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“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, it goes through dry places seeking rest. Finding none, it says, ‘I will return to my house, from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it swept and furnished. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that man is worse than the first.” Luke 11:24-26

What happens when we, by our own resolve and efforts, clean up our lives and rid ourselves of some vice which had dominated or controlled us? What happens when we determine to kick the habit and end a bad behavior or addiction which in many ways controlled our thoughts and lives?

Jesus tells us the answer: “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, it goes through dry places seeking rest. Finding none, it says, ‘I will return to my house, from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it swept and furnished. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that man is worse than the first.”

And so it is with self-help religion — when people, out of fear of consequences, whether civil punishments or other detrimental effects, determine to quit an evil behavior or addiction. They cast out the demon and seek to clean up their lives, but their hearts still long after evil. They may quit drinking or taking drugs, they may quit viewing pornography or halt an adulterous relationship, they may stop going to wild parties and quit participating in sexual immorality; but their hearts still long after the feelings, the high, the sexual excitement, the pleasures.

And what happens? The old demon is missed and comes back. He is even welcomed back! And, finding the house empty and swept, he brings with him seven more evil spirits (or vices) more wicked than himself and takes up residence in the person’s heart, making that person’s last state worse than the first.

Haven’t we seen it happen before? People clean up their lives and appear to do well for a time, but then they fall off the wagon, so to speak; they give in to the longings of their sinful hearts and their last state is worse than the first. They become totally dominated and controlled by their evil longings.

What’s the answer? If we are incapable of truly cleaning up our own lives by resolutions, lifestyle changes, or following the 12 steps, what can free us from the evil spirits which so easily control and possess us — which are so often welcomed into our lives by our old sinful flesh?

The answer lies in the regenerating work which only the Holy Spirit can work in us through His Word and Sacraments.
Through the Law of God, the Holy Spirit reveals to us our sinfulness and the utter sinful condition of our hearts. He reveals to us that our self-help methods are not enough, that we stand condemned by the Word of God which tells us that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:4, 20; cf. Rom. 3:9-20).

And through the Gospel, the Holy Spirit reveals to us the grace and mercy of God in Christ Jesus, God the Son in human flesh. It reveals to us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16); that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4); that “in Him we have redemption through His blood and the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7); and, in Jesus’ words: “Truly, truly I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has eternal life and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).

The Holy Spirit, working through God’s Word of Law and Gospel, convicts us of our sin and brings us to trust in Christ and His sacrifice on the cross for forgiveness and life. And the Holy Spirit, through the waters of Baptism, joins us to Christ in His death and resurrection and regenerates us and gives us new life and a new nature which loves God and gladly seeks to walk according to God’s will (cf. John 3:3-6; Tit. 3:3-7; Col. 2:11-15; Acts 22:16). In the Lord’s Supper, He assures us as we partake of Christ’s sacrifice that the blessings Christ won for us when He gave His body into death for us and shed His blood on the cross to pay for our sins are our own (Matt. 26:26-28).

Does that mean the old sinful desires are gone forever, that we will not also have longings and desires which are of the devil? No, as long as we are in this world, the devil is still at work to lead us back into sin and bind us in His kingdom (cf. 1 Pet. 5:8-9). We still live in the world which lies under the sway and control of the evil one (cf. 1 John 5:19), and we still have our old sinful flesh which has been corrupted by sin and evil and longs to gratify its own selfish and sinful desires (cf. Gal. 5:16ff.).
The point is that it is fruitless to just attempt to drive out the darkness. The only way to overcome the darkness is to turn on the light and let it shine into our hearts — revealing sin as sin and the cause of death, and revealing Christ as our only hope and the bringer of forgiveness and life! As the Apostle John says in his first epistle, to walk in the light is not to pretend we have no sin, but it is to agree with God and confess our sins and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus, who atoned for our sins and the sins of all by His innocent sufferings and death upon the cross (1 John 1:5 — 2:2).

When we walk in the light of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit carries out His gracious and regenerating working in us, instead of having a house empty and swept and open to the devil and all his evil spirits, we have the Spirit of God dwelling in us, who is working to make our lives more and more like our Lord Jesus.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, seeing the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, as in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:17-18; cf. Rom. 8:23,29).

So, don’t just clean your house! Let God clean your house by letting the light of His Word shine into your hearts, revealing sin as sin and Christ as Your only Savior from sin! Let God’s Spirit do His life-giving work by cleansing your hearts in the blood of Christ and renewing them through God’s Word and Sacraments!

O gracious and merciful God, I am a sinner and unable to free myself from the bondage of sin. Forgive my sins for Jesus’ sake and cleanse my heart by the gracious working of Your Spirit through the Word. Amen.

[Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]

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“Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7

The Scriptures tell us that, when God created man, He formed man’s body of the dust of the ground, breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.

While few would question today that our bodies are made of dust — the very elements found in the ground — there are many who are unwilling to believe the second part of this passage: namely, that life — both physical and spiritual — was given to man’s earthly body by the breath of God and that, as a result, man became a living soul.

The naturalists and evolutionists of our day have come up with explanations (though unfeasible to the sensible) for the physical formation of organisms, but they have no answer as to the source of life or its complexity. How is it that the physical elements became complex living beings?

Those who believe the Bible know that the physical elements which make up our bodies are God’s creation and that the formation of our bodies is God’s design. But we also know that life was given by none other than God Himself! “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

When the Prophet Daniel was brought in before King Belshazzar to interpret the writing of the fingers upon the wall (Daniel 5), he told the foolish king that he had lifted himself up against the Lord of heaven and not glorified “the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways” (Dan. 5:23).

Not only did the LORD God breathe into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life, He formed each of us in our mother’s womb and gave us life, and He holds that very life in His hand (cf. Psalm 139:13-16).

What a great difference there is between the teaching of the Bible and the doctrines of evolution and meaningless fate! The LORD God who created the heavens and the earth specifically formed and created our bodies and breathed into us the breath of life. He holds our very lives in His hand. When He gives the breath of life, we live. When He takes the breath of life from us, we die and our bodies return to dust (cf. Eccl. 3:18-22).

Were it not for man’s sin and disobedience to the LORD God, the breath of life would not be taken from us; but, because of the sin which corrupts our hearts and minds and keeps us from wholly loving, honoring and walking in harmony with the God who made us, He takes His breath from us and our bodies return to dust.

Yet, in His love and mercy toward us in Christ Jesus, He has provided a way for us to live together with Him in righteousness and true holiness forever. He sent His only begotten Son into the world a true man (with a body made of dust like ours).

Jesus Christ, God the Son in human flesh, fulfilled with perfect obedience the righteous demands of God’s holy commandments; and He took the guilt and punishment of our sins upon Himself, suffering and dying upon the cross, and being condemned and forsaken of God the Father in heaven because of our sin and the sins of all. And Jesus, though He yielded up His breath and spirit unto God upon the cross, was raised to life again on the third day that He might give us life — everlasting life with Him in heaven!

Though the day will soon come — unless Christ first returns — when God removes from us the breath of life and your body and my body return to the dust from which they were taken, Jesus Christ paid for your sins and mine — indeed for the sins of the whole world — and God offers and extends to you, to me and to all people, through faith in Christ Jesus, a full and complete pardon and forgiveness, and a life which will never end.

“Jesus Christ the Righteous One … is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1,2). “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life“ (John 3:16).

Through faith in Christ Jesus, we live. And, though we may die, our bodies will be raised up again on the Last Day from the dust of the ground, and God will again give us life — life without end!

Dear Father in heaven, thank You for forming me of the dust and giving me the breath of life that I might learn of You and the glorious salvation You have provided for me through the innocent sufferings and death of Your Son, Christ Jesus, my Savior. Create and sustain in my heart faith in You and Your mercy, and grant me the gift of life eternal in Christ Jesus. In His name, I pray. Amen.

[Scripture Quotations are from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]

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“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1 (Read Genesis 1 and 2)

How did the heavens, the earth, and everything in them come to be? The Bible clearly tells us that the one true God — Jehovah God, who is one God, yet three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — created them out of nothing by His almighty Word. Reading on in the first two chapters of Genesis, we see He said of that which He created, “Let there be …” and “there was.”

It is as the Scriptures teach: “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of His mouth” (Psalm 33:6); and, “By faith we understand that the universe was framed by the word of God, so that things that are seen were not made out of things which are visible” (Heb. 11:3).

That the LORD God created the heavens and earth and everything in them in six days is taught not only in the Genesis account but is repeated as a basis for the observance of the Sabbath in the Old Testament Scriptures. “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex. 20:11).

The Church, which is made up of all true believers of all time, has always held to the truthfulness of the Genesis account of creation and confesses with Nehemiah the prophet: “You alone are the LORD. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and You preserve them all. And the host of heaven worships You” (Neh. 9:6). So also, in the ancient creeds still used today, believers confess: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”

This same God, who called all things into existence by His almighty Word, has also created each one of us. He formed the first man from the dust of the ground, breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul (Gen. 2:7). He created the first woman from the rib of Adam (Gen. 2:18ff.); and He created and formed each one of us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-16).

Not only has He created us and given us life, He sent His only-begotten Son to die for us and bear the guilt and punishment for our sins that we might have life eternal through faith in Him; and He calls us to faith through the hearing of His life-giving Word. The Bible tells us: “But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born from a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5); and, “You are all sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27).

This means that the LORD God has created you, forming you in the womb; and, even though you knew Him not because of the sin inherent in each of us through Adam’s fall (John 1:1-14; Gen. 3), He came into this world a true man to pay for your sins and make you His own, and He calls you to faith in Him through His gracious word of forgiveness and life in His Son, Jesus Christ! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

O LORD God, Creator of the heavens, the earth, and all things, thank You for making me, giving me breath, and for giving me life through faith in the Son. Graciously keep me in the true and saving faith unto life everlasting. Amen.

[Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]

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Jesus answered them, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:31-32 (Read Luke 5:27-32)

It was not those who thought themselves to be righteous who came to Jesus, but the tax collectors and sinners — those who knew of their utter sinfulness and need for a Savior.

Though the scribes and Pharisees faulted Jesus for associating with such sinners, Jesus associated with them because He “came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15), and “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10; cf. v. 1-10).

It is as Jesus said to them: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

How comforting this is to us sinners! Jesus is our friend! He came into this world to save us! He shed His holy and precious blood upon the cross to make atonement for sinners like you and like me! “In Him [through faith in His name] we have redemption through His blood and the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7; cf. 1 John 2:1-2).

Were the scribes and Pharisees sinners? Yes, they were (cf. Rom. 3:10ff.)! But they thought they were righteous and acceptable to God by their own works. They misunderstood God’s Word and saw no need of repentance or for a Savior to make atonement for their sins. And, sadly, many do the same in our own day. They fail to see their own utter sinfulness and their need of the Savior and they are unwilling to believe the Gospel.

Jesus came to call us to repentance and to give us life eternal through faith in Him.

And, following the example of our Lord Jesus, we too can reach out to and associate with sinners, not to join in their evil ways, but to call them to repentance and to share with them the comforting news that Jesus is the friend of sinners — that He died for their sins, too, and that He reaches out to them and offers to them forgiveness of sins and life everlasting through faith in His name!

O dearest Jesus, we thank You for being the friend of sinners — for shedding Your holy and precious blood to redeem us, and for calling us to repent and trust in You for forgiveness and life everlasting. Amen.

[Scripture is quoted from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.

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Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God said, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” Genesis 3:1 (Read Genesis 3)

The paradise which God created (Genesis 1-2) did not last long, for Genesis 3 tells of the temptation of the devil, a fallen angel, who came to Eve in the form of the serpent.

“Did God really say that that you should not eat from any tree of the garden?” (paraphrase) he asked, creating a question in the woman’s mind.

And when Eve explained that the prohibition and warning concerning disobedience bringing about about death — alienation and separation from God — was only in regard to the tree in the middle of the garden, the devil distorted the truth by saying, “You surely will not die! For God knows that on the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4,5). Thus, he caused her to think that perhaps God was somehow holding out on her, keeping from her and her husband something good and desirable.

Of course, this still happens every day. The devil comes to us through friends and coworkers, through the media and entertainment industries, and in our own thoughts and minds, and says, “Does God really expect you to keep all those commandments in the Bible?” And he works hard to convince us that God is trying to keep us from having fun and enjoying life, or that He is placing an impossible burden upon us, that He really doesn’t expect us to keep all of His commandments, or that breaking just a few of the commandments now and then won’t really alienate and separate us from God — after all, everybody does it.

And, like Eve, when we look at the thing we are being tempted to do, it looks good and desirable to us at the moment. We think it will be fun or pleasurable; it will work out for our good; it won’t hurt anything; no one will know.

And so, we rationalize and give in to the temptation and to our own sinful desires, and the result is death! We recognize our nakedness and guilt before God. We may attempt to cover it up or even learn to cope with it, but the guilt remains. We are afraid to stand in His presence. We would rather not hear God’s Word or walk into His house of prayer.

Why? Because our sin and disobedience, though they may have appeared to be good at the time, brought about spiritual death and separation from God. When confronted with the presence of God and His truth, we hide and seek to conceal our sin and guilt. When questioned about our sin, we make excuses and blame others.

As a result of Adam and Eve’s sin, we are all born into this world sinners — our very thoughts and desires are turned away from God and His holy commandments. What David wrote is true for each of us as a result of that first sin: “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5; Cf. Rom. 5:12). Instead of loving God, trusting Him, and desiring to honor and glorify His name, we think only of ourselves, we doubt and disbelieve God’s Word, and we seek our own honor and glory. We are born in spiritual death and are alienated from God.

That is why we so desperately need God’s pardon and forgiveness. We need Him to find us, forgive us and give us life again. And God has come to us and reached out to us in love and forgiveness. He desires to free us from our guilt and shame and give us life everlasting with Him.

He did this by sending His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to overcome temptation and sin for us (cf. Matt. 4:1-11; Heb. 4:15) and then go to the cross to be condemned, forsaken of God and die in our stead that we might have God’s pardon and forgiveness and not be afraid of God or troubled by guilt and shame any longer. In Christ Jesus, atonement has been made and the sin of the world taken away (cf. 1 John 2:1-2); and through faith in Christ Jesus, your sin and mine are pardoned (Rom. 3:21-26; 5:1-2).

O dearest Jesus, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy upon me, find me, and wash away the guilt of my sin in Your shed blood. And, dear Jesus, grant me a place in Your everlasting kingdom. Amen.

[Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]

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