John 6:1-15; Galatians 4:21-31; Exodus 16:2-21
Flesh vs. Spirit — Lent 4

In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. 

Abraham had 2 sons: Ishmael and Isaac. (Gal. 4:22) Ishmael was born in the natural way—born of a young fertile woman named Hagar. (Gal. 4:24-25; Gen. 16:1) She was slave girl (Gal. 4:22; Gen. 16:5) The chamber maid of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. The problem was that Sarah was elderly, as was Abraham. The Lord had called them to follow Him when Sarah was 65 and Abraham 75. (Gen. 12:4) But 10 years had passed (Gen. 16:3, 16) since the Lord had given the promise that He would make Abraham a great nation and bless all the families of the earth through Abraham and his Seed. (Gen. 12:1-3, 7) So the promise that Abraham would have a son by Sarah (Gen. 15:2-6; 17:16) was wearing a little thin. (Gen. 16:1-2) Even though it had seemed impossible from beginning, with each passing day it seemed less and less likely, til Sarah took matters into her own hands. Put her noggin to work. She said, “Abraham if you are to have a child “by me”, the only way it will happen is if you get MY slave girl pregnant. So that by my property “we” can have this baby that was promised.” (Gen. 16:2) A rather twisted and contorted logic that introduced all sorts of problems into their marriage. Because as soon as Hagar conceived she ceased to be subservient. (Gen. 16:4-5) She ceased to believe in the promise of the Lord to her master and mistress about the child of promise through whom the nations would be blessed. (Gen. 16:7-9) She ceased honouring her mistress as heir of that promise. After all, she had something better than a promise. She had an actual flesh and blood boy whom Abraham her lord delighted in. So she looked down on the actual lady of the house.  She despised the promised child of God because she had an actual boy of flesh. (Gal. 4:29; Gen. 21:9-10)

Dear Christians, this Lent we’ve been hearing about demons the last 3 Sundays. We’ve been talking about how Jesus strove with Satan and He won! And this Sunday that places this struggle in your life. For you, by baptism are born from above. (John 3:3, 5) Children born not of the flesh but of God’s gospel promise. Not a child of God by nature, through natural means, but a child of the Spirit, of promise. (Gal. 4:28, 29) A miraculous child like Isaac. (Gen. 18:11-14) Like Jesus. (Luke 1:34-37) You are our Lord’s brother, his sister, by faith. By supernatural faith born in you when you were baptized. (John 1:12-13; 3:3, 5) This means you are not a citizen of this world any longer. You do not belong to this world. (1 Pet. 2:11; Col. 1:13; John 1:12-13) Thus the world will always persecute you. (Gal. 4:29) And by “world” I mean all those who are born of the flesh, by the natural way between men and women. (Gal. 4:23) So that all those who are born on earth are part of the “world”. But we who have received the rebirth of water and Spirit (John 3:5) through the promise of God in Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:18-19) are no longer merely of this world. We are not of this world. We have a different reality. A reality which we do not see in our flesh, but cling to by faith. (2 Cor. 4:16) For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Cor. 5:7) Which is to say, we walk by our ears, (Rom. 1:16; 10:14, 17) by what we hear, trusting in the promises of God to us in Christ Jesus. (Luke 1:38)

This is a reminder to fast, to discipline yourself, to withdraw from the world. Or not so much to withdraw—as in to disengage, the way some Christian groups like the Amish, or Hutterites try to do—but rather not to cling to this world and her ways. Not to long for and seek her approval. For we do not belong her. We are not born of the flesh, of the slave woman. (Gal. 4:23-24, 31) And the world knows it. It persecutes that. (Gal. 4:29)

Again, by “world” we mean those who are born in the natural way. Like Ishmael, born of Hagar. (Gal. 4:23a) Those who are born of the flesh. Flesh gives birth to flesh, while Spirit gives birth to spirit. (John 3:6) So that those born in the natural way inherit from their father on earth all the spiritual curses God placed on mankind in Genesis 3. (Gen. 3:16-19) Whereas those born from above, from the heavenly Father through the promise of new life in Christ Jesus, are inheritors of all the blessings of His heavenly kingdom and of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. (Gal. 4:30)

So that means any who are not baptized, or any who by persistent unbelief and persistent in-attendance for years at Divine Service who have already, or may be on the verge of rejecting their baptism, are part of the “world”. Born of natural ways. Thinking its thoughts. Subject to it. To its slavery. Because the world inflicts slavery on you. You may not even realize it, but when you are of the world, you are enslaved. For the world doesn’t like differences. Have you ever noticed that? The world likes bland conformity. Of thought. Of action. It will always knock you down a peg if you stick your head up above the crowd. And those of the world inherit all the spiritual curses God placed upon human flesh and blood. (Gen. 3:16-19) That means the enemy that you wrestle with is not an enemy of flesh and blood, but rather the desires that are attendant upon flesh and blood. (Eph. 6:10-12) For you and I by our birth are all children of wrath, born for slavery to sin and the curse of the law. (Eph. 2:1-3) Which means that your wrestling is not only with the “world” which is aligned against your faith, but your wrestling is with yourself. With your own urges within. Your own desires to justify yourself. Your own desire to fit in and go along with the crowd. To not stick out. To not be a stranger and alien here on earth. (1 Pet. 2:11) But rather to do what everyone around you does. In previous generations you could be a Christian and sort of fit in with the world since back then everyone went to church. But even back then, to follow the Lord still tended to put you out of step with the churches you joined as churches were so often country clubs, or social groups where everyone was exactly the same, and differences were not accepted, just another outpost of the world. 

But not so anymore. To be a Christian is a higher calling. It comes with having to buck trends. To be different. To be better. To believe in something instead of the oh so common unbelief and apathy of now. And not just something but Jesus. His death for you. The world says, “Believe in yourself.” Faith says, “Believe not in yourself for salvation, but rather that you are sinner. Believe in Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) The world says, “No you can be own way, your own truth, your own life. You get to define whatever those things are or mean to you.” The promise of God in Christ is: “I am your meaning. I am your truth. I am your way to the joy of the Father’s everlasting kingdom.”

Which means that having been born from above, you are no longer of the world. You now have a choice every day that is placed before you. Will you die to your old self of flesh and eat of the supernatural food the Lord provides you in His Church? At His meal? In His word? Will you be filled with Him? OR will you fill yourself up to overflowing with worldly thoughts, worldly ways, worldly things? Or as the Catechism says it, Baptism means “that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Baptism, Fourth question,

And if you dare to stick your head up and admit to the world that you do not play along with the sexual revolution and all its disastrous values, with the world’s view of life being yours to dispose of whenever you want, so that you are the “god” of you; or that you get to say when you time comes to an end, or whether babies in your body should be born or not; if you dare to be different on any of these things from the world the world will hand it to you. They will let you know that you are not pleasing to it. The world will despise you. (Gal. 4:29) That means that any of your family and friends who are possessed by the world and her ways will turn on you too. They will despise you, mistreat you, look down on you, laugh at you, and let you know it. 

It has always been this way. But thanks be to God that the Lord calls us as our shepherd to follow Him. He leads us through the valley of the shadow of death with the wooden rod and staff of His cross (Ps. 23:4) to the green pastures of His word. (John 6:10) Walking with Him, following Him you may feel like you are out in the wilderness. (Exod. 16:2-3; John 6:1-3) But the wilderness is where the Lord always promises to provide for you. Supernaturally, not naturally. He fed 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fishes in the wilderness. (John 6:1-15) He fed a million mumbling Israelites with fine flake like bread from heaven that tasted like honey. (Exod. 16:14-16) And it always provided just enough. Never more than enough, never too little. (Exod. 16:16-18) It met all their needs. And He will do so for you. For you are children of the free woman (Gal. 4:31, 28, 22), children of the Jerusalem above (Gal. 4:26) not of the Jerusalem below. (Gal. 4:24-25) For though you wrestle with your own flesh, you are born from above, that is your true identity. (Gal. 4:31) No matter how the world attacks or mocks you. And of course it will, for you belong to Him, and you are free in Him in a way the world never will be.

In +Jesus’ name, Amen. 


—Pastor David Haberstock
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
Regina, SK