Summary: Starting with the Revolutionary War, Pastor Walther takes the listener to the ultimate war that all Christians face - the war with sin and temptation. This war must be waged and can only be won through faith in Christ.
Waging the War Within
On July 4, 1776 fifty-six men signed the Declaration of Independence. Citing numerous abuses of the law and the oppressive and unjust rule of the king of England, these men pledged their honor, their lives and their livelihood to the cause of justice and freedom. We have them and many others to thank for the freedoms we now enjoy in this country. The struggle for freedom didn’t end with them. Evil is always present and always eager to enslave us. The Revolutionary War, and many others like it over the years, was just part of a much deeper and difficult struggle that has gone on in the lives of human beings since the beginning of the world. Signer of the Declaration of Independence Benjamin Franklin referred to this struggle in one of his famous sayings: “Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbor, and let every new year find you a better man.” The struggle for freedom, the struggle for good, the struggle for peace in this world is not just the matter of occasional wars or political debates. This struggle rests at the heart and core of every human being. It begins within each of us as Franklin said so well: “Be at war with your vices.” This is also what God teaches us to do in an even more significant way as we heard in these words of Paul:
I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7.23-25
Are you at war with your vices? Are you at war with the law of sin that dwells in your members, that is your body? If not, I welcome the opportunity to introduce you to one of the most important concepts of life as a human being. If you are engaged in this war, I hope I can encourage you, and in both cases, I hope you will see the ultimate victory that God gives us in Jesus Christ, who truly sets us free from the ultimate evil and slavery of sin.
I Don’t Know What You are Talking About?
I hope everyone can understand, at least initially, what we’re talking about here. But I know that many people have no clue about this. The world is so different today than in Ben Franklin’s day. People today are taught that they are good by nature. “Vices? What vices? What are you talking about? We can do whatever they want, can’t we, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone?” That is the spirit of our age, and that has led our culture to be moral pacifists. Of course pacifists are easily over-run, and we are being over-run with evil. What once was considered vile and indecent behavior is not only accepted but praised.
In the colonial days everyone was encouraged to read the Bible, and good morals were held in high esteem. But to show you how far our culture has strayed, in January of last year Kenneth Dominguez, a high school student in San Diego, was actually disciplined for telling other students about his faith in Jesus and specifically told not to bring a Bible to school (http://www.calcatholic.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?id=9a9a7d7c-9607-4a1a-8771-2a767038e603).
We should not be surprised then to hear foul language in our school and workplaces. We should not be surprised to see violence being glorified in rap music and video games. Sex is torn apart from marriage and the biological reality of marriage itself is denied in favor of the perversion of homosexuality. We should not be surprised to see the insistence on the government to feed, clothe and support people whether they want to work or not. We’ve even grown accustomed to deceitful and manipulative communication from the government, news media, businesses and individuals. Basically most people live their lives totally focused on getting whatever it is that one wants. We are not a culture at war with our vices but rather in love with them. As Paul said to the Philippians, “Their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame” (Philippians 3.16 ESV).
From Vice to Virtue - The Wrong Way
How do we move from vice to virtue? Let me tell you first of all how not to... Even ancient pagans, those who never heard the Bible, recognized that living in vice was deadly and destructive. They were far ahead of our modern culture that is foolishly accepting vices and actually calling them virtues. The Romans had a saying, “To flee vice is the beginning of virtue.” This is a nice thing to say, and it would be wonderful if it were actually possible. But the ancient philosophers who “knew” better could never “do” better. Seneca was one of the great Roman philosophers. But his life was anything but moral as he assisted Nero in murder plots and eventually committed suicide. Friedrich Nitszche, the German philosopher, insisted that the measure of all philosophy is whether one can live by it. He died in syphilitic madness. By far the most interesting attempt at virtue was made by the young Benjamin Franklin already mentioned above. When he was twenty years old Franklin drew up a list of thirteen virtues that he believed every man should strive to attain. They were: Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquility, Chastity, and Humility. He even made a little chart listing these virtues and marked each time he failed to keep one of them.* But try as he might Franklin fell far short of his goals as he admitted in his autobiography. No doubt his life was better for having tried, but the fact is that moral virtue is impossible for human beings.