Bethel Evangelical Lutheran worshiping Jesus at 8th and N. East Ave. in York, NE.402-363-0022

July 16, 2017

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Galatians 5:1, 13-14

Dear Friends in Christ,

Moses reminds us this morning that God has not made it difficult for us to know his will. We don’t have to build a tower to heaven or go to some high mountain and spend our lives in quiet meditation to learn what God’s will is. We don’t have to build a ship and sail across the ocean, or a space ship to travel to the far reaches of the universe in order to know what God’s will is. No, Moses says, the word is near you, it is in your heart and mouth because God has written his will in everyone’s heart and he has also revealed his will in his word. Israel heard God himself speak to them from Mt. Sinai. When they asked him to speak through Moses instead, he agreed that from that time on he would speak through his prophets. And Peter says, we today have the word of the prophets made certain as we have seen those words fulfilled through the word and works of Jesus, God’s Son.

The expert in the law came to Jesus to ask about God’s will. Jesus affirmed what Moses said. Knowing God’s will is not difficult. The lawyer knew what it was by heart. When Jesus asked what God had revealed and caused to be recorded in Scripture, the lawyer recited it. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. Knowing the will of God is not difficult. But, when Jesus told this man, do this and you will live; just do the simple thing of loving God and loving your neighbor; the man realized it wasn’t so easy. There were some people he didn’t love, and he justified not loving them because he didn’t consider them his neighbor. But Jesus’ parable makes it clear that everyone, including our enemies, are our neighbors and therefore it is God’s will that we love them too.

Knowing God’s will is not difficult. He states it clearly and succinctly in his word. Love God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself. Love is the fulfillment of the law. But, what Jesus wanted the lawyer to see, and he wants us to see, is that doing God’s will, the way he demands, PERFECTLY, is not only difficult, but impossible. We do not have the ability to love God above all things and to love our neighbor perfectly. We know that. We have experienced that. It’s easy to admit that we aren’t perfect, after all, no one is. But what we don’t want to hear, or admit is that because we don’t have perfect love for God or our neighbor we are enslaved by sin and Satan and deserve only God’s eternal punishment.

It doesn’t matter that you were born into a free country, you were born a slave. Your taskmasters were the most vile and wicked imaginable. Their only desire to to use and abuse you and, when they were finished, to see you thrown into the unending fires of Hell with them. There was nothing you could do about it. There was nothing you could do to escape. But God had pity on you and chose to rescue you and set you free. Paul says, Christ has set you free. He did it by substitution. He took your place, but instead of sinning like you do, we lived in perfect love for God and his neighbor. He took your place by allowing himself to suffer the unending fires of Hell, suffering the punishment you deserve. In Christ you are free from the curse of God’s law. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. That means that you don’t have to live each day in fear of God’s punishment. In Christ you are free from guilt because God has removed your sins from you as far as the east is from the west. In Christ you are free from the power of Satan. In Christ his accusations fall on deaf ears, and you can resist his temptations calling on Jesus’ name and Satan will flee from you. In Christ you are free from the fear of death. In Christ you see death not as an end but as the beginning of something better; as a sleep from which you will awake, not in the unending fires of Hell, but in paradise.

You have been freed; freed from the slavery of sin, death and the devil, by love. You have been freed because God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, who lived and died in your place and destroyed the slavery of the fear of death by his glorious resurrection from the dead. But, Paul says, watch out! Satan is trying every minute of every day to enslave you again.

He says, don’t let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. How could that happen? Notice, it’s not something that is forced. It’s something that you might do voluntarily, that you might let happen. Paul describes it as giving in to the idea that you have to do something, no matter how small, to contribute to your salvation. That puts you back under the yoke of slavery because if you keep saying, “no thank you Jesus, I’ll do it myself,” at some point he will say, “Ok, have it your way”, and that means you are no longer free, but a slave again to fear, to sin, to eternal death, and to Satan. As Paul says, there is no in between. Grace through faith in Jesus brings freedom, demanding works brings slavery. Or as a modern writer put it, “Jesus plus nothing equals everything,” but Jesus plus anything equals nothing.

You could also let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery if you would use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature. You know what that looks like because you have been tempted to do it. It sounds like this. “All my sins are already forgiven so I can sin all I want.” Or “Go ahead and do what you want, you can ask for forgiveness later.” The fact that you are free from sin and its consequences through faith in Christ doesn’t mean that you are free to sin. Freedom in Christ does not mean that we are free to indulge our sinful nature and practice forms of immorality either homosexual or heterosexual, or abuse drugs or alcohol, or dabble in horoscopes or witchcraft. Being set free in Christ does not mean that God’s commandments no longer apply to us. God’s moral law does still apply. He does still expect us to love him above all things; and, as Paul points out, he still expects us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

The world, and unfortunately many churches today, scoff at this. They complain, “that’s not freedom in Christ. If you say that people still need to follow those old fashioned, outdated commandments you are putting people back under a yoke of slavery.” But they forget that Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law, he came to fulfill it in our place. He didn’t come to set us free to sin, but to rescue us from the consequences of our sin. He came to set us free by his great act of love, by dying for us; so that we might be moved by love to die to ourselves, to crucify our sinful nature, and to live in love.

Luther wrote it is human freedom when laws are changed without effecting any change in men, but it is Christian freedom when men are changed without changing the Law. This is exactly what so many today don’t understand. If you change the laws about marriage without effecting any change in people you have not made anyone truly free. In fact, becoming more permissive in society or in the church only serves to enslave more and more people. Although they may think they are now free to do something God forbids they will only find themselves more and more enslaved by guilt and may find themselves eternal slaves of Satan in Hell because those who continue to live in what God calls sin will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Christian freedom comes only when people are changed, when hearts are changed, when the Holy Spirit uses the Gospel in word and Sacrament t fertilizes the tree of faith so that it produces the fruit of love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. God doesn’t change his law, his holy will that has existed from eternity, that is near us because is written in the hearts of all people and is summarized in the commandments. He changes hearts. When he brings us to faith in Jesus and shows us the freedom that is ours through faith in Jesus our view of God’s will changes. We look at the desires of our sinful nature, we look at the temptations of the world around us and we are moved to say with Joseph, how could I do such a wicked thing and sin against my God? We no longer see God’s will as burdensome and enslaving. We say, “I want to do your will O Lord. I want to keep your commandments, not in order to get anything from you, that’s slavery, but because of what you have done for me and because you have shown me that this is what is best for me.

Freedom in Christ doesn’t mean that Jesus has abolished the commandments and people are free to do whatever they want. God’s holy will has not, and never will change. Freedom in Christ comes when we realize that we are set free by love, by what God has done for us in Christ; to love, so that we strive to love God and our neighbor out of thanks for what God has already done for us.

Luther also wrote, “We conclude, therefore, that a Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor. Otherwise he is not a Christian. He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbor.” You have been set free by love, to love.