Monday, July 01, 2013

Sermon on Galatians 5:1, 13-25, for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, Part 5: "Freedom in Christ"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Today is our 5th sermon from the book of Galatians, chapter 5. As we’ve outlined the book so far, in the first two chapters Paul defends his apostleship, and that his Gospel came from God, not man. The next two chapters focused on the heart of that Gospel—that we are justified (declared righteous) by faith in Christ, and not by works of the Law. These last two chapters and sermons will focus more on the topic of sanctification—that is how the Christian is made holy by their life in Christ.
Those rich Biblical words: justification and sanctification—are like fraternal twins. The are two simultaneous aspects of our salvation in Christ, and while closely related to each other, and always side by side, they each tell us something different about our relationship with Christ. And we’re always forgetting what they mean. Let’s see if we can simplify it so that you don’t mix up “the twins”. Justification, the first born, describes the completed, once for all, work of forgiveness in Christ Jesus. To be justified, or declared righteous, as we heard last week, is to get God’s new verdict, His new judgment of us by faith—that we are forgiven, innocent, wholly righteous in His eyes. Justification is full and complete—not partial in any way. It’s God’s declaration to you, effective from Jesus’ cross when He said, “It is finished!” Justification is 100% God’s work done for us, accomplished and complete in Jesus’ death on the cross for our sin, and as Paul so carefully explained in earlier chapters—it involves no addition or contribution on our part—no good works or effort. The only thing that we bring to the exchange is our sin, which has been completely given over to Jesus. And in return, we receive this present state of grace, this situation that we now live as forgiven and set free. All because of Christ, received by faith, looking to the future glory to come.
Now sanctification is the other twin. It follows closely after justification, and is another aspect of our salvation. Paul talks about it in chapters 5 & 6. Sanctification describes how we now live, as a result of being justified. It describes the ongoing, unfinished business of making you holy, or conforming your life to Christ. When justification describes the “done deal”—sanctification describes the “work in progress”; the “God’s not finished with me yet.” Our sanctification is only complete when we die and go to be with the Lord. It’s our calling to a life of holiness, shown in the fruits of the Spirit. While in justification, we aren’t in any way “coworkers” with God, but are completely passive recipients of God’s gift—in sanctification we are called “coworkers with God,” (1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Cor. 6:1) because we actively participate in the work God is doing. But we should be quick to add that we cannot take any “credit” for this work of God in us; nor is sanctification our way of “earning credit” or proving our worthiness.
Why must we be so quick to add that we can never take any credit, even here in our sanctification? Because this is just what Paul has been warning against in the whole letter of Galatians. Whether at the beginning, middle, or end; if we try to add our good works, our achievements, or any imagination of our own worthiness, into the picture of salvation, we spoil the pure-gift nature of the gospel. Paul warned in chapter three of the foolishness of thinking that having begun in the Spirit, we could “finish” in the flesh—or that the gift of the Holy Spirit would come through works, instead of the hearing of faith. Paul’s point is that we begin in the Spirit and we must finish in the Spirit. We experience our Christian life and growth by the hearing of the faith, and it will be completed by the hearing of faith. At no point in the scheme of our salvation does it shift back over to “self-reliance” or even shared credit with God.
Salvation from start to finish, including all the “work-in-progress” of sanctification, belongs to God and God alone. All the credit and glory remains his, as Paul in 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Or as he says in 1 Cor. 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” So all of this is to say that it is not us, but Christ who lives in us, and it’s not us, but God’s grace at work in us. And that means that when we start to talk about sanctification, that we can’t turn back to the law.
This is why Paul opens chapter 5 by warning us, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” He refers to the Law as a “yoke of slavery” because all attempts to complete the law, or gain righteousness by the law are doomed to failure. It will wear you out with endless slavery, and you’ll never be free. Your conscience will never be clear, because you’ll always be faced with your inadequacy and failure. Paul urges us to stand firm then, remain in the freedom Christ has given us, and not return to the law. So then what is the Christian life to look like? Sanctification answers the “what now?” of the Christian’s new life in Christ.
Paul maps it out for us. We’ve been set free by Christ, but this freedom is not for our flesh. The freedom for which Christ set us free from the law, is not a freedom to indulge our flesh in sin, but “through love [to] serve one another.” And that’s not a restriction of our freedom, but it shows us where freedom survives—because freedom can be lost. Freedom thrives in love and service. To take the freedom of Christ and use it to indulge our flesh in any of the sins Paul names: sins of sexuality, of idol worship or magic, of hatred, fighting and jealousy, of divisions and drunkenness—to indulge in these sins is to enslave ourselves again. It’s an urgent warning: “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” It’s what Jesus warns: “whoever sins is a slave to sin.” So to be set free by Christ and to make a practice of sinning, is the same as a prisoner set free from jail “defending” their freedom by saying, “I’m free to go back in the lock-up any time I please!” The Christian should always say “no thanks” to any use of our freedom that surrenders it. Another way of thinking about the relation of sin to our freedom, is that Paul has “mapped out” a minefield of sins, so that we know how to avoid the “mines.” All this is to say that Christian freedom is not practiced by trampling over mines, or serving our own desires and appetites, but to walk on the path illuminated by God’s Word. It’s not a freedom to do evil, but a freedom to do good.
But probably every one of us has probably “hit” at least one or more of those “landmines.” If the temptation of your flesh is jealousy, the temptation of another may be sexual sin. If one has a weakness for alcohol, another wrestles with their anger. So what’s a “wounded Christian” whose stumbled back into their old sin (or even a new one), and fearful of losing their eternal inheritance, to do? The answer is in verse 24: “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Our sinful flesh has been crucified with Christ. We return to our baptism, where we were crucified and buried with Christ, and we put our sins “to death” again by repentance. We confess them, lay them down before His cross, putting off the old garment of sin, and being clothed again in Christ, with His righteousness. We take on the new garment, Christ Himself, given for us, and we rise new again.
By being crucified with Christ, and raised anew in our baptism, it is no longer “I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” And it is the life of the Spirit that comes alive and well, and sets itself opposed to the passions and desires of our flesh. And the life of the Spirit is already ours by faith. So after giving us a map of what the “works of the flesh” look like, Paul charts out the life of the Spirit. It’s recognized by the following fruits: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against such things there is no law.” Notice that these fruits are not a list of “required tasks” or “approved duties”—but they are virtues that can be practiced in a limitless number of ways, in all different situations. The way that we serve our neighbor in love is not in one boxed formula of tasks or duties, but it is by exercising the fruits of the spirit in love, patience, self-control, and all the other qualities.
The freedom of the Christian life, the sanctification of being made holy in all we do, is the Holy Spirit bearing these fruits in all we do. It’s the Spirit’s work in progress to transform you into a loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled Christian. Honesty would lead most of us to admit we’re far from done in this life—but God is faithful and He’s working on us through continual repentance and forgiveness. Through feeding us with His Word and Sacrament. Nurturing the life of the Spirit, while crucifying the life of the flesh. Luther liked to talked about baptism as “drowning the old sinful man” in us—but that he’s a really good swimmer. Our sinful nature will persist until we die, but we can continually weaken it by repentance, by prayer, and by disciplining our bodies like a runner training for a race. And simultaneously, we can grow in the life of the Spirit, living by the Spirit, walking by the Spirit, as we partake deeply of all God’s good gifts. As we kneel before His altar and receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. As we meditate and reflect on the Word of Christ crucified for us and our sins. As we live daily in our baptismal relationship to Christ—dying and rising again to new life.
Though this life is a battlefield with many pitfalls and landmines, we have a Savior who has fought the war and won, and who is quick to heal and deliver the wounded. And the freedom that He gives leads us to the place where the warfare is over, the danger is gone, and peace endures. And from now until that day, we should say with all confidence, that whatever our effort here on earth, “it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” To Him alone be all the glory and honor, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      Describe the difference between “justification” and “sanctification”—the “twin” aspects of our salvation. How is justification complete? Romans 3:24-28; 5:16-18. How is sanctification incomplete during this life? Romans 6:22; 1 Thessalonians 4:3. When is it completed? 1 Thessalonians 5:23.
2.      How are we considered “co-workers” in sanctification? 1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 6:1. Why does this still leave us with no room for taking credit for anything? Galatians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 2:12-13 (esp. 13!!).
3.      Why does Paul call the law a “yoke of slavery?” Acts 15:10-11; Galatians 2:16; 3:10-14. Why can it never promise us righteousness or worthiness before God? Romans 8:3-4
4.      What does the “map” of the works of the flesh look like? Why are these sins like “landmines”? John 8:34; Galatians 5:21. What hope is there for those who have “struck” these “landmines” but who desire to repent and live? Galatians 5:24; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
5.      How does the “new person” arise to live before Christ in righteousness and purity forever? Galatians 3:26-27; Romans 6:1-14. How is this new life already ours, and not something we create or strive for by our own effort? Galatians 2:20.

6.      Reflect on each of the fruits of the Spirit named in Galatians 5:22-23. Now you must “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). Consider that while these fruits may seem only feebly realized in your life, that nonetheless they are your identity in the Holy Spirit and God’s free gift! Rejoice!

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