The Christian life is a constant struggle. You are constantly fighting against your old, sinful flesh. The devil and the world are allies of your old self, and together they form an unholy trinity, the real axis of evil, to conspire against you, to lure you away from Jesus. When we pray in the 6th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer “Lead us not into temptation,” we are praying “that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world and our sinful flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.”
Do you see your life that way, as a constant struggle, a fighting against your own sinful flesh? St. Paul did. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…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. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing… Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15, 18, 19, 24, 25)
On June 24, we celebrated the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, or, the birthday of John the Baptist. The Church is not in the birthday business. She celebrates two days in the lives of her saints, her children: their baptismal birthdays (their re-birthdays) and their death days (their heavenly birthdays). But there on June 24 every year is the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. Why? Because John is the Forerunner of Jesus, the one who prepared the way for the coming of the Lord, the one whose entire life points to Jesus.
John preached about Jesus “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” He also preached against himself relative to Jesus, “He must increase, and I must decrease.”
That’s the solution to the constant struggle against our sinful flesh: He must increase, and we must decrease. More Jesus, less you.
The more Jesus fills you with Himself, as He does in the Lord’s Supper, the less room there is for you. The more He covers you with His righteousness, as He did in Holy Baptism, the less you can cover yourself with sin. The more Jesus drives away sin and temptation in Holy Absolution, the less room there is for you to embrace sin and temptation. The more Jesus fills your ears with His Word, the less room there is for you to fill them with self-worship and the filth of the world. Jesus Word and Sacraments, His means of delivering His grace to you, are the victory over sin and temptation. Through these means, God holds the head of the Old Adam, your old sinful flesh under the waters of Holy Baptism.
And God gives you means, not through which to merit grace or earn forgiveness, but through which you can fight against your sinful flesh. These means have traditionally been called spiritual disciplines. Through disciplines of prayer, study, meditation, fasting, tithing, almsgiving, works of mercy, among others. None of these things earns any of God’s favor. Some of them are aimed at your sinful flesh, putting him to death and following after Jesus. Some are aimed at your neighbor, showing him mercy at the expense of yourself.
Most important in the struggle against your sinful flesh is hearing the Word of Christ. He sees beyond the veil of today to see things as they really are. He sees your sinful flesh really dead and done with. He sees you wearing perfectly and completely His righteousness. And the word He speaks about you is truer than anything you can see. Following Jesus is learning to believe your ears over your eyes. Jesus says you are forgiven, set free from your bondage to sin, completely sin-free, a perfect saint. Because He whose very words create and change reality says it, it’s true. He must increase, and I must decrease.
More Jesus, less you.