of course, but the regenerate will is real. Christ saves the whole man, and those who know the Lord also choose Him above all other things.

Romans 13:14 is therefore an important summary. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” just as we have put Him on as the garment of our righteousness. But at the same time, “make no provision for the flesh.” Do not even tend to the needs of the flesh and its sinful desires! But make provision for the Spirit, walking in His ways and seeking to conform to the will of God. Too often Christians get this backwards, putting ourselves in the path of temptation, knowing full well that the end can only be evil. What’s the harm of looking? But Paul commands us clearly: do not even till the soil for the seeds of sin, but let us seek the fruit of righteousness whose harvest will come when the morning dawns.