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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

20 June 2006

Love, Law, Flesh, and Spirit

Q: How do you love your brother? Do we commit sin? Are we in the flesh or in the spirit? Are we under the Law? What is the Law?

Novelli: Cain and AbelA: To love your brother is to be your “brother’s keeper, (Genesis 4:9)” loving him by doing what is best for him in all circumstances, even if it puts you at a disadvantage. You speak well of him, stop any gossip, and take an active concern in his physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Since “love covers a multitude of sins, (1 Peter 4:8)” you don’t dwell on any of your brother’s sinful behavior — you confront it (face to face whenever possible) as you are able but never talk about it with others or bring it up again after it has been forgiven.

The Law itself is all that God commands or forbids in human thought and behavior. To think, speak, or act otherwise is sin. We all sin, even if it’s “only” not loving God with every fiber of our being and trusting absolutely in Him for everything.

Sinners are under the Law. Redeemed Christians are free from its power. Since we are both sinner and saint, the Law corrects and reminds us when we are wrong and guides our decision-making and actions as we respond to God’s love for us.

The Law always accuses us, the Gospel always forgives us. Paul writes in Romans 10:6-10 about both parts of this relationship we have with God: “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”

Therefore, as we give in to temptation and indulge in sin, we are of the flesh. As we acknowledge and confess our sins, receive God’s forgiveness for the sake of Christ, and desire to love Him wholeheartedly and love our neighbor as ourselves, we are of the Spirit.

Pietro Novelli painting Cain and Abel from the Web Gallery of Art.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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