Pentecost 6 (no audio this week)
Passage: Galatians 5:1–5:13-25
†††In the Name of Jesus†††
Text: Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Date: June 26th, 2016; Pentecost 6
Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians has often been called “Martin Luther’s book”.
It is called Luther’s book because he relied so strongly on this letter to the Galatians for his writings and arguments against the prevailing theology of his day.
The prevailing theology of Luther’s day, back in the 16th Century, was plagued with the same deadly errors and confusions that the Galatians were facing back in the 1st Century when Paul wrote this letter to them.
And we still face these errors today in the 21st Century.
These deadly errors and confusions that the church has been plagued with for thousands of years are the result of mixing God’s Law and Gospel.
Every road has two ditches. One on the right, the other on the left.
When we drive our cars we do whatever is necessary to avoid going too far either way.
When we drive on the highways, if we happen to stop paying attention and veer too close to the ditch, often we get a loud and abrupt shaking from the rumble strips, warning us to get back on the right path.
When I was just a rookie driver, I was driving with some friends on the freeway here in Saskatoon.
It was in the middle of winter and the roads were all iced over – it was like driving on a skating rink.
I somehow became distracted for only a moment and we found ourselves sliding into the ditch.
I over-reacted and yanked the steering wheel the other way, which caused us to start spinning in circles.
We ended up in the ditch on the other side of the road.
Fortunately there had just been a big dump of snow, so we landed safely in a snowbank and no one was injured.
But by trying to avoid one ditch, I ended up driving directly into the other.
And this same mistake can be made spiritually speaking as well - on the road of spiritual freedom that is ours in Christ.
When we try to avoid one spiritual ditch, we can end up in the other.
The trick in driving, and in the life of faith, is trying to avoid the ditches.
On the road that is our freedom in Jesus Christ, the ditch on the right is legalism.
Legalism is the situation that Paul encountered in Galatia.
Some very sincere Jewish Christians from Judea were troubling newly founded churches by insisting that the Gentile members of the church had to keep the Old Testament laws in order to be “real” Christians.
The chief issue for them was circumcision - something the Gentile Christians were understandably reluctant to undergo!
By insisting that the Christians of Galatia follow these Old Testament Ceremonial laws, the Jewish Christians had distorted the gospel of grace.
They had mixed the Law and the Gospel and ended up in the ditch of legalism.
The question at the heart of this issue is this: is the Christian, the baptized believer in Jesus Christ, obligated to the Old Testament ceremonial laws? To be circumcised? To worship only on Saturdays? To eat only “kosher” foods?
The answer from the apostle Paul is, “Absolutely not!”
If anything is added to the finished work of Jesus Christ, then Christ died on the cross for nothing. There is absolutely nothing that we can do to add to what Christ accomplished on the cross for us.
We trust it, say “amen” to it, and die believing it.
And even our trust in God’s promise isn’t something that we do on our own, but rather is something that God works in us through the Holy Spirit.
Paul writes to the Galatians: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
For a baptized believer in Jesus Christ, to go back to the Law as a basis for dealing with God, would be the same as Israel turning around in the wilderness, crossing back over the Sea, and returning to slavery building bricks in Egypt.
But this is the way that all other religions deal with God. Even well-intentioned Christians end up in this ditch of “legalism”.
Many of the Christian preachers you see on T.V. or hear on the radio have fallen into the ditch of legalism.
They proclaim that Christians are obligated to keep the Law in order to be saved.
Their spiritual equation is: faith plus obedience equals salvation.
But, if you buy into that “spiritual” arithmetic, Paul says, then you are obligated to keep the whole law perfectly, without so much as the tiniest little slip.
Grace is not grace, faith is not faith, and Jesus Christ wasted his time, and his life, when he died on the cross to take away the sin of the world.
That’s the ditch of legalism – becoming enslaved by the Law.
As Lutherans, we tend to do well at staying out of this ditch.
Most of us have been trained from childhood to say that we are justified by grace, through faith, and not by good works.
In fact, sometimes when we are asked to do something that we don’t want to do, or not to do something that we want to do, we can be quick to apply it.
We may say something like, “I’m not doing that because I don’t have to do anything to get to heaven!” or, “Yes, I know that’s a sin, but Christ forgives me anyway – I’m doing it!”
Seeking to avoid the ditch of legalism, we head straight for the opposite ditch: license.
Often when people are released from prison, they don’t handle their freedom very well. They are so used to living a controlled and regimented life, that when they are finally set free they can’t handle it, they abuse it, and they end up back in jail.
You see it sometimes when kids leave a very structured and law-oriented home, and go off to college, or to live on their own for the first time. They can end up getting themselves into all kinds of trouble because they can’t handle their new found freedom.
Veering from the legalistic ditch of their childhood, they head straight for the gutter of license.
The apostle Paul recognized this danger too. He knew what the sinful nature could do with this freedom in Christ.
Paul warns us: “For you were called to freedom, brothers; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh [your sinful nature], but through love be servants of one another.”
Being on the road of freedom in Christ is freedom to serve, freedom to bend down and wash the feet of others, freedom to bear each others burdens, freedom to forgive and restore each other - as we are already forgiven and restored in Jesus.
It’s a freedom to fail, knowing and trusting that our failures are forgiven.
As baptized believers in Christ, we don’t have to keep the law and do good works, we are free to keep the law and do good works.
This is a very important distinction.
As Christians, we will continue to struggle to stay on the road of freedom in Christ. We will continue to struggle to stay out of the ditches of legalism and license.
There’s a spiritual war going on, but it’s not where most people think it is. Many religious people think the war is between the religious and irreligious, between God and the devil, between the church and the world. And it may seem that way at times.
But Christ conquered sin, death, and the devil by his dying and rising – that battle is already won!
The battle is a spiritual war going on in the heart and mind of every baptized believer, between who we are in Christ and who we are in our sinful flesh.
The Holy Spirit wants to take you one way, but your sinful flesh, that old Adam that refuses to die, leads you the opposite way.
In our text, Paul says the desires of the flesh oppose the desires of the Spirit, and vice versa, so that you don’t do what you want.
In Romans chapter 7, Paul calls this condition “a body of death,” and asks, “who will rescue me? I can’t dig myself out of this pit. Who is going to rescue me from this body of death?”
And then he points to Christ, to his incarnation, his death and resurrection, and he says, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
In ourselves, in the flesh we inherited from Adam, we are sinners through and through.
And just in case we doubt it for a moment, Paul gives a sampling of the works of the sinful flesh. These are the symptoms: “sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, rage, self-centeredness, heresies, envy, drunkeness, carousing.”
Some may call that “freedom,” but does that seem like freedom to you?
Many of the things on that list can easily become addictions, the polar opposite of freedom. Some can kill you. Others will cause you anguish and they will torment you. These sins are not a lifestyle, but a deathstyle.
Jesus didn’t hang dead on a cross so we could indulge every urge and do whatever pleases us.
He died as the Servant of all so that we would be free to serve all in freedom.
The Holy Spirit leads us in this life of freedom, bringing forth in our lives the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The image of fruit is perfect. When we live our lives according to God’s will, our actions are not works, but fruit.
Fruit is what a tree produces when it’s healthy, well-fed and watered, pruned in the proper way. ‘I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus says. “Joined to me, you will bear much fruit, apart from me you can do nothing.”
We know that you won’t get apples or peaches from a tree by making it feel guilty, kicking it, and yelling at it to be fruitful.
No, you have to tend it, water it, feed it, prune it at the proper time and in the proper way, and then it will bear fruit naturally and automatically.
And that’s how it is with the fruit of the Spirit. It comes naturally and automatically, when we are fed and watered by the Word, by Baptism, by the Supper of Christ’s Body and Blood.
The ditches we avoid are legalism and license.
The key to good driving is to stay out of the ditches.
And it’s the key to walking in the freedom we have in Christ.
Stand firm then, and let us not be burdened again by a yoke of slavery, either in one ditch or in the other. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.