Pastor Peter Walther / Galatians 3:23-29 / Pentecost 5 / June 19, 2016 / The Freedom of the Gospel
The spiritual battle that Christians go through on a daily basis is exhausting. As Christians, we know what the bible has to say about sin and we strive to stay away from it. We know that sin damages our relationship with God and even condemns us. Yet, we so easily fall into those favorite sins of ours. You see that very attractive person walking past you or see a picture online, and you lust after them, meanwhile making everyone else in your life seem inadequate. You know it’s wrong, you even try to avoid those circumstances, and yet you can’t help yourself. Well, next time will be better. But the next time comes around, and it isn’t. Or maybe you see that piece of clothing or even that car and wonder why that person has it, but you don’t. I want to have that but I’ll try to be content. Or, maybe your coworker has said yet another stupid thing and you get so frustrated with them. You know that you’re not supposed to hate them, but they make it so difficult! I’ll try not to hate them. Or, you missed Sunday worship because the kids had a sports tournament this weekend, and you were just too tired to go on Monday night. But you promised God and yourself, even told the pastor when you saw him at the store that you’ll do better next time and make it to church.
Our lives are filled with empty promises to God. You promised God that you would try to do better next time, and you fail, time and time again. Our sin weighs us down and we can’t ever seem to get away from it. I feel burdened when I look through the commandments and see how I’ve failed. Here’s the problem: we often view Christianity on what we do, or sometimes what we have failed to do. We know the Gospel but we become slaves of the Law, always “trying” to do the right thing. Sadly, trying is a losing battle because when we are born, we wear sin and death, like clothes. We are born into ignorance, blindness, and corruption. Everything we do, think, or say, reflects that corruption.
In 1977, the movie Pete’s Dragon came out. This has always been one of my favorite Disney movie’s probably because my name is Peter too. This year, a new version is coming out. Pete’s dragon is obviously about Pete and his dragon named Elliot. Pete needed guidance in the real world. He needed a parent figure. Because of our sin, we are like Pete, immature children who want things done their own way. We want to go out in the wild, free to do whatever we want. However, what we really need is some sort of guidance.
The context of this passage and the Greek actually refers to the law like a chaperone. Literally, it is a “boy’s leader.” Usually this chaperone was a slave of a wealthy Greek or Roman father, whose responsibility it was to watch over a young boy, anywhere from 7-17 years old. Sometimes, that chaperone would teach the young boy, sometimes correct and discipline, and usually would make sure the child made it to school or did other responsibilities. The picture is that before Christ, the nation of Israel were like immature children and sadly acted that way. Because of that, God treated the people like children. He introduced the law, something that they already had written on their hearts, but now they could visibly be reminded of what to do and not to do. It’s like a parent putting a web blocker on a certain website for a child. The child may know that they can’t go onto that website, but once they do go to it, they’ll visibly see that they aren’t supposed to be there. They needed the law to chaperone them. These regulations kept the Jews from mingling with the Gentiles, the bad boys who had no guardian, whose influence would bring contamination. The point of the picture language with the chaperone and the boy is to show the immaturity of the child. He was rid of the chaperone after reaching a mature age.
The problem is that when you have an immature boy who is burdened with the law, that child will act out once in a while against the chaperone. The law will often bring rebellion. We saw that with the Israelites throughout their history, and we see it on a daily basis in our own lives. We are like Pete and his dragon friend Elliot, getting into trouble again and again. When we find ourselves getting into trouble again and again with God’s law, we begin to lose all hope and that God isn’t happy with us. With the Israelites, the law was this perpetual reminder that a person was unclean and that they were sinful. With the constant sacrifices, with all the laws, a person was exhausted just trying to keep up. The law often fills us with a sense of guilt and inadequacy. When a person that is burdened by the law sins against God, they begin to think: “If God will spare me from death for just five minutes, I will change. God will see me as a better person!” Do you see the burden of the law and what it does to us? Our lives become focused not on Christ but all about trying to make God happy. Do you see why non Christians are confused by Christianity? They hear of this supposed “gospel” that Christians preach, but all they observe is people trying to appease God.
Have you ever had a non Christian open up to some random law in the Old Testament, like Leviticus? (11:39-40) “If an animal that you are allowed to eat dies, anyone who touches its carcass will be unclean till evening. Anyone who eats some of its carcass must wash their clothes, and they will be unclean till evening. Anyone who picks up the carcass must wash their clothes, and they will be unclean till evening.” And they will say, do you actually believe this? How do you respond to something like that? Well, after you have picked your jaw up from the floor after they read that passage, you use the words that Paul gave to us: THE LAW WAS TO POINT US TO THE GOSPEL! When Christ came, the chaperone of the law would no longer be needed. All of the laws reminded the people that they were always unclean, that there was no possible way to earn salvation. Christ came to fulfill all of those laws, especially the obscure ceremonial laws like in Leviticus.
Here, the apostle Paul explains to his people the foolishness of what the Judaizers were trying to convince them of, the fact that they had to obey the Jewish laws as Christians. Paul reminds us not to get caught into the same lie, that what you do or the sins that you try to avoid has any merit in God’s eyes. Because we will fail every time. The gospel gives us motivation to use the law correctly, because a Christian is going to continue to fall into sin. No doubt, the sins of lust and greed and anger and spiritual immaturity will continue, and our flesh will not let us believe in Christ with our whole heart. Sin clings to us as long as we live and it spoils our happiness in Christ. So, we are only partly free from the Law on this side of heaven. And so when the law is properly used in Christian maturity based on the gospel, it reminds me of my inability to save myself and it will take me to Christ every time. Our conscience can be free, because of what Christ has done for us, and not tied to how good or bad we have been with avoiding a certain sin. Thank God that he sent his Son to fulfill all those laws for our sake. Thank God that he sent his Son to remove our failures forever from God’s eyes. Christ is the end of the Law. The law can no longer accuse you or condemn you. We are free!
The Judaizers that were influencing the Galatians were proud to be called “sons of Abraham,” and they looked down upon the Gentiles, like you and me, who didn’t come from a Jewish background. Here, the apostle Paul is flipping their argument. He says that if you are a child of Jesus, then you are a Jew. So, I guess, we are all Jews! What Paul meant was that, we are sons of the promise to Abraham, and sons of God. Now this term “sons of God” may sound sexist to some. In fact, some translations may even use “children of God” or even “sons and daughters of God.” But those aren’t the greatest because it is important to understand the context. Remember when we said the greek here speaks of the law like a chaperone for a young boy because of immaturity? Keeping that in mind, “Children” shouldn’t be used here because that implies that there is still immaturity. But the term “sons of God” follows the context with the idea of maturity, free from any chaperone. God also honors everyone by addressing us with the same word with which he address Jesus himself, as his son!
So now that we have the gospel, the purpose of Christianity is NOT to make Jesus our example and to be good to our neighbor, and be the best people we can be. Those are results, but not the purpose. We would find ourselves right back under the law if Christianity is only about trying to imitate his example! This is what Paul has been arguing from the start. Do you need Jewish ceremony to be children of God? Do you need to follow the 10 commandments to be Christian? According to the law, yes that would be the case. We would have to imitate his example. But however good this imitation may be, it still does not eliminate the problem of sin, death, and the devil’s power over us. According to the law, if we break a commandment, by definition we wouldn’t be Christian.
Thank God that isn’t the case! Here Paul is speaking to people who have been baptized and have faith. We are clothed with Christ. We put on Christ like a garment of salvation and sonship. And so, when the Father in heaven looks down, he does not see our original sin, the things we fail to do, or even righteous imitations. He looks down and sees Jesus in the person. All the best laws and good deeds cannot take away sin, they can’t remove death, and they can’t give hope. The law, no matter what religion, will only burden. However, we have the sweet words of the Gospel, that you are forgiven!
What an important reminder to us as we struggle with the sins that burden us over and over again. Even if we fail over and over again in our spiritual struggle, God has already forgiven us. He sees us, not in that we are trying our best, but he sees us as already perfect because of Christ. As we battle sin on a daily basis, we have the great comfort that we are sons of God who are not burdened by the law, but who live in the freedom of the Gospel.
Let us pray: Dear Father in Heaven, we confess that far to often we try to obey your law, but forget about the promise of your gospel. Renew in us the comfort of your forgiveness. Give to us the peace that the Gospel can only give and help us to reflect that love. Amen.