ST. STEPHEN’S EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
Striving to speak God’s saving truth in love. Ephesians 4:15
St. Stephen’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School | Beaver Dam, WI | 920.885.3309
Sermon on Galatians 5:1-6 for Reformation Sunday, November 2nd and 5th, 2017.
Freedom. One simple word, yet it is a simple word that packs a lot of meaning. Depending on context this word evokes various kinds of emotions. We recall with sadness those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in order to protect our freedoms. Our hearts overflow with pride for those brave men and women serving to protect our freedoms still today. We cherish the various freedoms we enjoy. In this country freedom of speech and freedom of religion are celebrated by many. We remember these freedoms. We want to protect them. We also want to be careful lest these freedoms be taken away.
Paul speaks about freedom to the Galatians. Throughout the entire book Paul teaches about the freedom all Christians possess. It goes far beyond freedom of speech and religion. Paul preaches a freedom from sin through faith in Jesus. As important as our spiritual freedom is, do we always remember this freedom? We celebrate our secular freedoms, but why do we often ignore the much greater freedom we have? This morning we pause and give thanks to God for this one simple fact.
Christ Won Freedom for Us
What does Jesus look for in a person’s life? The Galatians struggled with this question. As they studied the Old Testament Scriptures, they saw all the commands God gave to his chosen nation, Israel. The Israelite males had to be circumcised, all people had strict dietary restrictions to follow, and God planned out their worship life down to the smallest detail. The Israelites soon took these commands and laws, which pointed ahead to Jesus’ death on the cross, and made them into works of righteousness they did for God. So, now the Galatians walked the very same line between freedom of faith and slavery to the law.
The Galatians were confused. Were they free? Paul proclaimed this freedom to them, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). Paul wrote many times throughout this book how the law does not save. The law only enslaved followers. The law pointed out our great need for a Savior from sin. Jesus came to die on the cross to set us free from the law’s harsh accusations. The gospel presents a freedom for the Christian. The gospel shows how Christ won freedom for us from all our sins.
However, many false prophets and Judaizers came telling the Galatians they were not free. These sneaky false prophets laid out holes for the Galatians to fall into. They told the Galatians they had to be circumcised. They had to only eat clean food. They had to obey the Sabbath regulations. If they did all this, then and only then would they be saved.
If they were free, why would they have to do all these regulations? Paul said they didn’t. Forgiveness of sins does not come through keeping the law. Jesus took all the demands of the law and kept them perfectly, something we could never do. Nothing more needs to be done. Christ did it all. Christ set us free.
This freedom comes through the gift of faith. “Indeed, through the Spirit, we by faith are eagerly waiting for the sure hope of righteousness” (Galatians 5:5). Faith always points us to something. Christ died to bring forgiveness of sins for the whole world. This is a fact. Forgiveness has been won. Our faith reaches out taking of this great blessing. When we think of faith, we often think of trust. Faith also has another picture. Scripture describes faith as a receiving hand. Faith reaches out grasping the work Christ accomplished for us. Faith, given by the Spirit, brings this blessing into our life.
Notice how this tremendous blessing is described. It is a sure hope. Not a maybe. We do not have to sit and wonder if it is true. It stands as a fact. It will take place. We do not have to have an ounce of doubt in our mind. God will make sure it happens. This is the Christian’s confidence. Righteousness is ours.
Here on earth this confidence might be shaken. We still live with our sinful nature. Oh, the devil likes to use our sinful nature against us. Are we good enough for heaven? Remember those many sins. Even those sins of thought when we despaired of all good things disqualify us for the prize of eternal life. The angry word spoken in haste makes us guilty before God. We deserve hell. Our confidence might not be so certain. We struggle with feelings. We do not always feel saved. We do not always feel God’s love. The sure hope seems less sure.
Forgot about feelings and thoughts of being good enough. Faith points us to Christ’s righteousness. Through faith God no longer counts our sins against us. God only sees the perfect works and life of Jesus. Christ won freedom for us.
This is what God looks for in a person’s life. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters. Rather, it is faith working through love that matters” (Galatians 5:6). It sounds so simple, because it really is that simple. Faith in Jesus as the Savior from sin counts for everything.
The simplicity trips so many people up. We must have to do something. We have to add something to it. We have to help God along. We have to live according to the law or something else. It is a strange fact. Even though we strive to make everything simpler in our life, we want to make getting to heaven as hard as possible.
It does not matter if Jew or Gentile, white or Hispanic, American or African. It is faith that brings freedom to a person’s life. It is faith that gives us the sure hope of righteousness before God. It is faith in God that counts. It is faith that unites us all together in one body with God as our head. This is all a free gift from our gracious God, who won freedom for us.
With all this freedom we want to make sure we do not throw away our freedom. What would happen if someone would try to take away our personal freedoms? They would be in for a fight. We would yell and scream for them not to take them from us. A person does not just give up freedoms without a struggle. Someone would have to pry our freedoms from our cold, dead hands. Yet, the Galatians let go of their freedom easily.
Paul encourages all Christians to stand firm. “Stand firm, then, and do not allow anyone to put the yoke of slavery on you again” (Galatians 5:1). Christ won freedom for us. The demands and regulations of the law are done away with. Stand firm on the Scriptures. Stand firm in the freedom won for you. Do not go back to put on the weight and guilt of the law.
The Galatians went back. “Look, I, Paul, tell you that if you allow yourselves to be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you” (Galatians 5:2). The congregations listened to the untrustworthy Judaizers. They wanted to be circumcised thinking that somehow this outward act attained God’s favor. Paul said Christ would be of no value. If they could somehow be saved through the works of the law, Christ was not needed. His death counted for nothing. They no longer looked to the cross for salvation, but they looked to their mighty deeds to save them.
Do we want to look to others for salvation? Inside everyone one of us is a little voice telling us that we can do it. We desire a pat on the back for all our accomplishments. We want God to see just how good of a person we are. Where is Christ? Where is his work? It is all taken away.
We look outside of us for our salvation. Our praise and thanks goes to Jesus and what he did. His one great act of dying upon the cross saves us. There our sins were nailed. There our guilt was atoned for. Upon the cross we find forgiveness and peace.
“I testify again to every man who allows himself to be circumcised that he is obligated to do the whole law” (Galatians 5:3). If the Galatians wanted circumcision, they would have to put themselves under all the law. Paul wanted to show them how absolutely absurd this was. The demand was great. All the law needed to be obeyed. An impossible task for anyone.
We cannot just pick one or two things out of the law to follow. If we believe salvation comes from the law, we must go all the way. God says, “Be perfect as I am perfect.” We do not even know what perfection looks like, let alone only in Christ. Our life is filled with so many sins. Our record is so spotted we want it hidden.
We look to Jesus who kept the whole law for us. His life was blameless. He did it all not for himself but for you and me. He credits his righteous acts to our account, so that we too may be blameless.
The law only exposes who we really are. The law throws away God’s grace. “You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law are completely separated from Christ. You have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4). If we believe the law saves, we live under a curse. Someone dies, and we say, “They must be in heaven because they were a good person.” We treat baptism as a magical formula giving us an automatic bid to heaven. We think that we are Lutherans, and that has to count for something, right?
Christ saves. Christ gives grace only through faith. This faith is given through the light of the gospel message found on the pages of Holy Scripture. Christ has won freedom for us. We will cherish that freedom. We will stand firm in the promises. Christ died so that we might have forgiveness.
Much has been made about the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. It should be. We thank God not only for the last 500 years, but for the timeless truths of the Bible on which the Reformation was built. He brings us freedom. It is all done by grace alone. God’s love goes out to his people to free them from their sins. It is received through faith alone. This wonderful message is found only in Scripture alone. It is a timeless message that we will go forth until our Savior comes again. Christ Won Freedom for Us. Amen.