The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 21, 2019
Sheep Don’t Wallow!
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Have you ever heard the story about the Momma sheep and her little lamb? It goes something like this: Every day a Momma sheep would take her little lamb out to the pasture to feed. In order to get to the pasture they had to go past the pigpen. As the little lamb watched all the little piglets play in the mud he thought about how much fun he could have if he joined them. One day when it was especially hot outside the little lamb asked the Momma sheep if he could cool off by wallowing in the mud. The Momma sheep said, “No.” “But why Momma?” the little lamb asked, “It’s so hot today!” The Momma sheep very simply said, “Sheep don’t wallow.”
Later that day the little lamb decided that he was going to cool off in that mud no matter what his Momma said. So he snuck around the backside of the barn, squeezed through the fence and gingerly stepped into the mud. The mud felt so cool on his feet that he knelt down so that he could feel the cool mud on his tummy. Eventually he decided to roll around like all the little piglets were doing. Suddenly, the big boar came lumbering out of the pig barn. When he saw a lamb in his pigpen he angrily began running toward him. The little lamb’s wool was so weighed down by the mud that he could not move! Petrified the little lamb began calling for help! The farmer ran over to the pigpen and jumped over the fence to pull the little lamb to safety. Then he got a hose to clean off all the mud and brought him back to his Momma. The little lamb was so ashamed of what he had done that he didn’t know what to say. The Momma sheep came up to him and very gently said, “Remember: Sheep don’t wallow.”
Sheep Don’t Wallow. That’s the theme we are going to use as we study this portion of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
Earlier in this letter the apostle Paul reminds us that as the “sons of God” we are no longer under the “supervision of the law.” (See Galatians 3:23-29) Like a minor child who has now become “of age” we no longer need the Law to serve as our “custodian” or our “chaperone.” That reality begs the questions: Since we are no longer under the “supervision of the law” does that mean that we can simply ignore God’s Law? Does that mean that we can simply do whatever we want? Does that mean that we can live our life in whatever way seems best to us? To find the answers to those questions I direct your attention to the opening words of our text. Paul writes, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.”
Like that little lamb who would walk by the pigpen day after day and dream about what it would be like to wallow in the mud, so also we all have something inside us that is constantly urging us to wallow in the mud-pits of this world. What is it? It is our old sinful nature! Not only does our old sinful nature want us to do exactly the opposite of what God wants for us, but our old sinful nature will even try to convince us that we can go out and get a little “muddy” if we want— because after all doesn’t God want us to be happy? Isn’t our God a God of love and forgiveness? So let’s go wallow in the mud!
What exactly is our old sinful nature trying to get us to do? What “mud-pits” does our old sinful nature want us to wallow in? Look at verse 19-21 of our text. Paul writes, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
In our “politically correct” society today the apostle Paul would be lambasted for not only writing something like this, but he would also be lambasted for being so “narrow-minded” as he tried to impose his morals and his opinions on others. The reality of the situation is this: I seriously doubt that anyone— including any one of us— could read through a list like this without saying “Ouch!” at least once or twice. We all have our own personal “weaknesses,” my friends. We all have days when like that little lamb we want to sneak around the backside of the barn, squeeze through the fence and feel the mud on our feet. That’s precisely why over and over again Scripture issues the warning: “Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” We have an enemy who is far more powerful and far more dangerous than that old boar. Our enemy is like a ferocious lion who is looking for any and every opportunity to devour us and drag us to hell forever. (See 1 Peter 5:8) The more we wallow in the “mud-pits” of sin, the more we allow this mud to get caked into our “wool” the easier it is for Satan to succeed in destroying our faith! That’s why as Christians we need to remember: Sheep don’t wallow.
What if we have wallowed in the mud-pits of sin? Look at verses 22-25 of our text. Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
When we realize that we have indeed wallowed in the mud-pits of this world, when we realize that we have indeed gotten our feet muddy— or perhaps have become completely caked in mud— we turn to our Savior God and we cry out for help! In His grace and in His mercy the good Lord reaches down to lift us up out of the mud. Then through the power of His Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament our God “cleanses” us of that mud by forgiving us our sins. Finally, in His grace and in His mercy the good Lord puts His arm across our shoulder and gently reminds us, “My child, you are My sheep and sheep don’t wallow.”
“You are My sheep and sheep don’t wallow,” or as Paul put it here in our text, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Very simply Paul is encouraging us to remember who we are, my friends. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we have been “born again” as the dearly beloved children of God through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. (See John 3:3-8) Through the power of the Holy Spirit we have been brought from being “dead in our transgressions and sins” to being “alive in Christ.” (See Ephesians 2:1-5) Through the power of the Holy Spirit our old sinful nature has been “crucified” with Christ on the cross of Calvary’s hill. (See Romans 6:1-4; Galatians 2:20; 6:14) Through the power of the Holy Spirit we have been given the “fruit of the Spirit” which is: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Through the power of the Holy Spirit we are God’s sheep— sheep who have been purchased by the holy precious blood of the Good Shepherd, sheep who by the grace of God are saved, who are forgiven, who are justified in the eyes of the Almighty God Himself!
Since this is who we are, my friends, since we do indeed “live by the Spirit,” now as God’s sheep we want to “keep in step with the Spirit.” The Greek word that is translated here in our text as “keep in step with” very literally means, “be in line with” or “stand beside.” As God’s sheep we want the actions of our life to “be in line with” what our Savior God wants for us. As God’s sheep we want to make sure that no matter where we are, no matter what we are doing, no matter who we are with we are confident that we are “standing beside” our Savior God and He is “standing beside” us.
How will we know if the actions of our life are “in line with” God’s will for us? How will we know whether or not we can be confident that we are indeed “standing beside” our Savior and that He is “standing beside” us? Do we go by how we “feel”? Do we listen to what other people say about us? Not at all! This is where and how God’s Law comes into the picture— in a proper way. We compare. We compare how we are living our life, we compare how we are treating the people around us, we compare the thoughts we allow to go through our mind, we compare the attitudes, feelings and priorities that we harbor in our heart to the “standard” of God’s Law— specifically the Ten Commandments that He has given to us. If we see that we have indeed been wallowing in the mud we kneel at the foot of the cross and we humbly say, “God, have mercy on me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). And guess what, my friends? No matter how muddy we might be when we kneel at the foot of the cross and humbly plead for God in His mercy to forgive us our sins, the good Lord says, “Look up! (Pointing to the cross) I already have! You are my dearly beloved sheep!”
The title of our closing hymn for today is, I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb. I chose that hymn because I think it very simply and very beautifully reflects the truth that the Holy Spirit is proclaiming in our text for today. My prayer this morning is that as we journey through this world, as we walk past the mud-pits of sin that this world freely offers to us, as we hear the Siren-song of those who invite us to come and play in the mud with them— I pray that we remember. Remember that we are Jesus’ little lambs. Remember that we are God’s precious sheep. Remember that Sheep Don’t Wallow!
To God be the glory!