Monday, July 08, 2013

Sermon on Galatians 6:1-10, 14-18, for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, Part 6: “Cross-shaped Life”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. This is the 6th and final sermon on the book of Galatians, and in the sermons on chapter 5 & 6 we said we’d be talking about sanctification—the Christian’s life of holiness and bearing the fruit of the Spirit. Last week we remembered that even when speaking about sanctification, we live by grace alone—not by our human effort or strength. Rather, like Paul said in Galatians 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.” Paul returns to that theme again in chapter 6:14, where he writes, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” The cross is at the center of the Christian life, and it reorients us away from worldliness and toward Jesus Christ. So another way we can talk about Christian sanctification, or holiness, is by talking about a “cross-shaped life.” Let’s look at chapter 6, and see what that means.
Last week in chapter 5, Paul mapped out for us the distorted and broken values of the world—what he called the works of the flesh. They were: “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” Things that tempt our sinful flesh. But if the world is crucified to us, and we to the world, it means that we’ve put those desires to death on the cross. It means that we see sin for what it is—not something desirable, but a camouflaged landmine. But we’ve been given eyes to recognize sin and ears to hear God’s Word of life. Being crucified with Christ also means that our relationship to this world has been radically changed. The world crucified to me, and I to the world, means that we are irreconcilably at odds with the ways of the sinful world. It means that we’re in the world but not of it—and therefore can’t just blend in and be invisible. Christians stand out because of what we believe and how we live, and the world won’t like us for it. It’s another way of saying, the world, and all it has to offer, is dead to me—and I’m dead to this world. We are guided by a higher principle than worldliness and sinful desire. We’re guided by the Spirit.
Crucified? Dead to this world? That sounds dreadful! Why are you talking about crucifixion and death, when you’re explaining what my Christian life is about? Quite simply, because this “cross-shaped life” we are to live is all about putting to death that old sinful nature that always wants to come alive and dominate our desires and actions. And that Jesus Christ takes your sins, crucifies them, and in their place makes alive something totally new and good—the life of the Spirit. So the cross of Jesus is the pivot point from your old life of sin, to the new life of the Spirit. So our life begins, continues, and is sustained, by Jesus’ work on the cross. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” And this gives specific meaning and direction to our new life in the world.
What does that spiritual life look like? Paul gives some specific examples: “if someone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” Walking in this world, we should not be surprised that a fellow Christian may stumble or fall into sin. Either in a moment of weakness, or carelessness, or perhaps even by ignorance of the sin. For the young in faith, some may fall into sin without even realizing it. But by instruction in the Word of God, and by growing in the life of the Spirit, we’re given eyes to see and know what is good and what is evil. So our Christian duty is to help a person who has fallen, or lapsed into sin, and “restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” That is to say we approach our fallen brother or sister with Christian concern and compassion—not in a rude or condescending way, not out of pride, arrogance, or superiority—but out of a genuine desire to see them untangled from their sin, lifted up, forgiven, cleansed, and restored to the path of righteousness.
And while doing so, we’re mindful of Paul’s warning that we “keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” So in helping a person get free from a sin, we should be careful that we are not drawn into or tempted by the same sin. Our sympathy for their struggle and our nearness to help must not collapse into making excuses for or defending what is wrong—but keep our eyes on Christ and remember the need for repentance and forgiveness. By helping others who struggle with sin, we take part in the Christ-like work of bearing one another’s burdens, and so being part of a body, a team—not just individual free agents who don’t care for one another, or only look out for “number one”. We’re also warned against a pride or arrogance that can rise within us, and the need for constant humility, so that we’re not holding ourselves higher than others. It’s easy to feel self-righteousness, if we do not constantly remind ourselves of our own sins and need for repentance. The proper way to help a Christian brother or sister caught in sin is by approaching them as a fellow sinner in need of God’s grace, pointing them back to the same cross of Christ that gives us forgiveness.
Paul turns to another area of life that shows how we live a “cross-shaped life.” That of stewardship. We typically talk about stewardship in three areas of our life, our time, our talents, and our treasure. In verses 6-8 he talks about supporting the work of those who teach the word, and how we use our material goods in this life. That we reap what we sow. “The one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” If we use our time, talent, and treasure to “sow to the flesh”—that is to satisfy our fleshly desires—greed, vanity, pleasure, pride—then we will reap corruption. We’re feeding the sinful nature, and corrupting our heart and weakening the life of the Spirit. Is our life a relentless pursuit to get more and more “treasure” for ourselves? Is self-gratification our highest aim? Do we use our talents to God’s glory, or our own? Is our time consumed with the things of this world, with God left to the rare moment when we’re not busy with anything else? The sinful flesh and its desires has an insatiable appetite for our time, talents, and treasures, and if we don’t put God first, our flesh will consume them all.
Or, on the other hand, do we “sow” our time, talent, and treasure to the Spirit, and from the Spirit reap eternal life? A Christian will seek to use their time, talents, and treasure for the good of others, and not only themselves. They seek to accomplish spiritual good with all they “sow”, and seek to make gains for the kingdom of God, using whatever God has blessed them with. Like the parable of the talents, where the master entrusted each servant with a different amount of money, and expected them to put it to good use while he was gone. God promises that what we sow in the Spirit will reap a harvest from the Spirit, of eternal life. That means that we can be confident of the fruitfulness of spiritual stewardship, because God will accomplish His growth and the harvest. And this leads to a final, broader example of a “cross-shaped life.”
That is the practice of Christian charity, described in verses 9-10, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Not just in the area of stewardship, but in all areas of life, we should not grow weary of doing good. It takes persistence and dedication, and a constant reliance on Christ. A Christian doesn’t do good for the sake of getting praise and accolades, and they know that often what we do is not seen or recognized by others, but only by our Father in heaven. So we don’t trumpet our good works, and we don’t get discouraged when the world laughs at or scorns our efforts or our faith. When we suffer, we take heart that Christ suffered for us, and that His grace sustains and carries us to the “due season” of our reward. And that we should get any reward at all, is a pure “surplus” of God’s grace. Eternal rewards are nothing we earn by our own credit, but are an overflow of God’s generosity to those who live by His grace. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17a). He is always the giver, and His gifts come from above, not as “wages due” to us. We need this constant reminder so that even when doing good, we don’t do so for selfish reasons, merely for “what we can get out of it.”
When and where do we do good? Paul says, “as we have opportunity”—so watch when it presents itself; and he says, “let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” So there is no limitation for who we should help—anyone in need is our neighbor, and therefore should be the object of our love. But also, that we should especially extend care to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. That is to say that in caring for others we should not neglect first to care also for Christians who are in need. In our own congregation, our community, and around the world. In reaching out to help others, we should not be reaching past the needs of our own—neglecting those nearest to us. But caring for one should not prevent us or exclude us from caring for the other. A Christian is called to practice mercy wherever needed.
All this is to say that the description of the Christian life is as endless as the opportunities are for doing good. The story of Christian love in your own life will be told wherever those fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control are put into good use for loving and serving the neighbor. Daily life provides countless opportunities for doing good, and at the end of the day, we’ll gladly echo the apostle Paul, saying, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” We’ll be glad to boast in Jesus and His cross, knowing that it is He who lives in us, and that by His grace we are His children. We can boast in the cross of Christ because it empties us of all our sin and pride, and fills us with the humility and love that marks our new life in Him. We can boast in Christ, because we are His new creation. There’s no such thing as a “self-made Christian man or woman”, because we are not our own creation, but His creation. As we heard last week, “by the grace of God, I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10a).
When we say that we live a “cross-shaped life,” it means that we never will depart from the cross of Jesus Christ, because it starts, continues, and ends in Him. We would not have our freedom or life without Him. We would not have the strength or grace to live, to struggle and face up to temptation and turn from sin, without Christ’s forgiveness and love from His cross. And we would not have eternal life or any of its benefits or rewards, if it were not Jesus Christ carrying us even through death, to our Heavenly Father’s mansions. Christ’s self-giving love at the cross shapes our interactions and our fellowship with one another, so that in all we say and do, the world is crucified to us, and we to the world. Living gladly in Christ’s life, we receive His peace and mercy. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. How does the Christian’s life of “sanctification” or “being made holy”—still remain under God’s grace alone, and moreover, under the cross of Christ? Galatians 2:20; 6:14; 1 Corinthians 15:10
  2. How does having a “cross-shaped life” and being “crucified to the world” and “the world to me” (Gal. 6:14), set us at odds with the sinful world? John 17:14-19; Matthew 5:10-12. How is the “cross-shaped life” about repentance and forgiveness? Romans 6:1-14. How is the “new life” at work in us? Galatians 3:3-9.
  3. How does a Christian extend concern for one who has fallen into sin? Galatians 6:1-5; cf. Matthew 18:15-18. With what kind of attitude, and self-understanding?
  4. How can we use our “time, talents, and treasure” for the Spirit, and not for the flesh? What temptations do we face to “sow to our own flesh?”
  5. What can cause “weariness in doing good?” How do we endure? Why should we always strive to remember that spiritual rewards are always still a gift and a “surplus” from God, not something we merit or deserve? James 1:17; Galatians 3:2-6.
  6. Who should we not overlook in our desire to help others? Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 4:28; 1 Timothy 6:18-19.
  7. Why will our boasting always return to the cross of Jesus, and not to ourselves? Philippians 3:3, 7-8; 1 Corinthians 1:28-2:2. 

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