It is a matter of life and death, whether you worship the Lord your God or turn away from Him to pursue your own way and to worship the work of your own hands.
To fear, love, and trust in the Holy Triune God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength — to worship the Father in the Spirit and through the Son — that is Life. That is the true Spiritual life, which is lived before God in the righteousness and purity of faith in Christ; not apart from your body, but in your body by the Holy Spirit through faith in the Word of the Lord.
Apart from such faith, apart from the Word and Spirit of God in Christ, your life in the body is no life at all, but a living death, even now. And that will not end well. It will go from bad to worse, unto eternal death in hell. For that is finally all that remains apart from God.
So the true Spiritual life begins with faith in the heart before God, and then it is lived in love for God and man in both soul and body. For it is the very nature of faith in the God who is Love, to live in love for both God and the neighbors He has positioned alongside of you.
With your words and actions you love and serve the people around you in the way that Christ Jesus loves and serves you with His Word and Spirit and with His flesh and blood. As you pray, praise, and give thanks to the Lord your God, so do you also speak with grace, mercy, and forgiveness to your neighbors. And as you are clothed by the Lord with His Righteousness in Holy Baptism, and fed by the Lord in the Holy Communion, so do you feed and clothe your neighbor in peace.
It is with fear, love, and trust in God that you live before Him in love for others. You fear the Lord your God, first of all, because He is God and you are not. And you fear His wrath because you are justly punished for your sins, since He has the authority to command and forbid you, as He does, and yet you have disregarded His Word and disobeyed Him in thought, word, and deed.
Even so, you are to love and trust in Him, also because He is God and you are not, and on account of His gracious Word and promises of the Gospel. Thus, your fear does not drive you to despair, but rather it drives you to God in Christ, to worship Him in the Spirit and the Truth.
Thus do you fear and love the Lord your God, so that you do not despise the preaching of His Word but gladly hear and learn it. You rest yourself in the Word that God the Father speaks to you by His Son, and you call upon His Name. Everything else proceeds from this faith and worship.
You are to fear and love God so that you do not despise your parents, whom God has given you, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.
You are to fear and love God so that you do not hurt or harm your neighbor in his body, but that you help, defend, and protect your neighbor in his body and life.
You are to fear and love God so that you are not unfaithful to your spouse, but that you cherish the spouse whom God has given you. The husband whom your heavenly Bridegroom has given as your head. The bride whom He has given you to love as He loves His own Body, the Church.
You are to fear and love God so that you do not take but give, and you help your neighbor to keep what he has. You are to fear and love God so that you speak with the mercies and charity of God as you speak to and about your neighbor, just as you depend upon the mercy and charity of God.
This is your Life, and this is how you are to live. Not in order to become righteous, as though by your works to justify yourself. But this is the life that you live because you are righteous before God, by His grace, through faith in Christ your Savior. Whereas to live apart from God, without such faith and love in Christ, is death and damnation, no matter how busy you may be.
God’s chief concern is not that you be well behaved, although your good behavior is pleasing to Him and is good for you and for your neighbor. His first concern is that you would have life with Him. It is for such life that He has created you. He does not want you to die. So He calls you to repentance as a parent calls his child away from the cliff, the speeding car, or the deadly poison.
Where you have been angry without cause against your neighbor, and where you have not dealt with your anger righteously but have hardened your heart against your neighbor; and where you have withheld your love from your neighbor because you are angry — Repent, and do better.
Where you have spoken harshly, not with words of grace, but rather with hostility and hatred, with wrath, and with ill intent — Repent, and do better.
Where you have been covetous; where you have been lustful; where you have been greedy and selfish; and where you have nurtured such idolatry by worshiping your flesh — Repent.
Where you have caused harm to holy marriage and to family, whether your own or your neighbor’s — Repent, and do better. Honor your father and mother. Love and cherish your spouse. Care for your children in the grace of God. And support your neighbor in his calling to care for his family.
Where you have presumed to worship God with your lips and with your body, while turning your heart and mind to other things — Repent. Do not withdraw your lips and your body, but humble your heart and mind before God. Bowing your body, bow your heart also. Confessing with your lips, confess also with your mind. Praise God and glorify His Name, not only by attending to His Word and Sacrament here within His House, but also by serving your neighbor in the world.
Such repentance is a matter of being and living as a child of God, instead of living as though you were not baptized in His Name; as though you were nothing but a child of that old man, Adam.
Be sure of this: Repentance is not by your own wisdom, reason, strength, or effort. You cannot fix your heart and mind by applying your heart and mind to the problem, because you are the problem! You cannot make yourself brand new or give yourself new life, for you are not God but His creature, created to live by faith in Him, and otherwise dead in your trespasses and sins.
It is by the Cross of Christ, and by His Resurrection from the dead, that you are rescued and repent. It is by the Word of His Cross, and by the Spirit who is poured out from the Cross, that you are put to death and raised to new life. It is by His Cross that you are born again to a new and living hope.
You cannot repent or manage to make anything better of yourself. But the Word of God is living and active and powerful. When you come to church and avail yourself of that preaching, God works in you. So give attention to His Word and the preaching of it. And humble yourself under that Word. It really is the height of self-righteousness to suppose that you have already mastered the Word or have no need of it, as though you could make do and rely on your own intellect, knowledge, and savvy experience. Faith begins and continues with the hearing of the Word of Christ. It remains only so long as you rely on His Word: Hearing it, confessing it, and praying it.
Lay hold of Christ in His means of grace: In His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, in the ongoing significance of your Baptism, in Confession and Absolution, and in the Holy Communion of His Body and Blood, given and poured out for you and for the many to eat and to drink here at His Altar. Discipline yourself to live by such faith in His Ministry of the Gospel.
When I speak of discipline, I do not speak of works righteousness. I do not mean that you can set things right with God. You cannot. But God has set things right with you. Therefore, live in that righteousness of God in Christ, which is already yours by His grace, by His Word and Spirit, by faith in His Gospel. Discipline yourself by and with His Cross, and live according to His Word.
This is where your life as both a child of God and a sinful child of Adam can be so confusing and so difficult. On the one hand, you are tempted to hypocrisy, to say and do the right things while your heart remains hard and distant. But on the other hand, you are tempted not to speak or do anything until you have your heart and mind just right; and, because you cannot make that happen, you never do or say anything. Do not fall into that trap. But, rejoicing in the freedom of the Gospel, know that you are free to speak, and free to act, despite the fact that you are still a sinner.
You can do what is good and right. You can do your duty. It is not a pretense. It is not hypocrisy. It is to spite the devil, the world, and your own mortal flesh, and to live according to the Word of God in spite of all the odds against you. It is not works righteousness, but a training of your heart and mind, your body, soul, and spirit, in the way of faith and love and righteousness in Christ.
Because the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus are the fulfillment of God’s Law, the perfection of faith and love, and the reconciliation of the world to God — so it is that, when you are crucified, dead, and buried with Christ, by His Word and Holy Spirit, you are also raised with Christ in His Resurrection to live before God in righteousness and purity.
It is accomplished in you by and through and with His forgiveness of your sins. In this poor life of labor, nothing good happens apart from His forgiveness. But His forgiveness is plentiful, and it is for you. His forgiveness is there in the waters of your Baptism, daily washing away all of your sins and your unrighteousness. And His forgiveness is here for you on the lips of your pastor.
The Lord your God has not divorced you. He has allowed divorce on earth because of the hardness of man’s heart. But His heart is not hardened toward you. He has not sent you away. Nor has He murdered you. He has not robbed you of life. Even when He puts you to death by His preaching of repentance, by His Word of the Cross, it is for the sake of giving you life.
He has not given you a certificate of divorce, but He has given you His sure and certain promises in the Ministry and preaching of His Cross and Resurrection.
Cling to that sure and certain Word of the Gospel, which does not depend on you, but you depend on it. To cling to His Gospel is to live before God in faith. And living before God in faith, you live in love for your neighbor, because the Gospel sets you free to love.
Where there is no freedom, there can be no real love. And where there is fear and punishment, there can be no real love. But Christ has taken away your punishment, and Christ has dealt with your fears by meeting them head-on and overcoming them. He thus bestows upon you the glorious freedom of the sons of God, because He raises you up with Himself. Your sins cannot destroy you in Christ. The Law cannot accuse you any longer. You are set free. You are loved by God in Christ, and you are free to love your neighbor. You are free to forgive, as you are forgiven.
In loving your neighbor, your life itself becomes a glorious song of praise. You call on the Name of the Lord and sing to Him with both your mouth and your life. You worship Him and serve Him rightly by faith. You offer yourself to Him as a fragrant aroma, as sweet-smelling incense.
This is your life, in both body and soul, in Christ Jesus. For here in the midst of His Church — His true Jerusalem, the City of the great King — He reigns in love from His Cross, He befriends you through His Gospel, and He judges you righteous with His Holy Absolution. He feeds you and clothes you and cares for you. He helps you, and He heals you. And He gives you life.
By the preaching of His Word, the Holy Spirit lays Christ Himself upon your heart and mind, upon your body and your soul. And that is how you are made brand new. For Christ Himself is laid upon you as your righteousness and holiness, your innocence and blessedness, unto faith, and unto life with God in Him. He who is the Word of God is spoken into your ears, and into your mind, and into your heart. And so has He become your Prayer, your Confession, and your Song.
He is the Sacrifice of Atonement. And He is the sacrificial Meal of Fellowship that is given to you, that you might eat and drink with God in peace. He is also the Sacrifice of Thanksgiving, the Eucharistic Sacrifice of Praise, in whom you worship the Lord your God, your own dear Father in Christ Jesus. You do so in the Beauty of His Holiness. Therefore, do not be afraid. Approach His Altar in the confidence of faith and with great joy and gladness. And offering yourself unto Him, receive His Life, His grace, and every blessing of body and soul, of heart, mind, and spirit.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.