St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Our Christian Liberty

Sermon on Galatians 5:1-6

Text: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love

As Americans, we value our liberty highly. The last line of the Pledge of Allegiance says, “With liberty and justice for all.” One way that we talk about our liberty is to speak of our rights. Unfortunately, the only time we may hear about our rights is if we feel that someone is infringing on our rights. Any slight, whether real or imagined, becomes a cause for trouble. We value our freedom and chafe at the thought of being under someone else’s control. As precious as our liberty is to us as Americans, it pales in comparison with our Christian liberty. This morning, as we consider OUR CHRISTIAN LIBERTY, we are reminded 1. Christ Won It, 2. Luther Rediscovered It and 3. Don’t Lose It.

The Apostle Paul directed this letter to a congregation in modern day Turkey. There was a great amount of division in the congregation. Part of the congregation were “Judaizers.” This meant that, although they believed that Jesus had come into the world to be her Savior, you still were obligated to keep all of the Old Testament ceremonial laws in order to be saved. They taught that there were certain foods that you could not eat. You had to continue all of the sacrifices that God had prescribed in the Old Testament.

Another portion of God’s Old Testament Law dealt with circumcision. It is this point that Paul addresses in the verses under our consideration this morning. God had commanded his Old Testament people that all males were to be circumcised. This was a mark God placed on his people. However, this law, as well as all of the other Old Testament ceremonial laws, was abolished when Christ lived and died as the world’s Substitute. Paul wrote in Colossians 2:13&14, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” Christ set the world free from these laws.

However, there were still those who said these laws must be followed. So, Paul shows these people what they stood to lose if they continued to hold to that position. In verse two, we read, “I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.” What Paul is saying is that, if you feel that you can help God out with your salvation, then the substitutionary work of Christ drops dramatically. No longer is he the only hope for salvation because you have contributed, if only a little bit.

Paul drives this point home even further in verse three, “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.” You can’t pick and choose what parts of the law you want to keep and what parts of the law you want to ignore. If you are going to be saved by observing the law, you must keep all of it, from cradle to grave, without stumbling even once. Of course, any person who is honest with themselves will have to admit that they cannot keep God’s law perfectly. All must admit that they have sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect standards. All deserved to be in hell for all eternity.

Paul goes to such great lengths to show us that we cannot save ourselves, so that we look only to Jesus for our salvation. Paul writes in verse one, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” We have been freed from the power of sin, death, and the devil. Christ did it all for us. We add or contribute nothing. As Paul would later write to the Ephesians, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”

This salvation by God’s grace alone was the central theme of the Christian Church. It was passed down from generation to generation. Each generation embraced it and called it their own. For example, Augustine, who lived in the fourth century wrote, “Grace, unless it is free, is not grace.”

However, over the centuries, man’s reason began to add to this truth of Scripture. The Roman Catholic Church, which was, for the most part, the only Christian church at the time, added the idea that you had to make up for the sins you committed. Christ paid for your original sin, so that you could make a start, but the rest was up to you. If you couldn’t make up for your sins during this lifetime, you had to go to purgatory to finish paying them off. Then you could enter heaven.

It is on this backdrop that we introduce Dr. Martin Luther. He was born in 1483 in Germany. Dr. Luther was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. He even became a monk, after a close call with death and the murder of a friend. Martin Luther was a model monk. He did everything the church asked him to do and more. He fasted and beat himself until he fainted. He went on pilgrimages, all in an effort to calm his troubled conscience over all of the sins that he had committed. Luther, reflecting on his experience as a monk, wrote, “When I was a monk, I endeavored as much as possible, to live after the strait rule of my order . . . yet for all this my conscience could never be fully certified, but was always in doubt, and said, This or that you have not done rightly, this sin you omitted in your confession, etc. The more I went about to help my poor and wavering conscience, the more weak and afflicted I was.” The Holy Spirit was leading Dr. Luther to see that, no matter how hard he tried, he could not save himself.

After Dr. Luther became a professor at the University in Wittenberg, a major building project began in Rome. The pope needed money for the construction, so he authorized the sale of indulgences. These indulgences were pieces of paper that could be bought and would absolve you of some of your sins. You could buy these for yourself or for a loved one who was in purgatory. By means of these indulgences, you could get out of purgatory earlier.

The sale of these indulgences reached Germany. A man by the name of John Tetzel sold them in the Wittenberg area. Many people flocked to buy these pieces of paper. Dr. Luther, having preached two sermons against indulgences, wanted to discuss them further. So, on October 31, 1517, he went to the door of the Castle Church with ninety-five theses or points of debate he wanted to discuss. Although he had no intention of breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church, this event really marks the beginning of what is today called the Lutheran Church.

When the Roman Catholic Church not only refused to debate these theses, but began to attack Dr. Luther for his writings, an assembly was called for in the city of Worms. All of Luther’s writings were placed before him and he was asked if he would take back what he had written. To this, Dr. Luther replied, Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scriptures or by clear reason . . . I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither right nor safe to go against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.”

For the rest of his life, Martin Luther continued to defend these Scriptural teachings on which he had taken his stand. He summarized them by means of three Latin phrases “Sola Gratia, Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura.” Sola Scriptura (By Scriptures Alone) — Not on the word of popes or other men. Sola Fide (By Faith Alone) — It is only through faith that we receive the blessings of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Sola Gratia (By Grace Alone) — It is only because of God’s undeserved love that you have these things and not because of something you have done. On his deathbed in Eisleben, Germany, he was asked by one of his associates, “Do you want to die standing firm on Christ and the doctrine you have taught?” To this, Dr. Martin Luther replied in a loud voice, “Yes.” Soon after that, Dr. Luther died.

However, the Gospel, once again freed from its shackles of work-righteousness, has been at work to this very day. You and I are heirs of the Lutheran Reformation. We have been led to see Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin. Again, Paul reminds us, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Verse 1) We are free from the law’s curse. We have been freed from sin, death, and the devil.

Paul continues by saying, “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Verses 1) Paul reminds us to beware of falling prey to a self-righteous attitude that says we helped God out in our salvation, or at least we weren’t as bad as others. As Paul told the Judaizers, so he tells us that, if we do this, “Christ will be of no value to you at all.” (Verse 2) Christ’s work would be cheap and meaningless if we follow this type of thinking. Also, if we want to keep the law to save ourselves, we are “obligated to obey the whole law.” (Verse 3) We would fail miserably and the punishment would be hell for all eternity.

However, we have been set free by Christ. He lived as our Substitute and he died as our Substitute. He paid for all our sins. Jesus said in John 8:36, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Who would want to go back to the slavery of the Law? That is why Paul tells us “Stand firm.” (Verse 1) Paul uses a military term of someone taking a stand and nothing is going to move them from that spot. Rejoice in your Christian freedom and do not go back under the slavery of the law.

In addition, share your liberty with others. So many people walk about with their consciences burdened. They are under a heavy load of sin. However, Christ came to pay for that person’s sins, too. What a wonderful message you can share with others that, no matter how great or how many their sins, Christ paid for them all. You hold in your hand that key that sets people free from their sins. May God give you the opportunity and the willingness to use that key.

Our Declaration of Independence speaks of certain rights that all people have. It mentions, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This phrase has come to mean different things to different people. They, also, apply to Christians in a special sense. We have life — life with Jesus Christ, both now and for eternity. We pursue happiness as we seek to do those things which please our God out of thankfulness for all he has done for us. We have liberty. We have been set free. No slave ever had to undergo the terror that we would have had we not been set free. However, we have been set free. Don’t let anyone try to put you in slavery again, including yourselves. Rejoice and live in your Christian freedom. Amen.