29 October 2011

The Life of Christ in the Body

Here is the Life to which the Lord your God has called you:

First of all, to hear and receive the Word of God; to believe and confess His Word; to pray, and to live by His Word: in faith and love. For you have one Teacher, from whom you receive the Word and the Wisdom of God. Listen to Him, and learn from Him. And as you have heard, so also speak and pray His Word; because it is by His grace that you live, through faith in His Word.

Hear and heed His Word while you have this chance, while it is near and spoken to you; lest He remove it from you, and leave you with nothing but darkness and silence, and death and despair.

Be not only a hearer of His Word, but trust in His Word, and so also do and observe what He has commanded. Work and labor, faithfully and righteously, within your particular vocation and place in life. Submit to the authorities that He has placed over you, as unto Him, according to His Word. And be a faithful “father,” as it were, in exercising whatever authority you have been given within your own calling, under the One Father in heaven by whom all fatherhood on earth is named.

Do not serve for the love of money, nor to make a name for yourself, to be seen and acknowledged by other people. But, rather, work and labor in the fear of the Lord, in faith toward Him, and in love for your neighbor, in harmony with God’s Word. (Always, your reference point is His Word.)

As He has named you with His Name, and has given you Himself and all things by His grace, so rely on Him for all that you need, and receive His good and perfect gifts in the Gospel of Christ Jesus, the beloved Son. And, so also, love and serve your brothers and sisters in the same Lord, Jesus Christ, as being the children of one and the same God and Father in heaven.

Discipline yourself and your flesh, and “possess your own vessel” (that is, your body), in holiness and honor. For as your body also is redeemed and sanctified by Christ — who bore all your sins in His Body on the Cross, and who was raised bodily from the dead for your justification — and as your body has been cleansed, along with your soul, by the washing of water with His Word in Holy Baptism; and as your body is fed, along with your soul, with the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Communion; and as your body shall be resurrected at the last, and glorified forever — so, too, the life that you live in the body, even here and now, really matters. It makes a difference.

Your life in the body matters, and makes a difference, whether you live in faith and love, unto the righteousness and holiness of Christ — or in laziness, lust, and licentiousness, unto death. For as faith lays hold of life in Christ, so does sin lay hold of death (because it departs from Christ).

Your righteousness and life in Christ Jesus are free and clear, by His grace alone, no doubt; that is sure and certain. But that is not an excuse or permission for laziness or licentiousness. Rather, it is a cause for holiness in word and deed. Whereas good works do not lead the way into heaven, nor can they ever get you there, they do follow after faith in Christ.

Good works do not make the saint; but good works do follow after the saints, who live by faith in Christ Jesus. And their good works of love glorify the Name of their God and Father in heaven.

So, then, beloved of the Lord, do not be lazy — so that others do not have to make up your slack and serve you — but work hard to do your job, to provide for your family, and to care for others.

Give yourself over to good works, as the Lord has given you to do within your office and station in life. Not only is this good and right, but it focuses your time, attention, and energy on loving your neighbor, and giving life to your neighbor, as the Lord loves you and gives you life by the Word and work of His Gospel.

Give yourself over to such good works of love, rather than leaving your heart and mind and eyes to wander in lust; and do not give yourself over to lust, which, left unchecked and undisciplined, leads to bodily impurity and to sins against your neighbor (and against your neighbor’s spouse).

If you do not struggle with sexual temptations, praise God for that, but still be on your guard against the covetous lust of whatever sort does rage within your members, whether it be for money or fame, for music or sports, for popularity or power, or for whatever else it might be.

Do not kid yourself: What you do with your body matters. When you set your heart and mind upon that which is contrary to the Word of God — to desire what He has not given to you — and you turn your eyes to gaze upon it, and move your feet toward it, and set your hand upon it, then your covetous lust has conceived and given birth to sin, and your sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death. Not only does it lead to the death of your body, but the pursuit of your sinful passions and impurity is deadly to your spiritual life and health, as well.

But the Lord is the Avenger in all these things. He avenges your neighbor against your sins, to be sure, but He also avenges you against the assaults and accusations of the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh. As your body participates in your sin, so does the Lord discipline your body, not only to curb and temper your wickedness and evil, but also to alert you to the danger, as part of His call to repentance. For it is also the case that, along with His discipline of your mortal flesh, He calls and sends His true Prophets to preach repentance, unto the forgiveness of sins in His Name.

He does not chase you down and chastise you in order to castigate and shame you, but to save you from your sin and death, and to bring you to Himself in love, into His life and light and salvation. In short, He humbles you in order to exalt you. But the one who exalts himself, He will humble.

Be humbled, then, before both God and man. Be humbled before the Lord your God, to fear, love and trust in Him. Rely upon His Word and promises, rather than trying to defend and protect, to promote and exalt yourself. And as you are loved by Him, and served by Him, and cared for by His grace, so humble yourself before your neighbor: Love and serve your neighbor in the Lord.

Do not worry about yourself, but follow Christ Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith. Follow Him by listening to Him, by hearing and heeding His Word and the preaching of it. Trust His Word, and live according to it. And follow His example. For He is your Leader — already in your life in the body here on earth, and so also through death and the grave into the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting in heaven. He leads not only by His Word, but also by His example.

And yet, for all of that, He is far more than just a good example. In His true divine greatness and almighty strength, He has become your Servant. He has come down from heaven to serve you, and to save you, at the cost of His own body and life. He has taken all your sin, all your suffering and sorrow, all your mortality and death upon Himself. And He has humbled Himself, even unto death upon the Cross. He has thereby suffered all your punishment, and He has given His life and shed His blood to atone for all your sins.

In this you see His faith and love. He did not talk the talk without walking the walk. He did not bind the heavy burden of the Law upon your shoulders, but He took its full back-breaking load upon Himself and bore it for you. He trusted His Father, and He submitted Himself in absolute obedience to the Word and will of His Father. In such faith, He gave Himself up for you.

And God the Father raised Him up again, and highly exalted Him, and glorified Him — also in His Body (of flesh and blood like yours!) — and has seated Him at His right hand for all eternity.

He is your merciful and great High Priest, and He (Himself) is your righteousness and holiness. His Cross and Resurrection are your repentance, by which you are now called and carried out of sin and death into faith and life — out of the grave, to be seated with Him in the heavenly places. Just as your Holy Baptism has given to you, and as it signifies and works in you every day of your life: namely, that you die to sin, and that you rise with Christ to live in Him by grace through faith.

This repentance and forgiveness, unto life and salvation, are not thwarted, undone or ended by your death, but they are finally completed in your bodily death from this vale of tears, and are fully realized in the resurrection of your body unto the life everlasting (of body and soul) in heaven.

That is the sure and certain hope in which you live and work and labor — and in which you are now given to remember the faithful departed, who are surely among the great cloud of witnesses with which you are surrounded. For as they live and abide in the Body of Christ, cleansed by His Blood and so clothed in His Righteousness forever and ever, so are you also one Holy Communion with them in the Body and Blood of the same Lord Jesus Christ. So are you cleansed and clothed by Him, like a Bride made beautiful for her Groom. And so do you also live and abide in Him, both now and forever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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