Sermon on Galatians 5:1-6
Reformation Sunday | October 29, 2017
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! Amen.
The lesson for your consideration this Reformation Sunday is recorded in Paul’s letter to the Christians of Galatia, 5:1-6.
Dear brothers and sisters of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, by the grace of God. “BOGO” in a department store usually, or at least it used to mean “buy one, get one free.” Well, when the first one is jacked up about 500% in price, the second’s not really free, is it? “Free toy inside each box of Lucky Charms” really means “cheap piece of plastic, not to mention choking hazard, inside each overpriced box of sugar mixed with flour.” Finally, “free banking services” means “give us your money and we’ll risk it to make billions in investments, and we’ll do it for you for free!” “Free” is usually not free, as long as you’re dealing with the world and sinful human beings. But there is something that is free, with no strings, no disclaimers, no up-front costs: the free grace of our God. But some people feel the need to add a price tag, saying “do this,” or “do that,” and then you’ll be saved. But what is Grace if it is not free?
I.The Galatian Judaizers
On Paul’s first missionary journey, he and his partner Barnabas spent a lot of time in Anatolia, modern-day Turkey, and planted several churches in the Roman province of Galatia. But not long afterwards, Paul received word that others had come to Galatia after him, and told the people there that unless they adopted Jewish customs, including the circumcision of boys and men, then they were not true believers, not saved.
Now was there anything particularly wrong with following Jewish customs? Not really, in fact, circumcision is still practiced by many cultures in the West, and I would not call into question anyone who said he wished to follow Jewish dietary laws or have his sons circumcised.
Why then, should Paul tell the Galatians that Christ is of no value to someone who is circumcised? Because if we must do anything, and I mean anything, to earn God’s favor, then it is not free…it is not grace.
And so what the Judaizers, those who said Jewish customs were required, were offering the Galatians, was not the freedom of the gospel and God’s loving gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, but enslavement to the law. And that is not the law’s purpose. Its purpose is to lead sinners to the gospel, to the declaration that sinners are forgiven, free and clear.
II.Roman Catholic Indulgences
Paul and others fought a hard fight against those who would enslave God’s free people to the Law. And that fight would have to be fought again and again, as many false teachers through the centuries sought to remove the freedom of forgiveness from the hearts of believers, whether for their own sense of self-importance, to increase their personal power or influence, or simply because they didn’t understand what grace is.
It is the fight against those who would put a price on salvation, and his desire to keep grace free in the hearts of believers, that moved Martin Luther, 500 years ago this Tuesday, to post his 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences on the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The fight that would eventually force Luther and others to declare themselves out of fellowship with the Roman Catholic Church began with an invitation to debate on indulgences.
Now, the custom and teaching of indulgences began with an incorrect, unbiblical premise, that sin, while forgiven, still incurs some kind of temporal, or earthly debt. What is not paid off in this life must be paid off in the afterlife. Thus, the pure invention of Purgatory, a place where the not-quite-good-enough can work off their earthly debt of sin. The indulgences were a way for people to pay money in order to buy off their or some other person’s time of punishment in Purgatory.
Well, what’s wrong with that? If it makes people feel better, what’s wrong with it? Because, as Luther wrote in the 32nd of his 95 theses: “All those who believe themselves certain of their own salvation by means of letters of indulgence, will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.” Those who seek to buy their way into heaven will find the price of their life, and their sin against a holy God who rightly demands perfect obedience, is too high, far higher than they can pay. The only thing precious enough to pay that price is the blood of Christ.
III.Modern-Day Thieves of Grace
And that fight for the precious gift of God through the blood of Christ continues today. How many modern-day thieves of grace are out there, my friends? There are those who tell you that you must “ask” Jesus into your heart and deny the grace and power of the Spirit to create faith through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. There are those who tell you that you must tithe or speak in tongues, or your faith, and thus your salvation, is in doubt. There are those who tell you that the grace of God is measured out in spoonfuls, each of which must be earned by prayer, action or donations.
And NONE of these things is grace, the grace that is taught in Scripture, the grace which is a love-gift of our God.
IV.The Free Grace of God that Sets Us Free
Paul told the jailer at Philippi “believe;” that, my friends, is the “price” of salvation. As Luther wrote in the 37th of his theses: “Any true Christian whatsoever, living or dead, participates in all the benefits of Christ and the Church; and this participation is granted to him by God without letters of indulgence…” and without “asking” Jesus into his heart, without getting circumcised, and without speaking in tongues or tithing or any other action of sinful mankind.
What is the price of freedom? No price, and the greatest price. No price for you, dear Christian, and the greatest price, death, for our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. That is grace, that our God who demands perfect obedience accepted the perfect obedience of his Son in our place; that he who declares that blood must be shed for sin allowed his Son to shed his blood for our sin. That perfect life and innocent death are given freely to all without exception, caveat or condition – and that, dear friends, is grace. Anything less is no grace at all.
Our Lord gives away salvation, and asks for only our love and trust in return. And for those who believe, there’s no price tag on that. We freely give back the love God has given to us. That this teaching of salvation by grace alone has been restored to God’s Church is a reason to give thanks, my friends. It's been almost 2000 years since Paul fought the good fight for salvation by grace alone, and it's been 500 years since Martin Luther, another instrument of the Spirit, was his instrument to restore the true biblical teachings of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, as taught by Scripture alone. Thank God for his grace in giving us brave men like them, who stood up for grace whatever the earthly costs, so that grace might not be lost. But most of all, thank God for his free gift of his Son, who endured humiliation, rejection, torture and death, so that we might be saved.
What is Grace if it is not Free? Call it what you want, but it isn’t grace. Grace is free, and because of that we who cannot hope to earn forgiveness, have been given it. And with that free gift comes hope that frees us from doubt and fear of death, because the greatest blessing of God’s grace, eternal joy in his presence forever, is yet to come. Amen.
The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.