Sisters and brothers – Grace and peace to you. Amen.
“For freedom Christ has set us free! Alleluia!” These were the words from the Jay Beach Band concert at the ELCA 1991 National Youth Gathering held in Dallas, Texas. I remember singing them loudly in the Convention Center one week during a transformative spiritual event in my life.
“For Freedom Christ has set us free! Alleluia” What most 9th grade students don’t realize is how powerful these words can be. It’s taken me 30 more years to unpack all the theological implication what freedom in Christ means for me, and , I’m done learning yet.
We continue our sermon series on the book of Galatians, and this week we hear the Good News side of the equation that Paul sets out to solve through the first four chapters of the book of Galatians. Paul logically works through four chapters of his letter to the Galatians to say that it’s going to be “ok”. Those who were once outside the Law (and thus the covenant of Abraham) are now made justified by their faith in Christ. The Law, after all isn’t what saves us, it is Jesus Christ and God’s work on the cross. That is what matters, not whether a person has been circumcised, or even follows the Law.
So,here in this fifth chapter, Paul instructs the Galatians to not submit themselves to the yoke of slavery. Here he is talking about being a slave to the Law and thus earning favor with God by adhering to the Law. If we want to be justified by the Law, then Paul warns, we cut ourselves off from the entirety of God through Christ. It is through the Spirit, by our faith, we live out our faith and trust in God.
I know what you may be thinking. There is a danger to Paul’s theology on the Law that Luther learned to understand and we must appreciate: While it’s true that the Law will not save us. There is, indeed, a proper and right place for the Law in the life a believer!
Lutheran’s understand the Law to have three uses:
- the first use of the Law is that the Law points out our own sinfulness. Through the Law we realize how we have fallen away from God through our own sin.
- The second use of the Law is that the Law drives us to the Gospel of Christ. We need both Law and Gospel to see our own sin and recognize who saves us.
- The third use of the Law is that it acts as a mirror for how God created the world to be good. The Law shows us a vision of what the book of Revelations describes as the “New Jerusalem.”
According to Martin Luther, this is the proper use of the Law. Luther explains that Christians are not compelled to keep the laws of the Bible, but are compelled to love their neighbor. Luther says,
“A Christian is the most free lord of all, and subject to none;
A Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.”
Paul’s theology always runs the danger for people to believe that now we are freed in Christ, we can go on living a recklessly wasteful life. Folks, Christ doesn’t abandon God’s Law. The Law is still in place and we should strive to keep the Law, but not for our justification with God; it is Christ who satisfies that for us.
See, if Paul had declared that the end of the Law had come, and that the reign of Grace had arrived, it’s possible for folks to say, “ Then that means I can do whatever I’d like; all the restraints have been lifted, I can do whatever I want to do. If it feels good, than I should do it.” This thinking (that now that the Law has been abolished, I can do whatever I want) is the danger we face when we don’t have a proper understanding of the role of the Law for our daily living.
Paul goes on to mention what life looks like when we live by a misunderstanding of the freedom we share in Christ. Here’s how Paul describes it: He calls this kind of living “flesh” where we live to please ourselves:
fornication, impurity, recklessness, idolatry,
witchcraft, hostilities, discord, resentful, fury, fights,
disagreements, choosing sides, greed, drunkenness,
and other things.
But, by contrast, the Life of the Spirit (that is, a mature approach to our discipleship in Christ) looks more like lovely things. And they are:
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
So, to bring this chapter home, here’s the deal… It’s Paul’s believe and experience that disciples in Christ have died with Christ and rose again to new life. Because of Christ, we have been made new and clean. Evil things of the old-self are gone and the lovely things of the Spirit have come.
Now that we have this good news, that we don’t have to do anything to submit ourselves to the yoke of slavery, the question that we must answer for ourselves is: “What are we going to do?“ What do we do with this freedom we have in Christ?
For Paul and for Luther, we are freed from our bondage to the law in order that we might live in love of God and neighbor. This is our Christian vocation. You are now free to go and love your neighbor, without constraint. Love. Serve. Do no harm. And speak ill of no person.
Sisters and brothers, be free.
Free to bear one another’s burdens, to care for the orphan and widow, to work for peace and justice.
 Luther, Martin. Trans. Lambert, W.A. Luther’s Works v. 31. The Freedom of a Christian. Muhlenberg Press (now Fortress Press). 1957.