Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Monday, January 04, 2010

No Longer Slaves But Sons


No Longer Slaves But Sons

Sermon by Charlie J. Ray

Galatians 4:1-7


In the middle of the Christmas season and the New Year we hardly stop to think about the reason Jesus Christ was born into the world. We are caught up with Christmas shopping, visiting relatives, watching football games on television and various seasonal activities. But according to Saint Paul, in the fullness of time Jesus Christ was born of a woman and came to earth to redeem us from our sins. What is the significance of this world changing and life changing event? I want to dig a little deeper into this text to show the significance of Paul's thinking and how it applies to our situation today.

First, we should realize that Paul is writing not to one church but to several churches in the ancient region of Galatia around 52 A.D. This same area would roughly be in the southeastern part of modern Turkey.

Paul is dealing with a problem where Jewish Christians wish to corrupt the gentile Galatians and force them to be circumcised and to accept all of the Old Testament law concerning ceremonies and sabbaths and festivals. (See Galatians 4:10; Romans 14:5; Colossians 2:16-17) They also want to question Paul's apostolic authority and he answers these questions about his ministry in chapters 1-2. In chapters 3-4 Paul argues that the Old Testament or Old Covenant law is like a guardian or babysitter watching over a child but the New Covenant brings in a new era of freedom under the Spirit as sons of God.

Verse 1-2

Galatians 4:1-2 (ESV)

1 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.

Naturally a young child is not free to do as he pleases but is under the discipline of his parents. We normally call such a person a minor or a child. And according to Saint Paul the minor child is treated no differently than a slave in the sense that he is under someone else's authority and is told what to do. And this state of affairs exists until the minor child comes of age and is recognized as an adult. Even if he is the child of a wealthy family and will inherit and own everything the child is still treated as a child until he is of age. His inheritance is held in trust until it is determined by his father that he is of age and an adult.

Furthermore, we do not allow our children to do as they please because to do so would be irresponsible. If we allow a child to play in the street it is obvious that the result will be tragic since cars and trucks travel at high speed. Likewise, we set other boundaries for our children so they do not fall under the influence of the wrong crowd. We do not want our children to become criminals or drug addicts or to have sex before marriage because of the consequences of those kinds of behaviors and activities. So rules and regulations serve a good purpose. But the real focus here is not on the rules and the regulations but on the value of the person we are trying to protect for his or her own good. In other words, the law is not there for its own sake but for the sake of the person because we value and love that person.

Verse 3

Galatians 4:3 (ESV)

3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.

According to John Calvin, the Protestant reformer in 16th Geneva, in the Old Testament the law of Moses did not change the fact that the saints of the Old Covenant were saved and justified by faith just as we are. But they did not have the full revelation of Christ even though they did believe in Jesus Christ as they understood him only in part through the prophets. So the Old Testament nation of Israel was like a slave under the law of Moses even though Israel was saved by the same faith that Abraham had. Even though Israel is an heir of salvation the inheritance is not received until the coming of Christ in the New Testament. And so the Old Testament church, which is the nation of Israel is enslaved to the law of Moses and under obligation to keep the whole law as an external code of rightesousness.

Just as a child is obligated to obey its parents and the guardian appointed over it so the Old Testament Israel is under external restraints to prevent it from being seduced by other nations into immorality. So we too were under the law as children under supervision until Christ came into the world. Even though the giving of the law of Moses is gracious and meant to protect the minor child, i.e. the nation of Israel, the law is in another sense bad in that it can only bring condemnation, guilt, and a curse upon us because it reveals us to be what we are: sinners who are under God's wrath and justly so.

But if we were to argue that Paul is talking about gentiles here and not Jewish Christians it would still be obvious that the gentiles have morality and conscience. They have the law of God written in their hearts (Romans 2:14-16).

If you have been following the news you will know that Tiger Woods has been exposed in a sex scandal. Even the secular world knows that certain things are wrong even though everyone is pretending to be tolerant. Several of the sponsors have dropped Woods because his indiscretions have tainted his ability to endorse and sell their products.

It should be obvious here that simply because the law commands us to do certain things does not mean that we have the ability to do what the law commands. The law is not at fault but the fault lies with the person and it is the heart that is desperately wicked and sick (Jeremiah 17:9-10). There is a slavery to the world and to the principles of the world and ungodly influences. Tiger Woods was apparently unable to withstand the temptations of the world and all the wealth and fame that comes with it.

But there is another slavery that Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, mentions. Luther says that we are also enslaved by the law. It is the law that makes us actually guilty before God and which condemns us as sinners. While the law can give us external commands to guide us and the law itself is good, the law itself arouses all sorts of sins in our hearts, sins that are there by our very nature. Martin Luther in his commentary on the epistle to the Galatians puts it like this:

So there is great force in the words we were in slavery. This is like saying that our conscience was subject to the law, that it held us captive like a tyrant holding his prisoners, whipped us, and with all its power exercised its tyranny over us. It brought us terror and heaviness of spirit; it made us tremble and ready to despair, threatening us with everlasting death and damnation. This spiritual bondage and slavery of the law is very bitter, and yet it is not permanent, but only lasts while we are children—that is, as long as Christ is absent. While he is absent, we are servants, locked up by the law, destitute of grace, faith, and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Under the basic principles of the world. Paul is here speaking about the law of God. He deliberately chooses words that show clearly the power and purpose of the law, so that in the terrors of sin, wrath, and the judgment of God we do not trust our own righteousness or the righteousness of the law. The law principally threatens us with death and eternal damnation. Therefore, this diminishing of the law must be applied to the conflict of conscience, and not to civil life or to complacent and careless minds.

Paul is referring to the written laws and traditions. Even if the law restrains people from evil and constrains them to do good, it does not thus deliver them from sin; it does not justify them or prepare their way to heaven but leaves them in the world. I do not obtain righteousness and everlasting life because I do not commit murder or adultery and do not steal and so on. Such external virtues and decent life are not the kingdom of Christ, nor the heavenly righteousness, but are the righteousness of the flesh and of the world; the Gentiles had these too. Some people observe this righteousness to avoid the punishment of the law, some so they may be praised by other people and regarded as righteous, constant, and patient; and so this should be called hypocrisy rather than righteousness.

Moreover, mainly the law can only accuse, terrify, condemn, and kill. But where there is such terror, such feeling of sin, of death, and of God's wrath and judgment of God, there is no righteousness, nothing divine or heavenly. The world (being the devil's kingdom) is nothing but a mixture of sin, death, hell, and all evils that are felt by fearful, sorrowful, and heavyhearted people; complacent people do not feel them. The law, then, at best does nothing but reveal and increase sin and strike into us the terror of death. We see, then, that the law gives nothing living, healthy, divine, or heavenly, but only worldly things. Therefore, Paul very appropriately calls the law the basic principles of the world.1

According to Luther, we pretend to be good during the Christmas season. We go about doing random acts of kindness because Oprah says its the right thing to do. Joel Osteen tells us that if we just quote his mantra, the health and wealth liturgy and if we do good to others God will reward us beyond our wildest dreams and bless our children and grace us with prosperity, good health, and our children will all be saved. It is a worthless promise based on law even though it is sugar coated with a smile complete with an Ultrabrite sparkle. And no matter how good it sounds, keeping the law is still law and can only bring condemnation and a curse. And even if God were a genie in a bottle who grants wishes as Joel Osteen portrays him, it would still not bring happiness. The rich find that material success does not buy fulfillment, inner peace, or happiness.

No, the law has to bring us to know our misery and our damnation--our lostness and our just reward for our sinfulness. Unless and until we know our spiritual condition before God we cannot come to a place of saving faith. Being good is unacceptable before God unless we have first been justified by faith-- not because we are as wicked as we could be but because we are not good enough. No matter how much good we do the law is always pushing us to do more good. We fall short of the mark. We sin in the things we have left undone as well as in the things we should not do. We do not do what we ought to do and we do the things we ought not to do. We are slaves to both sin and to the law until something else happens.

Galatians 4:4-5 (ESV)
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,
5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Divine timing is everything in God's plan. Just at the right time in salvation history God sent forth his Son. This is no chance event but something God planned in eternity before creation and which He insured would in fact happen. Even here we can see God's absolute sovereignty at work. God did not fall off the throne when Adam sinned but even before Adam was made God planned to redeem the elect and to bring them a redeemer. Jesus Christ is not only the end of the law for righteousness for those those who believe (Romans 10:4) but he also bears the curse of the law for us in our place so that we no longer need to fulfill the whole law but rather that we now live by faith rather than trying to be justified by the law. Galatians 3:13 says:

Galatians 3:13-14 (ESV)
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"—

14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

I do not generally use paraphrased translations but I think the New Living Translation accurately catches Paul's teaching on the law in Romans 10:1-5

"Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don't understand God's way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God's way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God. For Moses writes that the law's way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands." (Romans 10:1-5, NLT)

So Jesus does for us what we cannot do. He keeps all the commands of all the law for us and puts an end to the law by accomplishing its demands. Then he dies on the cross for us and bears the curse of the law for us as our substitute. He not only bears the curse but he bears God's wrath against us as sinners and redeems us from the curse of the law and from God's just condemnation of us as sinners.

We do not become righteous by doing good but merely by believing in what Jesus did for us. In fact, none of our good works are acceptable to God unless and until we are justified by faith. If righteousness came by the law, then Christ died in vain:

"I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose." (Galatians 2:21, ESV)

"And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God." (Galatians 4:6-7, ESV)

In the divine order of things we are first born again by the Spirit of God and then we believe and become sons of God or children of God. And it is by believing that we are counted righteous (Romans 4:5) and given the right to become sons of God (John 1:12-13). We are adopted into God's family by faith and the Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. It is only by the Spirit of God that we can say that Jesus is Lord and at that point we can cry out to God, "Abba, Father!" Not all of mankind can be called a child of God as the liberals say. No, only those who are born again from above, those who believe in Jesus are truly children of God. We are no longer under the curse but we enjoy the full blessings of God because Christ came to earth to die for our sins.

As Isaac Watts, the 18th century Anglican minister, wrote in the famous Christmas carol, Joy to the World:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

1 Luther, M. (1998). Galatians. The Crossway classic commentaries (197). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.


The First Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.
LORD, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people which call upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Reformation said...

Thanks for this.

Charlie J. Ray said...

David is in Australia for 4 weeks. So I was allowed to preached last Sunday and again on January 17th. The other two Sundays were given to "priests" ordained with TEC. The people still think they have to have communion every week.

Not sure what my next sermon will be yet. Thanks for the feedback, Phil!


Charlie J. Ray said...

I forgot to mention that we used the modern English version of the 1662 BCP Morning Prayer that I posted online earlier. Several of the people said they liked it!

Kepha said...

A good article. Galatians has always been a very powerful book to me.

Far Talk said...

"Isaac Watts, the 19th century Anglican minister, wrote in the famous Christmas carol, Joy to the World..."

Isaac Watts was an eighteenth-century English Nonconformist and hymn-writer.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Thanks for the correction, Far Talk....

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