The Freedom of the Gospel
October 30, 2016 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross
What was the Reformation all about? If you went to public school before the sixties you probably learned that it was a movement for freedom of conscience, one that had the courage to struggle for that liberty, one that was a part of the Progressivist view of history that made it nothing more than the spiritual side of the Renaissance. If you went to Lutheran school you would have learned that it was about how people can go to heaven. Are these very different? It all depends on how you define “liberty.” If liberty means making choices then you mean political liberty. That has very little to do with your conscience. It only makes things worse when liberty degenerates into license, and people claim the right to indulge in every sort of immorality. Too often people speak of being “liberated” today when they really mean debasing themselves into swine, wallowing in the mire of unbridled self-indulgence. The Reformation was not about that. It was about liberating the human conscience from guilt and the fear of death. The liberty Paul is talking about in Galatians comes only from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Wherever there is Christian faith, there is also the liberty Paul is talking about. When you get a chance, read this whole letter. In the first chapter Paul thunders against his opponents who want to place Christians under the Law. He curses anyone who would preach such things. Yes, Paul is very intolerant. He takes no prisoners when he argues against false teachers. Neither Jesus nor Paul was a humanist. The Apostle does not confuse toleration with liberty. Do not think that toleration is a Christian virtue. It is nothing of the sort. If one tolerates falsehood, then he does not care about truth. If one tolerates evil, he does not care about goodness. If he tolerates ugliness, he does not care about beauty. Ah, but what about religious toleration? Look in the Old Testament – that was the sin of Solomon which brought ruin upon Israel. Paul is not looking for free and open discussion. He wants a firm stand for the truth of Jesus Christ.
Because human nature is weak, because we are born in total darkness and ignorance, lured into falsehood by the devil, enticed to vanity by the world, Christian faith is always going to be an uphill climb. We cannot afford to give the devil equal time. That is trifling with grace. Our nature longs for the Law. Our experience with people tells us that the righteousness of works sounds better. Something within our nature tells us that works are more certain to rely on. Against our nature, our environment, our society, and our own inclinations we have nothing to put forward except the daring, despised Gospel. But as we listen to it that Gospel proclaims a better liberty – from sin, from death, and from the Law. The Gospel offers no politics – it is completely irrelevant to politics. But it is the power of God for salvation, power to overcome the flesh, to be larger than our inclinations, wiser than our own wisdom, leaders rather than followers. It places us into the kingdom of Jesus, the Son of God. The world will always hate us because of that Gospel. The world thinks it can score points in heaven. The Gospel of Jesus cuts through that. The devil rages. He attacks from the inside, trying to get us to see Jesus as a Teacher of works, and from the outside, telling us that the world has outgrown Jesus, that humanity needs no Mediator. Yes, the world wants to liberate us from the kingdom of Christ.
Yet it is that despised and misunderstood Gospel which we must believe, teach, and confess. Watch out for the Church itself, because from time to time she twists the revelation of Jesus. Watch out for the world as well, which doesn’t think it needs any revelation. Confess before all that God is merciful, that we are sinners who have broken His Law, that because we have done so we deserve His anger. But confess also that Jesus has made full atonement for us. He did this when He died and rose again. Already in the Old Testament we see the lessons God gave, the plain and obvious types of Jesus such as the Passover Lamb, the Yom Kippur goat, the High Priest, Isaac, the Bronze Serpent, and the unconditional election of Israel. Along with that take the 328 Messianic prophecies which we can see fulfilled in the New Testament. If we still have questions after reading the Old Testament, the New is even clearer. The best liberty is freedom from sin. We do not have to justify ourselves because Jesus has set us free.
This is so against our nature … there are many Christians today who feel guilty because their lives have not been difficult as the Apostles’ lives were. That doesn’t matter. The important cross is not yours, but His. For all we know our very scruples may be the cross God appointed for us. The devil will use our own scruples to make us doubt, as he did with Luther. Even after being shown the blessed atonement, our flesh would rather make a deal, see if God will take 10 cents on the dollar. What vanity! God doesn’t have to make deals with us. He is Almighty; capable of exacting the uttermost farthing. As much as the flesh would like to weasel out, God will not let this go. He isn’t interested in giving us a lot for a little. He wants to give us everything for free. He saves us from sin and death by grace. He gives away eternal life without any mortgage, any credits, and partial payments. That is what the cross is all about, for there God did exact the uttermost farthing. There is where the Lamb was slain. From that sacrifice the risen Lord sent us His Holy Spirit to renew us, regenerate us, make us God’s children. He puts us into His kingdom of grace. So if you want a personal relationship with Jesus, then an objective and public relationship with the Church is part of the deal. You cannot be joined to the Head while despising the Members.
Finally, we must expect some conflict in our lives because of this. Either from within or from without there will be threats, there will be deceptions, and there will be enticements. All of these are designed to get you back under a yoke of slavery. When you are assaulted by them, remember your Baptism. By that washing of regeneration you were born again of water and the Spirit as Jesus taught. Learn the Commandments, not to be afraid, but as wonderful opportunities to please God who has already saved you. Jesus is your Liberator, your King. In Him your conscience is at peace. You aren’t in heaven yet. When you are, two things will be different: one, you will no longer be tempted to sin, and two, you will be ruled directly by Jesus who will provide the ideal government under which you will live. Meanwhile, do not compromise the Gospel. It is true that to live in secular society, we must tolerate various opinions in order that we may be tolerated. It is not a virtue, but it can be a quid pro quo. But do not compromise the Gospel. No matter how many people disagree, no matter how reasonable their disagreement might sound, utterly reject and condemn whatever contradicts the Gospel. Works can only enslave the conscience. Jesus and His truth make it free. AMEN.