Monday, June 24, 2013

Sermon on Galatians 3:23-4:7 for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, Part 4: "Faith in Christ"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Today we’re in the fourth part of our series on the book of Galatians. And sin, law, faith, and Christ are the focus of today’s reading. Faith is a tremendously important word to us, and is widely “borrowed” even outside the church. But it’s often used in a fuzzy and vague way. Statements like “you just gotta have faith”, for example. Faith in what? Believe in yourself? Believe that everything will just be ok, even if it doesn’t seem that way? On the other hand, the Bible uses the word faith with great clarity. The closest synonym to faith would be “trust”—and both faith and trust must always have an object. The person or thing faith or trust looks to. That which we believe in. This helps us understand that faith or trust can’t really exist by itself, “aimed at nothing”—or it will receive exactly nothing. Also, we’ll see that faith or trust aimed at the wrong person or thing, won’t do us any good either. Can they “deliver” what we hope for or need? Can they measure up to and solve our problems? Are those problems big or small?
If my problem is minor—say wart-removal or changing the oil on my car—I may be either wise or foolish to trust myself, have faith in myself, to solve the problem on my own. Depending on my knowledge and skill, and how hard or easy the task, I might just measure up to it. But this kind of “faith in yourself” is not at all what the Bible is talking about. On the other hand, if it’s a more serious problem—say the need for a kidney transplant, or repairing my transmission—I’d better find a trustworthy and skilled doctor or mechanic.
Carrying that same line of thinking into spiritual things—is the size of our problem big or small? What measures the size of our spiritual problems? Can we trust our self-diagnosis, or do we need God’s own diagnosis of the matter? That’s where what Pastor Roschke called “big law” comes in. The Law of God, that St. Paul describes in our reading, is what measures the size of our problems. And the diagnosis is not good—the size of the problem is BIG—and the extent of the problem is TOTAL. Sin is the name of the disease, and the end result is death—with a 100% mortality rate. When left to our own self-diagnosis, the problem goes under-diagnosed. We always measure our own sin to be a little less than the next guy, and we’re inclined to see the symptoms of someone else’s sin better than our own. This is known as the “plank-in-your-eye” syndrome. But it’s a woefully serious problem, because sin is rebellion against God Himself. It’s a flaunting of His commands, and a listening to our own sinful heart and its desires, instead of His good will and statutes.
Sin is the perennially echoed challenge to God, first spoken by the serpent: “Did God really say?” And the deadly result of this sin nature is a scoffing at God, and a refusal of treatment. Or attempts at self-medicating. The long list of human religions is a continual attempt at finding the right recipe for self-medicating our spiritual problems. We measure the problem to be small enough for us to tackle, and find our own self-help solutions for treating it, apart from God and His remedy of repentance and forgiveness. From ancient idol worship to new age spirituality, all man-made religions follow variations of the same do-it-yourself themes: you can climb up to God (or fill-in-the-blank higher power) by your own moral striving; or you can encounter the divine through your emotions and mystical experiences; or even you can find enlightenment by reason and science and by throwing off old notions of the spiritual or supernatural.
Or, in a way that seems more clever, we drag in parts of the Bible that suit our own ideas, and sneak in our “do-it-yourself” message in various forms. This is our state of affairs, where everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes, where “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks after God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10b-12). And to this state of affairs where “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23)—the Law of God imprisoned everything and everyone. Imprisoned, jailed, locked up.
God’s Law imposed a total quarantine of sinful humanity. Paul says, “Before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed” (Gal. 3:23). Here we see again why our plight is not that different from the prisoners at MCCC that Pastor Roschke talked about last week. Or why we have something in common with every other member of the human race, regardless of culture, language, or religion. We share the tragic common bond of our fallenness, our sinfulness. The same weakness that doesn’t see our situation aright. The same sin-blindness that needs God’s big law to imprison us, to blind us with the light of goodness, long enough for the scales to fall off our own eyes and show us our own sinfulness. But not only do we share that tragic common bond of our sinfulness, we also share in the universal welcome of the Gospel to people of every nation, Jew or Gentile, every social status, slave or free, and that makes no difference between male and female. Our universal plight is met by God’s total redeeming work in Christ, given freely to all who believe.
“So then”, Paul continues, “The law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith”, and later, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” We discover that the quarantine or imprisonment of the Law, to keep our sin in bounds and under the curse, was not a cruel act of God to isolate us, but to keep us under guard until Christ came. When Christ came as God’s own Son, He entered into the quarantine, “born under the law” like us, but without sin. Jesus came as the sinless and perfect Son of God, with the immunity from sin, the only One who could absorb all sin’s poisonous and virulent strains into Himself, and die for it, and then rise again in glorious victory over sin and death!
God, who correctly diagnosed the depth of our depravity and sin, and who rightly judged us accursed by our sin, did not abandon us to death and suffering the consequences of our sin, but Himself dove down into the muck and mire of our human condition, immersed Himself in life together with the sinful and the groaning, healing the sick, reversing the curse, giving us undeserved blessing instead. Jesus Christ experienced at our human level all the pain and misery that sin brings, and with a surgeon’s knife He cut through the warped logic of our self-treatment plans. He came under the same judgment of the law that accused us, and became for us the way to freedom and innocence. He taught that “everyone who sins is a slave to sin” and that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!” (John 8:34, 36). It’s the same freedom Paul describes when he says that Jesus was born under the law to “redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Far from willing harm by imprisoning us under the law, God wills life for us! He wills that once imprisoned, we may be set free by faith in Christ!
See, there is the miracle of His cure! Faith, looks not to ourselves, but to Jesus Christ! We are “justified by faith”—that is to say that by trusting in Jesus—the only One who is able to help with our God-sized sin problem. And by trusting in Him God counts us as sinless; righteous and good. God renders a new judgment, a new verdict on us, a new diagnosis. When He justifies us, He renders the judgment, the verdict, that we are innocent by faith in Jesus Christ. He sees us exactly as He sees Christ Himself—holy, innocent, blameless, without fault. He sees Jesus Christ’s righteousness spreading over all our sin and shame. He sees a perfectly robed saint, dressed in a fitting garment for a heavenly wedding banquet. He sees adopted sons, welcomed into God’s family by faith, by trusting in Jesus Christ and having their sins fully crucified in Christ, forgiven and forever taken away.
Our new diagnosis is that we’ll live, because we live in Christ. And how do we become these “sons of God, through faith”? Paul answers, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” In baptism we are joined to Christ. We have little reminders of this in the symbols we use in the baptismal service—a little white garment to remind us that we are clothed with Christ’s righteousness that covers all our sin. Or sometimes children wear a white baptismal gown or dress. But those little symbols teach us of what’s really happening, not just in a symbolic way, when we’re baptized into Christ Jesus. God is clothing us with Christ. Just as you are coming out of prison, our quarantine under sins, and have discarded the old prison clothes, the old contaminated rags of sin, God now clothes you in new baptismal garb—clothed with Christ Himself. In baptism you are “wearing” Christ—so all of His righteousness is yours, His perfect innocence, yours, by faith in Him. You’re shielded and protected from the condemnation of the law because you are in Christ Jesus. Where before you were a slave, now you’re a son, heir to the freedom, heir to the life He’s won for you.
One pastor described the limitations of the law in producing good in us this way: the electric company can get a lot of money out of me by threatening to shut off my electricity—but I’ll never pay them more than the bill says is due. My obligation ends there. But the nature of my relationship with those I love is entirely different. They get far more from me than merely what is due. For those whom we truly love, we give beyond what is asked for. His analogy shows a parallel to the way that the law can compel a certain outward goodness in us, but only of a limited and reluctant nature. But the Gospel, the Good News of Christ Jesus, on the other hand, is God’s love given to us, and moves our love in return. A love that is not given or measured by “how much I owe” or “what must I do” or “what’ll I have to do to get by”—but an overflowing generosity, mercy, and forgiveness that knows no limitation. True obedience to God can therefore only come out of the motivation of the Gospel, out of love—not compulsion, fear, or under threat. In this way we live truly as sons, not as slaves in the household.
Why does it refer to us as “sons of God”, receiving “adoption as sons” or that we’re not “a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God”, instead of saying “sons and daughters of God?” 2 Corinthians 6:18 says “you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty,” so that is certainly a Biblical way of speaking. But why does it mention only sons in Galatians 3-4? Is it leaving out women? Certainly not, because in 3:28 he says that in Christ Jesus there is no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus.
But he is emphasizing the nature of our inheritance. In the Biblical world, inheritance was passed through the son, and the firstborn son had the “birthright” and therefore the largest share of the inheritance. And so we have been brought from “outsiders” to the family of God—slaves in our sin and imprisoned under the law, with no right, no claim to the inheritance—to being adopted into the family of God through Christ Jesus as sons and then an heir through God. In our baptismal adoption, we’re full heirs to the inheritance of Jesus Christ. God treats us as His own firstborn son, heir to all His goodness, life, and promise.
Within this salvation, within this adoption into the family, there is no hierarchy of importance, no distinction in access to the gift, no law-requirements to qualify some and disqualify others by virtue of sex, race, or social standing. God gives His gift of salvation, He adopts us as sons, regardless of our language, the color of our skin, our earthly freedom or captivity, our wealth or poverty, or our sex. Men are not inherently closer to God than women, or vice versa. Free walking citizens are no closer to accessing God’s kingdom of grace, then those walking behind bars. Neither Europeans, nor Asians, nor Africans are more or less favored by God to be called according to His grace. The universal human need and distress is met by the same universal remedy and rescue--Jesus Christ--the object of our faith. He makes us all one in Him, and brings us together into His body.
            Christ Jesus has come to us who were once bonded together in our sin, and by entering under the bonds of the Law, broke them for us, so that we are now bonded to Him in our baptism. Joined to Christ who is our forgiveness, our freedom, our life! Justified by faith in Jesus Christ is truly pure gift! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      Why does faith (or trust) always need to have an object? What is the proper object of Christian faith? Galatians 2:16, 20. What happens when we put our faith in someone or something who is unable to help, save, or deliver what is promised? Why then is God in Christ the only true object for Christian faith?
2.      How does God’s law measure the size of our problem, and what is it? Romans 3:23; 6:23; 3:10b-12. How do we often try to divert attention from our own sin, when trying to “self-diagnose”? Romans 2:1-3.
3.      What steps did God take to contain the “outbreak” of sin? Galatians 3:21-25. How does this reflect our common human plight with all people? How does it prepare us to receive the Good News of the Gospel?
4.      How did Jesus respond to our imprisonment under the law? Galatians 3:24; 4:4-5. How does Christ set us free? John 8:34, 36.
5.      Freed from prison by Christ, how does God “dress us” with new clothing? Galatians 3:27-28; cf. Matthew 22:1-14.
6.      How does the Gospel produce true love and obedience in us in a way that the Law never could?

7.      Why does Paul specifically use the language of “sons” in Galatians 3:26, 4:4-7? What is the significance about how inheritance was passed down? In another context, why is it perfectly appropriate to speak of being “sons and daughters” of God? 2 Corinthians 6:18. What is the freedom of living as sons and not slaves in the household of God? 

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