On a recent Sunday at Christ Church, we considered St. Peter’s two-pronged exhortation to abstain from the passions of the flesh (sinful desires) and to live good lives in the world. (1 Peter 2:11-12) In Galatians 5, we find a similar exhortation from St. Paul, who writes in terms of not gratifying the desires of the flesh but rather walking in the Spirit. In the same chapter, St. Paul helps us understand what he means by providing lists of specific “vices” and “virtues” corresponding to the negative and positive sides of the exhortation. His lists here are not exhaustive, but they are good place to start:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:19-25, ESV)
It is clear that faithful discipleship acts on both sides of the equation. We must not do the things that we ought not to do, and we must do the things that we ought to do. Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23, ESV)
Denying self and following Christ is a daily (perhaps, hourly) endeavor.
As a follower of Jesus, are you keeping step with His Spirit? Which specific work of the flesh in you has not been sufficiently denied by you today? Which specific fruit of the Spirit needs further cultivation in you? Beware in this exercise, however, lest you look too long on any specific vice or virtue and take your eyes off of Christ and His Cross. The power to deny any vice is found only in the Cross. The means to more of any virtue is to get more of Christ (in His Word and Sacrament).
Courage! The Lord be with you.