Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, June 12, 2016
Christ Lives in Me - June 12, 2016 - Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 06) - Text: Galatians 2:15-21; 3:10-14
Our text for this week picks up a little after where we left off last week. Last week, you may remember, we began Paul’s defense of his apostleship. After skipping Paul’s rebuke of Peter that we mentioned last week, we pick up with Paul laying out a proper distinction between Law and Gospel, between the purpose of the Law and the purpose of the Gospel. The question we asked last week was, “Why was Paul defending his apostleship?” and “Why was this so important?” Maybe you remember that we determined that Paul’s apostleship is important so that we can know for sure that the letters which Paul writes to the various churches are not just meant for those churches, but are meant for us today, and that the Word’s which Paul writes are not just Paul’s words, but are God’s Word, given to us through Paul. So, this week we can be sure that Paul’s words are God’s Word concerning this distinction between Law and Gospel.
Paul begins with the Jews. He is a Jew and he says that “we” Jews had the Law, but “[we] know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” In other words, Paul is saying, they, and his reference was in particular to Peter and the Judaizers, those who were insisting that the Gentiles must become followers of the Jewish law in order to be saved, should have known better.
Paul reminds us that the Jews and the Gentiles were alike in their sin. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). We are all equally guilty and condemned in God’s eyes. But, the Jews and the Gentiles are also alike in their salvation. “For God so loved the whole world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Being saved comes from God’s grace through faith. There was something important in the actions of the Judaizers that threatens the heart of the Gospel. What the Judaizers were saying and living is that we are not saved by faith in Jesus alone. What they were demonstrating is that we are saved by faith plus. And what Paul is saying is that faith plus means no faith at all. If you add anything to faith then you are saying that faith is not what is important, but the “anything” that is added to faith is what is important.
It is important, vitally important, that we make a clear distinction between faith and works. We are saved by grace through faith, alone. We are saved because of what Jesus has done for us, that He gave His life for ours on the cross for our forgiveness. This does not negate the truth that we are called to do good works. Good works are those things that are done as a result of, as a response to, what God has done for us. Good works are not a have to, but a get to. Suppose for Christmas one year someone were to give you a brand new car. Would you reach into your wallet, take out a five or even a twenty dollar bill and say, “Thanks for the car, here let me give you this for it”? Of course not, that would be very insulting to the gift giver. So, too, with the gifts God gives. God gives us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. Do we dare take out our good works and say, “Here, Lord, let me earn some of what You are giving me”? I would hope and pray not.
Paul goes on to explain the danger of one thinking they might save themselves by works of the law by properly distinguishing the two. As for the Law, Paul reminds us that “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law and do them’” (v. 10). The very purpose of the Law is to show us our sins and it does this by being a rule so that we can see that we do not live up to the rule of the Law; by being a guide, again so that we can see that we do not always follow the guide of the Law; and by bing a mirror, that is by being a reflection of our life to show us how we have and continue to transgress God’s Law. As we remember that God’s demand is perfection so we see that in and of ourselves we are not and cannot be perfect, indeed, as we are shapen in iniquity and have been conceived in sin so we see we can never be perfect, thus we can never get to heaven by ourselves.
Paul expounds the Gospel by telling us, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us . . . “ (v. 13a). The Gospel always points us to Jesus, just Jesus. The Gospel shows us our Savior. The Gospel proclaims to us the forgiveness of our sins, all our sins and with forgiveness it gives life and salvation. The Gospel gives faith and strengthens faith when and where God pleases.
We talked about this a bit last week in our adult Bible class, in the fellowship hall which meets every Sunday morning at 8:45 am with coffee and donuts at 8:30 am, the fact that so many people in so many denominations, Christian denominations cannot seem to get it right when it comes to the Law and the Gospel and instead of speaking words of Gospel are always speaking words of Law. Now, please understand, I do believe there are Christians in all Christian denominations, just as I believe there are hypocrites even in our own congregation, but the fact remains that I believe that as Lutheran Christians we have it the most correct. As I continue to remind you we get it right when we point to Jesus. The Law points us to ourselves, the Gospel points us to Jesus.
As we listen to our Christian friends we can get an idea of their faith and who they are relying on for salvation by listening to them talk. For some they will openly say that one is saved by faith and good works. For others they will tell you that you are saved simply by faith, but all you have to do is something. Both of these confuse and commingle the Law and the Gospel and truly nullify the Grace of God. Remember, the purpose of the Law is to show us our sins and how we are completely lost and condemned persons and cannot save ourselves. However, left with just the Law we would either be in despair believing we have no hope for eternal life, or we might be lead to works righteousness thinking that we can do something to save ourselves, especially if we do not believe we are such bad people after all. And the purpose of the Gospel is to show us our Savior, to point us to Jesus, to tell us how much Jesus loves us so much that He lived for us, took our sins upon Himself and suffered for our sins, paying the price for our sin, that He died for us, and the He rose victorious over sin, death and the devil for us and that He gives us this forgiveness freely to us without any merit or worthiness within us.
So, what is the big deal in today’s text? The big deal is the difference between being saved by Jesus’ work on the cross, by faith alone, or by thinking we are saved by faith plus. The plus being any attempt we would make to earn our own forgiveness. Remember, faith plus anything equals no faith at all.
When it comes to being saved by faith I like to think of it in much the same way as the Gospel Lesson for this morning. Jesus died for your sins and mine. If we do not think we sin much, if we actually think of ourselves as good people, if we actually think we can be the people God would have us to be then we believe that Jesus did not have to suffer or die too much for us and so Jesus’ death does not mean much to us. But, the more sinful we realize we are, the more we understand that we daily sin much, indeed that we are complete lost and condemned persons apart from Jesus and His forgiveness, the more God’s grace means to us.
Faith is the top priority. Good works are also important, but only as a response to faith. Let me say that again, because our emphasis this morning is faith alone. Faith is the top priority, but good works are important as a response to faith. There is the connection between faith and works. Faith is seen in our living out our vocations in our lives. Faith is seen in our doing the good works which God has for us to do, indeed good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do. Good works are not what we have to do but what we a get to, they are done in response to faith. It is much like the person who said they recently purchased a new car yet continued to drive around their old junker. No one will believe they have a new car unless they see it. So, too, with our Christian faith. If we say we have faith, yet continually show otherwise, then who will believe that we do have faith and really, do we have faith?
This morning the main idea of our text is the importance of understanding that we are saved by faith alone, or better said, by grace through faith alone. And remember as we were reminded last week, the object of faith is just as important as faith. Indeed, to have faith in anyone or anything besides Jesus, even as sincere a faith as one might have, does not save, but only condemns. Faith in Jesus Christ alone is what saves because Jesus Christ alone is the One who saves. Paul is saying, faith plus anything equals no faith. Faith plus good works, faith plus making a decision for Jesus, faith plus being the person Jesus would have you to be, faith plus dedicating your life to Jesus, indeed, faith plus anything means that one is dependent only on the anything. Anytime we try to add anything to faith as a need to be saved we are denying that we are saved by faith alone and we are denying the Gospel message. So, we might ask ourselves, “What, if anything, are we adding to faith in our own lives in order to save ourselves? What are we doing to keep Jesus from having to die too much for our sins?”
If we could keep seven of the ten commandments on a daily basis, which is a 70%, a passing grade, that would mean that we would only sin three times a day. However, when we realize that those three sins a day times 365 days in a year means that we have sinned over 1000 times in one year, times how old we are, we get an idea of just how sinful we are. With that said, I would imagine that if we were truly honest we would add an extra zero to the end thus our sins would not simply be in the thousand but in the ten thousand and more.
The good news, the greatest news, the Gospel news is that because of His great love for us, not only did God gives us life at conception, not only did He gives us new life through the waters of Holy Baptism, He also took all our sins and put them on Jesus who suffered the complete suffering, the complete price for our sins so that when we stand before our Father in heaven He will see only Jesus’ perfection, made ours by His grace through faith in Jesus given to us through His means of Grace. Thanks be to God.
When we realize the full extent of our sins and the full extent of Jesus’ death for us, for you and for me, then and only then will we come to cherish the sweet message of the Gospel of forgiveness of sins. Then we will say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.