Monday, July 29, 2013

Sermon on Colossians 2:6-15, for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, Part 3: "In Him, With Him"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our sermon text, Paul’s letter to the Colossians, chapter 2.
Now that you have received Christ, now that you are called by the name Christian, walk in Him, Paul says. The words: in Him or with Him, by my count, appear 9 times in this short reading, telling how the Christian is joined to Jesus Christ. Now that you have received Christ, don’t fall out of step with Him. In other words, don’t let worldliness and clever talk turn you against Christ, and send you walking back in sin. We need this warning because the path that leads to life is narrow, and there are few that find it. It’s easy to steer back onto the broad, easy path that leads to destruction. In order that we might not be turned aside so easily, Paul calls us to strengthen our faith—become firm in our connection to Christ.
To walk in Him, shows that Jesus is more than just a guide—with us tagging along behind, trying to keep up. More than just a companion. Not one who walks outside us and with us, but rather we walk in Him. So who is He, that we can walk in Him? In the clear words of Scripture, Colossians 2:9-10 tells us Jesus is true God, “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” Take a moment to soak in the meaning of those words. In Jesus, the “whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Not part of God, not some aspects of who He is, but the whole fullness of deity, of Godhood, is in Him bodily. That means that all of God dwells in the human body of Jesus Christ. His body was not too small a Temple to contain God. He was not 1/3rd God, or merely on intimate terms with God—God fully dwells in Him. You won’t find God outside of the person of Jesus Christ. So to walk in Him, is to walk in God. It is to be joined to and filled up with Christ, who is God Himself. And this walk of our Christian life then, is not an exercise of our power or strength, but it is the grace of God working out our salvation in us.
Since it’s vital that we don’t turn astray from Jesus, who is our walk and who is our Way—we’re to send down roots, like a tree reaching deep into the soil for life-giving water, support, and stability. Be “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Send down roots into God’s Word and build solidly on the foundation of Jesus Christ, so that your faith does not become like a shallow rooted plant that quickly dies in the heat of trial and suffering, or is blown over by the storms of life. Don’t be content to stay at the surface, but reach into the infinite depths of God’s love, His wisdom, and His truth. Rooted in the depths of His love, and founded on Him, your faith will not be shaken, and you’ll have no reason to be afraid—for God is with you. Times of testing and storms of life will come, but prepare for them in advance by deepening your relationship with Jesus Christ and your knowledge of His Word. A tree can’t suddenly grow deeper roots the moment it sees a storm coming—and so must we be life-long students of God’s Word, slowly and deliberately growing deep roots and drinking in God’s life.
In verses 11-13, Paul talks about how we’re joined to Christ in baptism, and how baptism parallels the Old Testament covenant of circumcision. Like circumcision, which was done on the 8th day after a child was born, baptism also is for children—God is not limited by age in making His covenant with us. And nowhere in the New Testament is any limitation placed on who should be baptized—no limitation of age, social status, sex, or nationality. Rather, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” is all-inclusive. Thus it’s no problem to baptize children, because they are being brought into God’s free grace and favor—gifts of His kingdom, that Jesus taught belongs to children such as these. Infant baptism, more than anything, shows us how completely it is God’s gift, and the gift of baptism doesn’t depend for anything on what we do. And, no different from OT circumcision, the baptized are to be brought up in the faith—taught to know and embrace this gift of God. But baptism is greater than circumcision, as it is the “circumcision made without hands” and the “putting off the body of flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” Baptism is Christ’s operation—joining us to Him by stripping off the body of our flesh, as though our sinful nature were old dirty clothes we could strip off. Consider that being stripped naked can leave one embarrassed or ashamed, if not clothed again. Keep it in your mind for later.
This weekend I caught a short part of the movie Spiderman 3, a superhero fantasy. In the movie, Spiderman puts on a mysterious new black “suit” that gives him invigorating strength, yet simultaneously turns him toward darkness and malice. The viewer learns this suit is no ordinary clothing, but a living organism, an alien-like parasite that would take over its host and gradually turn them to evil, anger, and hatred. Spiderman narrowly escapes being consumed by this evil, but a friend of his isn’t so lucky. Just in time, he learns that the only way to avoid being consumed by the evil of this “living suit” is to strip it entirely off, and keep free of it.
Though it’s just a comic-book fantasy, it shows a powerful image for us, paralleling the “living suit” of our sinful nature. Though it’s very much alive and desires to turn us toward evil, the way of our sinful flesh leads only to spiritual death. Corrupting not only our actions but also our thoughts, turning them away from God, so that we were “dead in our trespasses and the uncircumcision of our flesh.” As long as the “evil suit” of our sinful flesh is not “cut off” from us, we’re dead to God. But only Christ can perform the radical surgery, the circumcision “made without hands”—that strips off our sinful flesh in baptism, crucifying and burying it with Him. Sin is so deeply intertwined with our human nature that we have no strength to pull ourselves free. Christ alone performs the operation, taking all of our sin upon Him, clothed with our sin and shame—which killed Him, but couldn’t corrupt Him or turn Him toward evil. Jesus’ heart and will were peerless, wholly committed to the Father, incorruptible and pure. His motives were love, obedience, and the joy of redeeming us from our sin slavery. Sin died with Him, and was buried with Him. In His cross, the ugly record of debt, the account of all that we have done wrong—the whole story of your sin and shame, was nailed to the cross. They can no longer stand against you, no longer condemn you, when you are in Christ Jesus.
But Satan does not care—he knows the power of guilt and the accusations of the law to burden our conscience, to fill our heart with despair and grief, to steal every bit of peace that would let us trust in God. Forgiven? The devil doesn’t care, and he will continue to try to hound you with the guilt of sins that have already been paid for and taken away, in the death of Jesus on the cross. Luther gave one of the best pieces of advice for this when he told the Christian to answer the devil, that old accuser: “Go to the cross! There you will see my sin paid for in full!” If our hearts and conscience trouble us with accusations of past sins, we have the greatest and only consolation in Christ Jesus, and to tell the devil that if he wants to bother us with our sins, he must take it up with Christ!
If he tells you of your many sins, then confess them all and name even more that he has forgotten. Say “Yes, I have done those things, and I am not proud of them, I know they are sinful before God, but I have confessed them to God. Jesus Christ has borne these and more that I don’t even know, to His cross. My record of debt was paid in full, paid in the death of Jesus Christ. Satan, drop your ugly accusation, I am baptized into Christ!” Christ is my consolation, my forgiveness, my honor and my life. To stand apart from Him is to stand naked, ashamed, but to be baptized is to be clothed with Him. No ordinary clothes, but a new “living suit”, if you will. Christ’s own goodness alive and at work on and in you. The very opposite of the sinful “suit” of our flesh. Clothed with Christ, He awakens Godly desires and pure motives in us, moving by His Holy Spirit to live a life set apart from the world, sanctified and kept toward Him in love. Wearing Christ we are not slaves or subject to sin and guilt any longer, but we are free men and women in Christ. We are alive and free to serve God and our neighbor in love. We joyfully and eagerly “put on Christ” whenever we return to our baptism by repentance, stripping off the old sinful nature, and putting on the new life of Christ.
Those little words, in Him; with Him; come drumming the Gospel into our ears—joyfully repeating the gifts we have in Christ. Buried with Him in baptism; raised with Him through faith; made alive together with Him. In joining you to Christ, God has joined you to life. And forgiven in Christ, the accusations of the law and the record of debt from your sin, hold no force against you—as Christ has nailed it to the cross. Done! Forgiven! Sealed with His own death and resurrection. Embrace this forgiveness and new life—count yourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ Jesus. Do not be haunted by sins confessed, but root yourselves in the word of Christ that announces your forgiveness, and cling to the joy of knowing that no sin can condemn you if you are in Christ Jesus. And if you are still troubled by your sins, come in private confession to your pastor and hear the words of absolution spoken personally to you, for your forgiveness and your comfort. God has left us with no shortage of the forgiveness of sins, the comfort of the Gospel, and the unfathomable depths of His love and mercy. Reach deep into His gifts and find the joy of walking in Him. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

  1. Why is it important that Christians, both new to the faith and mature in the faith, be “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith”? Ephesians 2:20-22; 3:17; 4:13-14.
  2. What sort of “philosophy and empty deceit” is at work to “captivate” people today? 1 Timothy 4:1-5; 6:3-10, 20-21
  3. How does Colossians 2:9-10 make the full divinity of Jesus apparent? Where does the fullness of deity (God’s very being) dwell? How extensive is Christ’s rule and power? Philippians 2:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28.
  4. In verses 11-13, how is baptism the New Testament parallel to circumcision? When was a boy circumcised? Genesis 17:9-14. If a child is brought into God’s covenant, either by circumcision in the OT or baptism in the NT, how does that picture God’s grace? Are infants/children also able to have faith, even before they express it in words? Psalm 71:5-6; 22:9-10; Matthew 18:1-6; cf Acts 2:38-39
  5. What is the “record of debt” that “stood against us with its legal demands”? Ephesians 2:1-5; Galatians 3:10. What does it mean for us that Jesus Christ has nailed those demands of the law to the cross? How does it change our relationship before God? How does A) Jesus’ innocence & perfect life, and B) His payment in death for our guilt, throw the “scales of justice” toward innocence and forgiveness for us? What new life does this grant you?
  6. Who are the rulers and authorities Jesus disarmed? How did He put them to shame? Colossians 1:16; Ephesians 6:12; Psalm 68:18; Ephesians 4:8-9; Isaiah 53:12; Matthew 12:29; 1 Peter 3:18-20. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sermon on Colossians 1:1-14, for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, Part 1: "Transferred into the Kingdom"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father. Amen. Today we’ll begin a four part series on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. This is one of his letters that he wrote from prison; in chains for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul most likely did not start the church of Colossae, but they heard and understood the grace of God in truth and learned it from Epaphras, their faithful minister. One of Paul’s co-workers in the Gospel, Epaphras was probably the missionary pastor who started the congregation in that city, and who told Paul of their great love and faith. Paul opens his letter with warm words of thanksgiving to God for the saints of God in Colossae.
With many beautiful words he expresses his joy at the Gospel at work among them, but one description particularly catches my attention. In verses 13-14, he says: “He [Jesus] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” He talks about our rescue from the powers of darkness, and our transfer into the kingdom of His beloved Son. Jesus rescued us from darkness, blindness, and sin, and brought us into God’s kingdom—as new citizens.
Anyone who’s heard the headlines knows that our government is vigorously debating immigration reform; trying to find a better solution for a legal path to U.S. citizenship. One reason we have this question is because so many are trying to get into our country, both legally and illegally. Most come seeking a better life; some come seeking refuge from violence or persecution. While I haven’t followed the debates closely and am not here to share any political opinions about immigration, it makes me reflect on the parallels to Paul’s description of how we’re “transferred into the kingdom of His beloved Son.” He too, was talking about a new citizenship, but not a change in citizenship that has to do with moving from one nation to another, or of changing political allegiance from one flag to another.
Our story of salvation is not a story of “immigration” at our initiative, our expense, or in our time—but instead a story of rescue and deliverance at God’s initiative, Christ’s expense, and in His time. Jesus Christ, by His power, rescued us from the authority of darkness, and God the Father by His love, qualified us to share in a rich spiritual inheritance and citizenship. Our citizenship came at Christ’s expense, as He suffered and died on the cross for us. He did this for the forgiveness of our sins. Without the forgiveness of sins, we’d still be slaves under the power of darkness, alienated from God and hostile to Him. But with the forgiveness of sins, we are citizens, members of God’s household.
The spiritual kingdom and citizenship we’re talking about, it’s not something visible to our naked eye, and the change in citizenship doesn’t comes from moving from one place to another. But it is a change that brings us new language, as we learn the vocabulary of the Bible and of faith. It’s a change that brings us new ways and customs, as we become members of Christ’s body, the church, and involves leaving sinful ways behind. And it’s a change that brings us new privileges and blessings as citizens of God’s kingdom. But that doesn’t mean that life as a Christian is an easy walk or has no challenges and dangers. The Colossians faced the threat of false teaching, and Paul warns them later that “no one take you captive by philosophy and empty deceit.” The powers of darkness will not let us go so easily, and by whatever means possible, the devil seeks to pull us back under his authority and his delusion.
But Paul rejoiced at how the Colossians, were adapting to the change, coming from out of the reign of darkness, to now living in the kingdom of light. He rejoiced to see that Jesus’ rescue from darkness had borne much fruit in their lives. They were living for Christ, and their love was shining out in all they did.  He gave heartfelt thanks to God for their faith in Christ Jesus and their love for the saints, the first signs of their new life and citizenship.
We too, as your pastors, can give heartfelt thanks to God for your faith in Christ Jesus and love for one another. We give thanks for you, saints at Emmanuel, for your love of God’s Word, and your desire to hear it and take it to heart. We thank God for your concern for the hungry, when you support the food pantry. We thank God for your prayers, and the prayer chain who regularly lift up the sick, the hurting, and suffering. On a personal note my family thanks you for the outpouring of support and love for us in so many ways, for the birth of our twins. Thanks be to God for our school & preschool teachers, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, and parents, who all love the children and want them to grow up rooted in the knowledge and love of Jesus. For all who volunteer their time—servants of the Lord who serve as officers of the church to keep its affairs in order, for laborers who give of their sweat and toil to keep the campus beautiful and clean, for elders who pray for and give spiritual guidance to the congregation and its pastors. And we pray for all whose gifts and talents may yet be undiscovered or unused, that they would be used for the glory of God and the building up of the body of Christ.
Paul knew the Colossians were still young in the faith, and so he prayed for them constantly. He prayed that they would be “filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Gaining spiritual wisdom and understanding is a lifelong endeavor, but the way we learn God’s will is by listening to His Word and growing in faith by the Spirit. We don’t learn God’s will from vague intuitions or our feelings that change from one moment to the next. Following God’s will in all our life is a topic beyond this sermon, but Jesus taught that His Father’s will is this: “that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). God wants this above all, that we believe in Him, and being rescued from darkness—be brought into life.
Paul also prays, that knowing God’s will, they would also “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” Christ has delivered us from darkness and sin to serve in life and light with Him, so we ought to glorify Him in the good works that we do and the fruit of the Spirit we bear. We let God’s grace have its course in our life for our good, and for the good of the neighbor. Our hands, feet, mouth and ears are put ready into His service. “Walking in a manner worthy of the Lord” means that our life is not just a passive one of listening and thinking, but an active one of doing good in the name of the Lord. To be doers of the Word, not hearers only.
He also prays for them to increase in the knowledge of God. How does that happen? The same way that we learn the will of God—through hearing and studying God’s Word. In worship, in Bible class, in reading the Bible, you are fed with the knowledge of God. I pray that you all take advantage of those opportunities to hear and grow in God’s Word as often as possible—not begrudgingly, but with the desire that you might better know God. And knowledge of God, for the Christian, is not simply mastery of facts, or being able to pass a Bible history test—but “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” It’s knowing God and being known by Him. It’s knowing that He is Lord above all, that His kingdom, to which we belong, is a kingdom of goodness, righteousness and peace. It’s not just a knowledge of God, but a reverence and a trust in Him. This knowledge is a saving knowledge, a spiritual knowledge, a knowledge by faith that is just as accessible to the most intelligent as it is to the infant or the simplest person.
And finally, Paul prays for their strength, endurance, and patience with joy. And for these He again calls upon God’s glorious might to deliver. Every Christian finds their strength, their endurance for whatever challenges that lay before them, in God who gives us strength. With Him, all things are possible. And when trials test our patience, God carries us through, and even gives us joy in the midst of our sorrows. Life as a citizen in God’s kingdom certainly doesn’t compare to our old ways—and it takes some getting used to. And I don’t say that we won’t sometimes long for the old ways, or feel the flesh pulling us back toward the “old country” of sin. But fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, and consider the hope that is laid up for you in heaven. Delight in the knowledge of God, and the surpassing peace that comes from knowing Him, and look at your trials and sufferings as but a light and momentary thing compared to the eternal weight of glory. And in the end there won’t be a shred of regret that we have been transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son—because His joy knows no end.
Please pray with me: “Father, you saw me when I was still walking blind in sin and darkness. You had mercy on me, a poor, miserable sinner, and sent your beloved Son to rescue me. By His suffering, death, and resurrection, He has set my feet upon solid ground and taught me your will. He has purchased my freedom to make me a citizen in your kingdom and a rightful son, heir to all you have promised. This is more than I could ever ask for or deserve—but it’s your free and generous gift. Teach me to walk in a manner worthy of you, and strengthen me for all my life holds in store for me. Keep my eyes from looking to sin, and draw them up to your loving gaze, so that I may never forget what you have done, and that one day I may see you face to face. In Jesus’ Holy Name, Amen.”

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

1.      Paul wrote the following letters from prison, sometimes called his “Captivity Epistles” or “Prison Letters”: Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Timothy, and Philippians. Why was Paul in prison? Colossians 4:3, 18; Philippians 1:7.
2.      What was the reason for the profound warmth and thanksgiving that Paul expressed for the church in Colossae? Colossians 1:3-8. How did they bear this fruit? John 15:1-17.
3.      How does Paul describe our rescue and our new citizenship? Colossians 1:13-14; 1:21-22; Ephesians 2:12-19. What parallels might this have to an earthly change in citizenship? In what ways does this heavenly citizenship far excel anything here on earth?
4.      All this comes at whose initiative and whose expense? Colossians 1:12; 1 Peter 1:17-19; John 15:16.
5.      What do you give thanks for, about your fellow Christians here at Emmanuel? What has God done in your life by His grace?
6.      How do we come to the knowledge of God’s will? Where does He reveal it to us? John 6:40. Later in Colossians Ch. 3 & 4, Paul gives specific instructions for applying God’s will in our life.
7.      How do we grow in knowledge of God? Proverbs 1:7; Galatians 4:9. Who is the revealer of God to us? John 14:6-11.

8.      What counteracts the longing for the “old country” or the old life of sin? Hebrews 12:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:17

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. 

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!