Free In Christ

Sermon 1828 Galatians 5.1-6 October 30, 2022

I was surprised at the news some states are voting on abolishing slavery. I thought that was settled by the Civil War and Reconstruction. Nobody has the right to enslave another person in the United States. Local, state and federal law officials crack down on human traffickers and forced labor. The laws are not up for debate.

But several states are voting whether to abolish prison labor, you know, the chain gangs of prison movies, among other things. Dumb me. I never thought of how the freedom you and I enjoy and take for granted could be lost. Just get on the really wrong side of the law and that freedom disappears.

As much as we value our freedom as Americans, we value our spiritual freedom in Christ even more. But hard-won freedom can be lost. We have to be on our toes. The Word of God for this Reformation Sunday reminds us of that.

Free in Christ

1. Reborn free

2. Remain free

You and I were born free, if we were born in the US of A or had parents who were American citizens. That is not the case with our spiritual citizenship.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free (1).”

Christ set us free. The moment we first believed, whether it was as a baby at our baptism or later in life when we heard the Gospel message and the Holy Spirit made it click in our hearts so that we said, “That’s right—I believe that,” that’s when we were set free.

But what were we enslaved to? Paul mentions that, too. “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace (4).”

I know what alienation is—the cold shoulder. Ice cold. By nature we receive the cold shoulder from God. Everybody feels it because everybody has this nagging guilt. We know we should be better but we aren’t. We know we shouldn’t have been so bad, but we were. What to do? We do what anybody would do. We try to make up for it, compensate. Some people knock themselves out with things they think will tickle God pink. Give a big donation to a church or some charitable organization (be sure everybody knows about it and thinks you are a great guy, because God may take your polling numbers into account whether you get in or not.). Others beat themselves up, go on harsh diets, travel to what people say are holy places—Jerusalem, Rome, places like that—no, not Wrigley Park or Lambeau Field—stay up all night. They sort of keep it to themselves otherwise friends or family might try to stage an intervention. They all think there’s something you have got to do to get back into the good graces of God after you have blown it. Trouble is, none of us are all that clear how good we have to be, so we still have this nagging guilt. We’re caught in a vicious circle of doubt, work hard, doubt. God says it will only lead us to hell where we wish we could find a cold shoulder.

So that’s what we were enslaved to, the opinion that we have to do something to make things right with God, that we are “obligated to obey the whole law (3).”

Instead, we are free in Christ, for we were reborn free. Paul concludes our text by saying, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (6).”

Faith is that rebirth. Faith is that new life in Christ. To show this is a real faith, a true faith, a genuine faith (for the devil and our sinful human natures love to fool unbelievers into thinking they have faith), Paul calls it “faith expressing itself through love.” Real faith is active. It does something, anything, everything!, depending on the circumstances.

This faith frees us because it trusts, relies, counts solely on Christ. Faith always looks to what it believes in, not on the act of believing. The Christian faith believes in Christ. There is a totally different kind of faith, the Moslem faith, which believes in the teachings of the Koran. Another kind of faith, the Hindu faith, believes in the stories of the Hindu religious books. Faith always looks to something to believe in, to trust. Real faith looks to the God who can save from the obligations of the law. That’s what freedom means. All the other religions of the world impose obligations on their followers. Jesus Christ offers all who believe in him freedom, freedom from sin, freedom from death, freedom from the power of the devil.

Jesus did this in two ways, the first by keeping all these obligations in our place. You could call this “Jesus for me.” God demanded perfect obedience to all his laws and Jesus provided that perfect obedience. He displayed the holiness God had demanded. Then Jesus took upon himself all the punishments our sins deserved. And really, all the punishments were one punishment—eternal hell. In those awful hours Jesus spent on the cross, he experienced God’s coldest shoulder. When he hung on the cross Jesus experienced the punishment of eternal hell in his own body. I do not know how this can be, but the Bible tells us it is so. God laid on him the iniquity of us all. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? You could call this “Jesus instead of me.” So great was the love of Jesus that he didn’t die for just you and me, the people who would believe in his message. Jesus died for all the sins of all the world. He even died for the sins of people who would reject him until their dying day and end up in hell. If Jesus hadn’t paid for all the sins of the world, God’s offer of forgiveness of sins to every person on earth would have been a sham, sort of like an airline overbooking a flight and everyone was expecting to get the last plane out of Timbuktu.

This is how we are free in Christ. We were reborn free. Now you see why imagined good works won’t cut it. We can’t even make up for our own sins, much less the sins of everyone else. We want to get to heaven, but divine justice says if we are going to go it alone, apart from Christ, we must spend an eternity in hell.

Free in Jesus. Reborn free. Remain free.

Trouble was, false teachers had invaded the churches of Galatia. They filled some of the believers with the false idea that Jesus was Jewish, the apostles were Jewish, so in order for you to be a real Christian, you had to be Jewish first. And in order to be a top-notch Christian through Judaism, you had to take the big step. No, we are not talking about swearing off bacon lettuce and tomato sandwiches. You have to make the big step and undergo circumcision. That’s dedication.

That’s the way it is with all of these law religions, the religions that say you have to do what the law demands to get in good with God. Their demands are very large. Live a life of poverty, forsaking family and possessions. Make a pilgrimage around the world to an Arabian holy place. Refuse to eat meat. Donate a tenth of your treasure and time to the Temple. God will notice and be pleased. He won’t be impressed with a dollar bill in the box to light a candle in a rack.

Some believers in Galatia had fallen for it. They were convinced they had to become Jewish before they could really become Christians. Paul had harsh words for this bunch. “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all (2).” He was a little nicer when he urged them, “Do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (1).”

It is tough to remain free.

One of the problems of students who want to learn at school is there are always students who don’t want to learn. They want to goof off, disrupt class, call attention to themselves. Hours of instruction are wasted on discipline. Beaten down teachers let the undercurrent of private conversations go unopposed in their classrooms. It is really hard to listen, much less to think and digest the lessons. Even in well-run classrooms it is especially tough for children with autism. Mobiles, pictures on the wall, the color of the paint sets them off. You have to tone down the classroom, lower the levels for a student with autism to learn. But in all fairness, it will help everyone else learn, too.

Every Christian is sort of autistic in this regard. We are easily distracted. It is not morally reprehensible. It just is. It’s a given with human beings. When we first built the church, we didn’t have a lot of money. Surprisingly the comfy pews cost half of what the old furniture grade wooden pews cost. We went cheap. Square corners were less expensive than rounded walls, so we built a rectangle with right angles. And stained glass windows were expensive. So we had clear windows, big storefront windows from floor to ceiling. As soon as the neighborhood was built around the church, people would walk their dogs in the morning, Sunday mornings as well. Now, if you are a dog owner and are here, you know walking a dog on Sunday morning and walking with God on a Sunday morning are not exclusive! But some people seem to have only room for one three letter word in their Sunday existence. And individuals would walk their dogs on the sidewalk in front of our church. When they came from the west, everybody would catch sight of them and turn their head towards that window. As the dog walker (and it didn’t matter if they were male or female, handsome or plain) covered enough distance to be seen in the east window, everybody’s head would turn to that window. At times I felt like I was watching a crowd at a tennis match. But that’s the way the human eye is. It detects motion.

We are easily distracted. We see the world trying this or that to please God and we are tempted. Maybe I should become a super-Christian. Then God will love me. Temptation threatens to continue to draw our attention away from what God is telling us. It is a constant battle to resist that temptation. Remain free.

But what I really wanted to set before you today was the encouragement to remain free for all the blessings those who remain free enjoy.

Free in Christ means Christ has value to us. We are going to live in heaven one day because of what Jesus did for us. We have a right standing with God already now, because, in Christ, we are forgiven and clothed with the holy and sinless deeds of Jesus. His holy, precious blood, that’s our entrance price to heaven.

Free in Christ means Jesus is always with us. He doesn’t give us the cold shoulder. Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus! He walks with us, he protects us, he listens to our prayers and feels our deepest woe. He gladdens our heart and fills us with courage to face the day ahead. I have it easier than many of you. Many of you work with people a lot more unpleasant than the saints of God I work with every day. You face a whole lot more daily turmoil than I do. Jesus gets you through all harm and danger. He prospers your work and defends it.

Remain free. Free in Christ we live lives of eager expectation. Take prayer, for instance. From what Jesus has taught us we know that God answers our prayers. We either get exactly what we are praying for—seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened unto you, ask and it will be given to you—or we will be given an even better answer, the answer we would have been looking for if we had the 20/20 vision God has. If you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will God give the Holy Spirit to those who ask? So if I am either going to get what I ask for or something even better, my, oh my, what shall I pray for today? I can hardly wait to lay my requests before God!

Remain free. Free in Christ we lead lives of love. Who doesn’t want to be loved? But this love transcends the world’s sort of love, that get, get, get and give only what you must to get, get, get. Christian love truly puts the other person ahead of yourself. You give yourself in friendship, give yourself in family, give yourself in marriage. Focusing on the other, you lose sight of yourself. In that process of loving, giving, sharing, you experience the happiest moments of your life. That’s why so many Christians marvel, “Where has the time gone?” They’ve filled so many of their days and hours and minutes with acts of love and selfless service. It was a hoot. It was a blast. Do it all again in a heartbeat. There is still time to continue to show that considerate, giving love. Jesus hasn’t returned yet. Remain free.

Free in Christ

1. Reborn free

2. Remain free

I don’t know what to think of the ballot propositions to ban forced labor in prisons. It’s not on the Nevada ballot so it is none of my business. But I do know this question is before you and me every day: remain free or return to a slavery to the law that can only earn us the cold shoulder from Jesus.

It’s a no-brainer for those who are free in Christ. There is no other way to live. Remain free.

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