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Posts Tagged "13-25"

Free for What?

June 30, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation this day is from our Epistle text, where Paul tells the Galatians, For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Today’s Epistle text could not be timelier! We are just a few days away from the Fourth of July, Independence Day, the day we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the founding of our country. On that day in 1776, the Continental Congress declared that the original thirteen American colonies were no longer subject nor subordinate to the monarch of Britain. According to the Declaration, these thirteen colonies were now united, independent states, and they were free. Free from the tyranny of taxation without representation in the British Parliament. Free from the intrusion of British soldiers into American homes via the Quartering Act. Free from the imposition of an admiralty court, in which American colonists could be tried and convicted anywhere in the British Empire without the presence of a jury or a shred of evidence. The Founding Fathers declared themselves and those in their country to be free to live as they saw fit, without the intrusion of the British Empire.

Freedom is in our DNA. It’s what countless soldiers have fought and died for in the 243 years it’s been since the signing of the Declaration. Consequently, as inheritors of the country that the Founders established, we as Americans think we know what Paul is talking about when he mentions “freedom” to the Galatians. But the way that he talks about it … might sound a bit off. Something about it rubs against the grain of our American sensibilities. Why? As always, context is king when trying to understanding any text, and the context of this letter certainly provides insight into the freedom Paul is talking about, and why he’s bringing it up.

See, in nearly every epistle that Paul writes, early on, he’ll mention how thankful he is for what God is doing through the person or church to whom he is writing. Not so with the Galatians. In his letter to them, Paul is angry. He’s upset. He’s frustrated. He’s concerned. In the opening chapter, after a rather terse greeting, Paul writes, I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. The problem in Galatia was that the Galatians had bought into the lie of “Jesus-and,” the false teaching that you need Jesus and something else in order to be saved. In this case, courtesy of the Judaizers, they had bought into the “Jesus-and-circumcision/Jewish customs” lie. The people of Galatia, Gentiles by birth but Christian through conversion, had listened to the Judaizers and their claim that all Christians not only need to believe in Jesus to be saved, but that they had to follow all Jewish customs and laws, including the law that all male believers be circumcised, in order to be saved.

Clearly, this is not the Gospel, and thus, Paul’s reaction. He’s upset that they’ve bought into this lie that renders Christ’s sacrifice moot, and he spends the remainder of his letter reminding the Galatians of the truth. Our text for today sits near the end of the letter, and here, Paul reminds the Galatians, For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Further in this text, he tells them that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

This is what the Galatians had done. They had submitted themselves again to the lie of works righteousness, and were thus in danger of making a shipwreck of their faith! Paul doesn’t want this for his beloved Galatians, and Jesus most certainly does not want this for those He’s redeemed by His precious blood! So Paul reminds them, For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We have to deal with false gospels of our own here in modern America. Like the Galatians, we do have “Judaizers” and legalists to contend with, but we’ve also yoked ourselves to another nefarious form of slavery; antinomianism, the idea that God’s Law no longer applies to us as Christians and we are thus free to do whatever we please. It’s what you get when you’ve got a society of sinners who feel they are entitled to freedom. Indeed, it’s a corruption of the good gift of freedom that God has given. You might even say that we Christian Americans have a “Jesus-and-freedom” problem.

Paul’s listing of the works of the flesh sounds like a laundry list of “rights” and “freedoms” that Americans have been fighting for and indulging in for decades: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. America has an antinomian problem, a freedom problem. In the name of freedom, we allow children to be ripped apart in their mothers’ wombs, having the gall to think this is a “right” afforded to us. In the name of freedom, we allow sexual immorality of all types and stripes to be normalized, even lauded and applauded as “bravery.” In the name of freedom, we embrace selfishness and lawlessness and narcissism “so long as it doesn’t hurt me or anything of mine.” Is that what freedom is? Is that what freedom is meant for? To live how I want to live, regardless of whom it hurts? To get what I want at the expense of others? To do whatever I want, whenever I want, and to hell with the consequences and whoever it hurts?

By no means! Because of Jesus’s all-atoning sacrifice on the cross, we have been redeemed, saved, freed from our sin; since that is the case, as Paul writes to the Romans, How can we who died to sin still live in it? How can we bear to live in it? This is not to say that it’s possible for us to not sin, but that certainly doesn’t mean that we embrace sin and wallow in it! We have been freed from our sin for a purpose that Paul makes very clear: to be a slave to Christ, our crucified and resurrected Lord!

Paul’s words to the ancient Galatians are absolutely pertinent to us who live in 21st Century America. Like the Galatians, we have been called to freedom in Christ in order that we may serve one another through love – not for our salvation, but for the good of our neighbor! God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does! That is the purpose of our freedom as Christians and as Americans: to serve one another in our various vocations! You have been redeemed by Christ the crucified and resurrected Lord! Your sins are forgiven for His sake! You are free! Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

The Founding Fathers established this constitutional republic to be a land of freedom, and for that, we are thankful. But the freedom they afforded us cannot compare to the true freedom that is given to us by virtue of our baptism into Christ Jesus’s death and resurrection! The gift of freedom that He gives to His people – not just Americans, but all His people throughout the world – is a far richer, far costlier, eternal freedom. It is the freedom from sin, death, and the devil! He declared it when He cried out from the cross, It is finished! May God our heavenly Father help us to never abuse this freedom given in Christ! Rather, in humble gratitude, may He help us to use that gift of freedom to serve one another in true Christian love!

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

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