Jubilate Sunday Sermon
May 2, 2004
“As free, yet not using
liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.” 1 Peter 2:16
Freedom is the opposite of
slavery. A slave is not
free. A slave must obey
orders given by the master. If
the master commands the slave must obey because the slave belongs to the
master. The slave does not
have the right to choose whether or not he will obey.
He does not have authority over his own life.
The master does.
Americans are very conscious
about being free. Our
children are taught the Declaration of Independence in which the fathers
of our country stated their conviction that all men are created equal
and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights such as
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Our nation was founded upon the belief that the government has
the duty to defend our liberty or freedom.
How does the government protect
our freedom? It must
prevent others from taking it away.
How? By force,
that’s how. How else can
the government do what God gave it to do?
The government must have the authority to pass and enforce laws.
The Bible calls this the power of the sword.
Unless the government has the power to coerce people to do what
they do not want to do and to prevent people from doing what they want
to do it cannot govern. The
government cannot defend the freedom of anyone unless it has the legal
power to do so and that legal power must be backed up by force –
deadly force, if necessary. This
is why the Bible makes it clear that we Christians are to obey the laws
of the State. In Romans 13
St. Paul calls the government God’s servant.
It rules by striking fear in the hearts of those who are inclined
to disobey the law. In
today’s Epistle Lesson St. Peter tells us to obey civil law for the
Lord’s sake, that is, for Jesus’ sake.
We serve our Lord Jesus Christ by submitting to the authority of
the government. The Bible nowhere teaches us exactly what kind of
government we should have. It
teaches us to submit to whatever kind of government we have as long as
such obedience does not require us to sin.
In such a case we are to obey God rather than man.
Only an anarchist would argue
that the government should not have the power to enforce the law.
If it did not it could not protect our lives and our freedom.
But when we start talking about what kinds of laws we should have
we immediately find ourselves involved in a discussion about the nature
of freedom. Just what is freedom, anyway?
Does the government have the duty to protect the freedom of
pornographers, sodomites, and abortionists to engage in the things they
do? Is freedom the right to
do wrong? Should each
individual decide for himself what is right and what is wrong and then
insist that the government protect his freedom to do what he wants to do
when he wants to do it the way he wants to do it?
This is the morality of a two-year-old.
But a two-year-old is not free.
True freedom under the law
carries with it the demand for self-discipline. We need a civil authority precisely because we lack
self-discipline. The civil
authority does not have the power to change the hearts of criminals.
A thief who wants to steal your money is not going to stop
wanting to steal your money just because the government passes a law
that forbids stealing. But
that thief might be persuaded not to steal your money if he thinks that
he will get caught and spend some time in jail.
He wants your money and he wants to stay out of jail. Since he wants to stay out of jail more than he wants your
money he decides not to steal your money.
It isn’t because he cares a bit about your welfare. If he cared about your welfare he wouldn’t want to steal
your money. He chooses not
to steal your money because he cares about his own welfare.
This is the way the civil law
works. The powers that be
must convince potential lawbreakers that they are better off obeying the
law than disobeying the law. The
State has no power to change anyone’s heart or will.
It has only the power of the law and the law cannot change your
heart or will. The only
power the law has is the power to punish.
Fear of punishment is not the same as love for the neighbor.
It is nothing but self-interest.
What happens when the law
demands that none of us behave simply out of self-interest, but always
for the glory of God and the welfare of our neighbor?
Well, the first thing that happens is that this law is taken out
of the hands of any human government.
Only God can see into the heart to know what a person really
wants. The government
cannot pass a law that requires you to love God above all things or to
love your neighbor as yourself. But
God can. And God has.
This law of God must not be confused with any civil law. The civil law works precisely because it appeals to the self-interest of those who are inclined to disobey. As the theme song from the television show Baretta put it, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time: Don’t do it!” God’s pure and holy law appeals not to our self-interest but to our will. Our will is what we want. God’s law commands our will to want only what is good and right and pure and holy. God’s law confronts our will and insists that we must want only what God wants. It requires us to rejoice in everything that God ordains and to hate everything that God opposes.
God’s law shows us that we are
not free. It teaches us
that we are slaves to the evil within our hearts.
It is important that we
understand the great difference between the civil law that guarantees
our political freedoms and God’s holy law that exposes our spiritual
slavery. The civil law is
the guarantor of our freedom with respect to the outward life we live in
the world. This is why
Americans have argued for a government of laws, not men.
The law can be trusted to be fair and impartial whereas men are
corrupt and corruptible. But
God’s holy law that penetrates into the deepest core of our being does
not bring us freedom. Rather,
it condemns us all for not wanting what we should want and for not
loving what we should love and for not honoring and worshipping and
glorifying God and God alone. The rigorous application of the civil law will keep our
nation free. The rigorous
application of God’s holy and immutable law will show us all that we
are spiritually enslaved to sin and are powerless to be set free from
this slavery by means of any law at all.
The civil law is based on free
will. Every individual is
free to do what the law demands or to disobey the law and accept the
consequences. Everyone is
born free with respect to the civil law.
Obey it and you will receive the benefits that accrue from that
obedience. Disobey it and
you will suffer the consequences, which may include the loss of your
freedom. The rule of law is
based on the understanding that no one is forced to obey or disobey but
has a free will to do what he chooses to do.
There can be no legal accountability without free will.
But just as surely as civil law
requires us to affirm the free will, the law of God teaches us that we
have no free will when it comes to spiritual matters. It teaches us that everyone is by nature bound by the power
of sin. We are so tightly bound that we are utterly incapable of setting
ourselves free. The notion
of free will in spiritual matters is a diabolical lie.
This is what this congregation teaches about the free will as it
is set forth in the Epitome of the Formula of Concord:
Likewise we believe,
teach, and confess that the unregenerate will of man is not only turned
away from God, but also has become an enemy of God, so that it only has
an inclination and desire for that which is evil and contrary to God, as
it is written Gen. 8, 21: The imagination of man's heart is evil from
his youth. Also Rom. 8, 7: The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it
is not subject to the Law of God, neither, indeed, can be. Yea, as
little as a dead body can quicken itself to bodily, earthly life, so
little can man, who by sin is spiritually dead, raise himself to
spiritual life, as it is written Eph. 2, 5: Even when we were dead in
sins, He hath quickened us together with Christ; 2 Cor. 3, 5: Not that
we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything good as of ourselves,
but that we are sufficient is of God.
(FC, Epitome, III, par 2-3))
We cannot make ourselves
spiritually free. No law
can set us free. If we do
the very best we can do to free ourselves we will become only more
firmly bound. The nature of
sin is not that it is some casual fault that can be avoided if we
exercise the appropriate care. Sin
is too deep and powerful for us to overcome.
It captures our will and enslaves it.
Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin
is a slave of sin.” (St. John 8:24)
We are not born spiritually
free. This teaching is
deeply offensive to us by nature. Our
natural spiritual poverty is seen most clearly in our refusal to admit
how spiritually depraved we are by nature.
This is the source of every false religion known to man.
If we are spiritually free by nature then we have the wherewithal
to find our way back to God. This
is what every human religion teaches, including those human religions
that call themselves Christianity.
They teach that our way back to God is accomplished at least in
part by the right exercise of our own free will.
They teach this because they are blind to their own spiritual
blindness. We cannot do
anything at all to begin or to complete our way back to God.
This is why we need Jesus to go
to the Father. In going to
the Father he sets us free. How
does He go to the Father? He
goes by way of the cross. He
confronts the sin that enslaves the whole world.
Only by His holy will could our wills be set free.
The holy Man with the pure and holy will who always wanted only
what God wants confronted sin. Sin
tried to penetrate His will. Sin,
the devil, and all the powers of evil tried to get this holy Man to
desire anything less than to do the will of the Father.
They looked on Him as a predator looks on his prey.
They saw Him sweat drops of blood as His soul was filled with the
deepest sorrow ever experienced by a human being. The pure will of the only pure Man was set against the evil
inclinations of the whole human race.
The innocent God become flesh confronted in the garden and on the
cross the assault of sin. He
overcame it. He overcame by
And this victory is what sets us
free. God forgives us all
our sins for Christ’s sake and so we are free.
When you stand righteous before God by God’s own decree,
clothed in nothing less than the righteousness of Christ Himself, nobody
can make you a slave again.
We can suffer under any kind of
political tyranny. We can
lose our cherished freedom as Americans.
We would still be free, for we have been set free by no less of a
power than the blood of Jesus Christ, our God and our brother, that has
washed away all our sins. Not
only has Christ suffered for the sins that we commit against human
authority, He has suffered for the sin that we commit against God when
we fail to want Him more than we want all the things that lead us away
from Him. In that suffering
– in that going to the Father – the Son of God has set us free.
And, as Jesus said, “If the Son makes you free, you shall be
free indeed.” (St. John 3:36)
Using liberty as a cloak for
vice turns liberty into slavery. Vice
enslaves. Vice is devotion
to self-gratification. It
is the very worst kind of slavery.
It is slavery to sin from which Christ has set us free.
It is only when we are bound by our baptism to the Father, and
the Son, and the Holy Spirit that we are truly free.
It is only when we are bondservants of God that we are free from
the power that would enslave us.
There is a popular religious
myth that we live in a sort of spiritually neutral zone where we may
choose between God and the devil. This
is not true. We are either
slaves to the devil or we are children of God through faith in Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.”
One may not walk in and out of sin as if after he has come out he
was never in. Sin isn’t
like that. When you embrace
sin you embrace slavery. Sin
is slavery. It is never
freedom. You cannot choose
what is evil and then change your mind and walk away from it as if you
had never done it. When we
choose the sin from which Jesus has set us free we choose slavery over
Jesus said, “If you continue
in My word, you are My disciples indeed.
And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you
free.” (John 8:31-32) This
is why our lives are lives of daily dying and rising.
We sin. We run back
into slavery. The voice of
the Good Shepherd calls us back to God by forgiving us our sins and
setting us free. His words have the power to free our hearts and our wills and
our minds from the slavery into which we run.
It is a life between good and evil and we are caught in the
middle. It can become
discouraging, distressing, and downright depressing.
But the joy of the Christian life overcomes the sorrow.
It is the joy that comes from knowing that the Savior who bore
our griefs and carried our sorrows will keep us in the freedom for which
He has set us free.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus