Guard Your Freedom in Christ
A sermon based on Galatians 5:1-6
Reformation Day - Sunday, October 30, 2011
Soon after the death of Martin Luther on February 18, 1546, Emperor Charles V with the support of the pope attacked the Lutheran princes in the Smalcald War. After his victory he reinstated many of the Catholic ceremonies and practices, many of which went contrary to the Scriptures. He demanded the pope be recognized as the supreme head of the church, he insisted churches recognize 7 sacraments, and worst of all he omitted the "sola fide," by faith alone, from the doctrine of justification. According to the law of the land, one was no longer saved by Christ alone, but by Christ and your own works.
Some church leaders, like Melanchthon, quickly compromised and tried to hang on to the truth of the gospel while conceding audiaphora, those things that God's Word neither commands nor forbids one to do. Others, like a man by the name of Flacius, argued that if one was to demand an audiaphora be done (to command or forbid what God had not) it was no longer audiaphora. It was giving in to salvation by works, by what you had to do, thus rejecting salvation by God's grace alone.
And this struggle to keep the freedom Christ has won for the church is not limited to the time of the Reformation. The same battle raged in the apostle Paul's day, especially among the Galatians. While the book of Romans has been called the Charter of the Sinner's Justification, the book of Galatians has been called the Charter of Christian Liberty. You see, the Galatians were victims of a group of false teachers too. These were called the Judaizers, who also insisted that faith in Christ wasn't enough for salvation, but demanded that one also keep the laws of Moses to be saved. And the truth of the Gospel that Christ has freed us from the Law led Paul to call out, "Stand firm in the liberty that Christ has won for you!"
And this same struggle that Paul faced, that Luther faced, continues today. Each one of us is also in danger of losing the freedom Christ has won for us. We too can easily fall into the mindset that there's got to be something we must do to be saved, and in so doing, become again a slave to the law and render Christ's death useless for us. For that reason we do well to heed the warning cry, "Guard Your Freedom in Christ;" that freedom that we have from the slavery of works, that freedom we have to serve God in thanksgiving and love. Listen again to the encouragement Paul gives us in Galatians and to us in Galatians 5:1-6…
1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. 2Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
I. Free from the Slavery of Works (v.1-4)
In verse one Paul summarizes what he's said in the first four chapters and points ahead to what he'll say in the next two. (In order to gain a better view of the big picture, let me encourage you all to read the whole book of Galatians this week. It's not that long of a book if you read one chapter a day it will take you only a few minutes each day.) But here Paul sums it up: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free…"
But what exactly has Christ set us free from? Paul says a yoke of slavery. He's making reference to God's law. To keep God's law is quite a heavy yoke. The apostle Peter spoke of it in this way, "Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?" (Acts 15:10) By God's justice we are obligated to keep the law perfectly or be damned to hell. What a heavy burden indeed! It's one that we simply cannot carry. We can't be perfect. As slaves to the law, we're slaves to sin. And since we don't keep God's perfect requirements, we're slaves to hell.
So are we doomed to an eternity of hell with no escape? No. Not in Christ.
Christ set you free from law by his perfect obedience of it in your place. Christ took the yoke of the law on himself and carried it perfectly, never slipping even once. He gave you his perfect righteousness and took every time you've broken God's law on himself on the cross where he suffered the punishment those sins deserved. Now you are sinless and holy in God's sight and in his sight you have kept the law by his perfect standard. Now you are no longer obligated to keep any of it. Christ kept it all for you. Christ set you free.
This is the gospel message the Galatians had already heard. This is the message Paul reiterates in the first four chapters of this letter. But this is the same gospel the Galatians were giving up. So with a triple warning Paul says, "2Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace."
So what's the big deal with circumcision? Paul admits in verse 5, "neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value," so why did it matter? Well, it wasn't the act of circumcision that was wrong, but the false teaching that salvation was dependent upon keeping this law. To suggest that one had to be circumcised, that one had to do anything, really, put one back under the obligation of the law. To suggest that salvation was dependent upon you in the least part is to say that what Christ did was not enough.
And if you think salvation depends on you, then it does. You throw away Christ and the freedom he won for you on the cross. You become alienated from him. He is of no value to you.
And you "let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Once again you're obligated to keep the whole law. Once again you're a slave to hell. For if salvation is to be gained by obeying the law, selective obedience will not do. Nothing less than perfect obedience to all of God's law is necessary. You can't say, I won't murder anyone, but hatred is not that big of a deal. Hatred I'll keep. Killing myself is surely wrong! But harming my body with drugs or alcohol or by overeating isn't really that bad. I'm pretty good because I come to church, but I don't despise God's Word by avoiding Bible Class and daily study of it. You see if we want to earn salvation by the law, we've got to do a perfect job.
Luther once went through this struggle himself. When he entered the monastery he thought he could win God's favor with his works. But he was always left to wonder, "Have I done enough?" And of course he hadn't. He could never be perfect. Later in life, he recognized that to despise God's grace as he had, thinking he could win heaven on his own, was to forfeit God's grace and be doomed to hell. For that reason he described the sad truth by saying, "Those who do the works of the law are rightly called the devil's martyrs." In other words, they worked harder to purchase hell than the martyrs of Christ did to obtain heaven. Make salvation dependant on works, and despise God's grace. Despise God's grace, and forfeit it, fall away from grace and render Christ completely useless since you are not, cannot and will not ever be saved by keeping the law.
Dear friends, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." You can't be saved by keeping the law, but rejoice that you don't have to! Your salvation is by grace alone through faith, not by works, not by volunteering at church, not by your offerings, not by being nice, not by anything you do. Salvation depends on what Christ did. It's done. It's complete. It can never be undone. Rejoice! And don't get tangled up with the burden you once had. Don't become a slave again!
What slave in his right mind would ever willingly go back to being a slave to an abusive master without a struggle after once being released and set free? Guard your freedom in Christ. Treasure it. Live at peace and be still, knowing that the Lord is God, your mighty fortress, your help and your salvation. Rejoice in the forgiveness God freely gives you in his grace. Enjoy your freedom from the works of the law. And enjoy your new freedom to serve God in thanksgiving…
II. Free for a Service of Love (v.5-6)
Since the Galatians were no longer obligated to keep the law, does that mean they would go out and live a life contrary to every one of God's laws? No. Celebrating their freedom they would strive to thank God.
Paul writes, "5But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith…"
In Christ, apart from the law, the Galatians were made righteous. By his blood on the cross they were declared to be without sin by God and made sinless and holy in his sight. But they weren't actually perfect yet. That wouldn't happen until they died and went to heaven. But in the meantime they eagerly awaited the day when their hope would be fulfilled and they would be confirmed in their righteousness for all of eternity.
We too have that same righteousness. But it's a righteousness that we can't always feel. There are days when, weighed down by my sin, I feel anything but righteous. And we want to feel righteous, don't we? We want to feel our righteousness in the same way that we feel our sin. But our righteousness is outside of ourselves. God has declared us to be righteous, so that's what we are whether we feel it or not. But really, it's better that way. Because that righteousness is outside of me and my wavering feelings, it's certain. It doesn't depend on my actions. It doesn't matter how obedient I have or haven't been or how well I've kept God's law. By faith, given by the Holy Spirit, I know it's mine and I eagerly await the day when that righteousness is fully realized. That is all that counts in my salvation.
But that day might not be for another 60 years. What do I do in the meantime? Paul answered that question. He said, "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." Faith isn't some passive thing that says, "I'm saved, not by anything I do but by Christ, so I won't do anything." No! A true faith is alive and active. As the expression goes, "Faith alone saves, but saving faith is never alone." A true faith says, "I'm saved, not by anything I do, but by Christ, so I will strive to thank Christ in all that I think, say, and do." Faith must express itself, not in order to be saved, but because we are saved, in the same way that when your team scores the winning goal you must express your excitement and say, "Yes! We won!"
When the Holy Spirit give you faith in the message of the gospel—of the good news of Christ's death and resurrection for you, winning you complete freedom—from the law, from sin, from the death, hell, and damnation that were yours because of them—you can't help but rejoice and shout, "Yes! I win!" You can't help but let that faith express itself in acts of love, or, like we heard last week, in acts of humble, selfless service to others. For we're not only free from the law, sin and death, but we're now free to serve God in love and thanks for setting us free.
On describing this freedom, Luther wrote, "A human liberty has been achieved when laws are changed while men remain unchanged. Christian liberty has been achieved when men are changed while the Law remains unchanged, so that the same Law which formerly was hateful to free will now becomes welcome, because through the Holy Spirit love has been diffused in our hearts."
If you've seen the movie, Braveheart, you can't easily forget the moving speech that William Wallace gave his troops to rally them for battle against the English. And at the end of his speech he reminded them all, "They can take our lives… but they can never take our freedom!" Brothers and sisters in Christ, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free," not with a political freedom, but a spiritual one. Christ has set you free from the law. He has set you free from sin. You are free from God's wrath since your every sin has been forgiven. "Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Enjoy your freedom in Christ! Use your freedom to serve him in thanks! And guard that freedom that no one can ever take away from you—not emperors or popes or false teachers. For they can take our lives… but they can never take our freedom! Amen.