O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on Gal. 2:15-21, 3:10-14
Preached on June 16, 2013
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Fellow baptized saints, you're not going to like this sermon. In fact, you're going to hate it. You're going to hate it because God is going to say things that expose your human nature. The apostle Paul is going to say things that ruffle all of your feathers. It is going to rub you the wrong way. Oppose the very things you hold closest to your heart. And yet it is exactly what you need. It is exactly what I need. For as Paul reveals to the Galatians, so he reveals to us, that we are not as free as we think we are. And that Christ is much more free than we think He is.
If we thought Paul was fired up at the beginning of his letter when he called down curses upon those false apostles who had infiltrated the churches of Galatia with their false gospel, then we are not ready for what he is about to teach us. For to our fallen human ears, he has some controversial things to say, all of which have their origin in the garden of Eden.
"You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." This is what God preached to Adam in paradise. But is it true? Did Adam and Eve really die all the way? Was there actually no life left in them? And what about you, their offspring, are you completely dead, or is there a little spark left in you that by His grace God fans into flame and life? Allow me to phrase my question in another way, "Did God really say you shall not eat of any tree in the garden?" The serpent continued, "You will not surely die." (pause)
Satan has been teaching this from the beginning. He taught it to Eve. He taught it to the Galatians, and he has taught it to us. All of us. He wants us to think - to believe - that there is something left in us worth saving. That there is some tiny spark of life left glowing in each of us that God doesn't want to see go out. We aren't dead, we're just sick. We aren't cursed, we're just in debt. We've all bought the lie that we can get better, that somehow that death God preached to Adam doesn't apply to us. And in this lie we slave and we work to climb the ladder of the Law with "the help of God's grace," of course. With God's help, we say, I can make it to the top.
But the truth is you can't, because as St. Paul says, by the works of the law no one will be justified. The fall has ruined much more than our knowledge of good, it has given us a very distorted knowledge of evil. By thinking we can impress God, or gain His favour by what we do, we show we really don't understand what our sin is. We really don't know how pervasive it is, and how firmly it rules us. Instead, we minimize it. Muffle it. And soften it. And we have the Evil One to thank for this. He has bottled up and heavily advertised his age-old product - "Sin Light" - with 100% less condemnation. Isn`t he a nice guy? He attempts to lighten the weight of sin for you, and he does it in two ways.
The first way is teaching you that sin is merely a disease, an illness, which I guess makes Jesus what - the antidote. Sin is merely a sickness and salvation comes when the patient is restored to health. But what do you with a woman who kills her husband and then washes her hands everyday shouting, "Out, out you spot!?" Or what do you do with the person who keeps falling into the same sins? "Oops - I did it again." The reality is health may never be restored here, and more importantly, all of the patients are going to die! If Jesus is my Savior, how come my life sucks so much! Why is life full of so much pain? Meanwhile, the devil serves you up some more "Sin Light", "Here. Have another bottle, it'll make you feel better."
The second way he may soften sin is by teaching you that sin is just a debt that needs to be paid off. A hole that needs to be filled. In other words, if Jesus just filled this hole in me, then I would be better. Well has He filled you, or hasn't He? Why aren't you better yet? Why do we all keep on sinning? Meanwhile, the devil snickers to himself. He has made us look for a false kind of salvation. One Christ has not won. Yet he has convinced us this is how Christ saves. By changing sin, Satan changes Christ.
You see, here's the problem with "Sin Light." Paul says in our text, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. Becoming a curse for us? What, for real? Yes. This is a fact. Christ became a curse for you. But how does a cursed man pay my debts? How does a cursed man restore me to health? How can a cursed man help me at all?
Now we're finally talking about what sin really is. Now we're finally revealing what Christ came to save us from and what He was crucified for. For the Bible teaches that sin is all of "Sin Light" and more, yes it is a disease, yes it is a debt, but most importantly, it is our nature - from our best human potential to our greatest success - Sin is all we are and all we can produce. We call this original sin, that we are born without fear of God, without trust in God and filled with an active spiritual lust. It means our human nature is only capable of producing sin. It has no other potential. It means the only reason you actually sin is because that place in you where everything starts is sin. As Genesis 6 states, "The LORD saw that every intention of the thoughts of our hearts was only evil continually." No, it couldn't be! There he is again, that serpent trying to convince you that what God plainly says isn't true. "You will not surely die." Did you see how fast he hit you with his venom? He is a master of it, getting you to doubt the specific word that God gives. Trying to make you separate God's Word and God's Work.
Think back to the garden. Adam and Eve are told -"Eat these. Don't eat this." Then the devil says, "Did God really say?" And Eve thinks, "Maybe there is something better," "Maybe God's hiding something from me." Here we have the upward fall, believing not the words which God speaks publicly - but the secret ones that lie hidden - reaching up for those inner mysterious desires about what God is doing in your life - suddenly we are led on an endless search, the search for better secret words - but when things don't go well for a couple of weeks, then what? Having no words that you can trust, you end up believing in your own power to believe. Faith becomes faith in my faith. Have you made a decision to turn your life and will over to Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? Are you sure? How do you know that you are sure? Can you prove it? How do you know you have proven it? Have you dedicated yourself completely? How do you know you have? Well I believe that I have. Well how do you know that you believe? Well I believe that I believe. Well how do you know that you believe that you believe?
Friends, meet the Unfreewill. The Bound Will. A will which wills only what it wills. That says, "What I choose is my choice." Or more simply, "I want what I want when I want it." Sounds more to me like consumerism than the righteousness of faith. Yet this is our will. It is bound and determined to be more than a creature. It does not just want to have a god, but to be a god. And it insists on having God outside of His Word which is given and preached for you. It insists on finding God in its own silent, inner, mysterious self - here or here or here. No Sacraments. No Preacher. No Words. No Christ. No Holy Spirit and finally no god but myself knowing good and evil. Freewill is original sin. Original sin is freewill. Knowing good and evil is original sin. It is thinking you can choose between them. This is what sin really is, and it is absolutely terrifying, because it means you are dead. You are cursed. And there is nothing worth saving in you.
But Christ chooses you. This is the kind of Christ you have. One that sees you in that sin, and saves you anyway. That is why He became a man for you, that is why He became sin for you, that is why He became a curse for you and died upon the cross, because He sees you dead and cursed and loves you anyway. You are the One He loves. Not because of anything you do, but out of His pure grace and mercy.
Against this the devil can do nothing, for in His death, in His cursed body, Christ unites Himself with you. He comes closer than the devil. He comes closer than the curse. He comes closer than death, and He takes of hold of you there and promises "I will never let go." Nothing can ever come between us again, for I am dead with you here. I am cursed with you here. But I am going to save you. I have put you in my death. I have put you in my body. Watch me rise. (pause) We call this baptism.
Yet, isn't this the most comforting part about God's salvation? Sin is not defeated in you. It is not defeated when you stop doing the wrong thing. It is not defeated when you commit yourself to doing the right thing. It was defeated in the body of Jesus Christ alone when He died on the cross. Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
He has redeemed you. Killing all of your sin in His body, and placing all of His resurrection in your body. This is why Paul says, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." I am dead, but Christ is alive - in me. Christ alone is my life, for the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me." It is no longer I who live. This faith Christ gives me in baptism connects me to Him so firmly, it is as though we are one person. He is the living part of me. Though I am dead, though I am cursed, Christ lives in me. Simultaneously sinner and saint.
I told you, you wouldn't like it, at least not your old self. But in Christ you are free. Free to know what is good. Free to choose what is good. Free to live. His heavenly kingdom awaits, and He promises you will be free there with Him forever. In Jesus' holy name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr