First Sunday after Christmas| December 27, 2009| Rev. Rolf Preus| Galatians 4:1-7
But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. Galatians 4, 4-7
Those who live in open and unrepentant sin should not be considered Christians. This is why Christians who belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are so concerned about their church body’s decision to ordain practicing homosexuals. To say that someone who is living openly in unrepentant sin is a Christian is to speak falsely. An openly unrepentant homosexual is not a Christian. An openly unrepentant thief is not a Christian. An openly unrepentant liar is not a Christian. An openly unrepentant adulterer is not a Christian. You cannot be a Christian when you refuse to repent of your sins.
So then, how does a Christian live? In repentance. What does that mean? There are two opposing opinions on this among those who call themselves Christians. They spell the difference between life and death, freedom and slavery.
There is the repentance of those who live under the law and there is the repentance of those who live under the gospel. Those who live under the law are spiritual slaves. Their religion binds them to their sins. Those who live under the gospel are free. They live under the forgiveness of sins and are heirs of everything God promises.
Those who live under the law believe that they become good by doing good works. First you must do good works. When you have done enough good works you will have become good enough. For such people, repentance is changing the way you live. You used to steal. You stop stealing. You used to get drunk. You stay sober. You used to commit adultery. You change your behavior and start behaving yourself.
Such folks generally make good neighbors. They won’t steal the bike your son left out on the front lawn. They won’t molest your daughter when they see her walking alone at night. They generally pay their taxes and live as decent citizens. Many if not most of them go to some kind of a church.
But they are slaves. They are not Christians. They have not repented. They are the followers of Cain, not Abel; of Esau, not Jacob. They look good. But they are not good. They try to make themselves good by doing good. That’s like washing yourself with dirt. They are slaves to their own sin. Rejecting the grace of God in Christ, they have no use for a redeemer. Jesus is their Savior but they are not saved. Jesus is their Redeemer, but they live and die as slaves to the sin that Jesus washed away. Those who live under the law believe that they become good by doing good works.
Those who live under the gospel believe that they are good because God graciously reckons Christ’s goodness to them, forgiving them all their sins. With David, they confess their sins:
For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight— that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge. Psalm 51, 3-4
Those who live under the gospel know that they cannot become good by doing good. They know that they are corrupt. They have seen themselves in the light of the Ten Commandments and they have been convicted. They don’t live like the openly unrepentant heathen. They live decent lives. Outwardly, their lives are much like those who live under the law. But when they examine their behavior in light of God’s law they know that it isn’t good enough to make them good. As a matter of fact, God persuades them that all of the good things they do are tainted, corrupted, and polluted by sin. Even their good deeds are filled with sin.
Selfishness clings to their love. Their faithfulness is self-serving. Their love for their neighbor is neither pure nor holy. The law accuses and accuses and accuses them. No matter what they do, the law keeps on accusing them. As the hymnist says:
It was a false misleading dream
That God his law had given
That sinners could themselves redeem
And by their works gain heaven
The law is but a mirror bright
To bring the inbred sin to light
That lurks within our nature.
One trusts either in the law or in the gospel. Those who trust in the law trust in their own sin. Those who trust in the gospel repent of their sin. They confess to God that they cannot become good by doing good because they cannot do the good that God’s law demands. They have nothing to offer God but their sin. They claim nothing before God but Christ.
And Christ is all they need. When the fullness of the time had come Jesus Christ was born. He was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. He who was begotten of the Father before all worlds became bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh in Mary’s womb. He was born the pure and innocent Child of Mary. God sent forth his Son.
He was born of a woman. Not just any woman. He was born of a virgin. He had no human father. The Old Testament refers to a man’s descendents as his seed. But in Genesis 3, 15 Moses writes of the woman’s seed. A woman has no seed. The man provides the seed. But not in the case of that seed who was born of a woman and crushed the head of the serpent. He had no biological father. Mary was a virgin. Jesus was born of a virgin, as the prophets foretold. He received from Mary his human nature. We are human. He assumed our nature. He became one of us.
He was “born of a woman, born under the law.” He not only joined the human race; he assumed the obligation of all humanity. He assumed the obligation of sinners. The law was made for sinners. When God chose to be born under the law he chose to join sinners. Why would a sinless man join sinners? Why would he who had no sin, who desired no sin, who was incapable of sin, deceit, or wickedness of any kind choose to be born under the same law that condemned all sinners to hell?
St. Paul says why. He writes, “To redeem those that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” He purchased them. The price of that purchase was his holy life. He gave his life for them. He lived for them. He lived under the law. He offered to the law the obedience that was its due. Since God gave the law the law had to be obeyed. But no man could obey it. So God became a man. The Father sent forth his Son. He was born of a woman. He was born under the law. This is how he took our place. He became one of us. As one of us he did what the law demanded of us all. He did it vicariously, that is, as our substitute. This is how he purchased our release from the law’s judgment. This is how he set us free.
The law threatened curses against us. Jesus bore the curse of the law. He lived in obedience to all of the law’s demands. He died under the law’s curse. He did so as our substitute. This is how he redeemed us. Since Jesus has fulfilled the demands of the law the law cannot accuse or condemn those who have Jesus.
Those who believe that they become good by doing good are trusting in the law to save them. They remain under the law’s curse. Those who trust in Jesus who has redeemed them from the law are free from the law’s curse. The law cannot condemn them anymore than it can condemn Christ. They are sons of God. They are adopted into God’s family. St. Paul writes of them:
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
The Father sends the Spirit. But he is not the Spirit of the Father alone. The Father sends the Spirit of his Son. He points us to the Son and in this way enables us to call God Father. There is no other way to know God as Father except through the Spirit of his Son. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and the truth is the gospel of our redemption by Christ Jesus.
If you are redeemed you are set free. The price Jesus paid for us to purchase us was fully sufficient. There was nothing the law demanded of us that he did not do. There was no punishment the law could exact from us that he did not bear. He redeemed us from the law.
We receive Jesus through faith. Having Jesus we are forgiven of our sins. We are free from the law’s judgment. We stand before God as his holy saints. We are true children of God. We inherit all that Jesus has. We are free. We are free from the law’s judgment. We are free from the law’s curse. We are not living under the law. Our relationship to God is not defined by the law. Our lives are rather defined by the gospel.
To live under the gospel is not something we achieve. It is something God gives. When he tells us that we are forgiven of all our sins for Jesus’ sake he also gives us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit fills us and enables us to call God Father. We call him Father because his only begotten Son has become our brother. All that is his is ours.
There is no reason for us to live lives of fear. There is no reason for us to run away from God. When we know God in Christ we can be sure that the Holy Spirit himself has brought us to this knowledge and the Holy Spirit sets us free. He doesn’t bind us to our past sins. He frees us from them. As surely as heirs inherit the promised inheritance we Christians will inherit eternal life.
Oh, we feel sin. And we fall into sin. We remain sinners living in sinful bodies with sinful desires. The law condemns us for these sins. He never stops accusing us. He says, “You have not loved God as much as you have loved your own pride. You have treated your neighbor as if his purpose in life is to benefit you. You have cheated and lied. Yes, you have stolen and committed adultery, if not in actual deed, surely in what you wanted.” The law accuses and condemns.
Our hearts would condemn us and accuse us because we have broken God’s law in thought, word, and dead. We are helpless before the accusations of the law. We are made slaves. We are afraid of God. We are defensive and full of worries. The Holy Spirit enters in. He silences the accusations of the law with the proclamation of the gospel. He instructs the law: “You may not accuse this child of God. You may not judge this Christian any more than you can judge Jesus Christ himself. Jesus has fulfilled your demands. Jesus has borne your curse. You can find no fault in Jesus.” The Holy Spirit gives us the confidence to rest secure in Jesus’ wounds. Knowing that the law cannot accuse our Savior Jesus, we respectfully tell the law to be quiet and leave us alone. We are Christians! We do not trust in the law. We trust in the gospel to save us.
This is freedom. Our bound will is set free. This is the freedom from which we can love. Only those who are truly free can love God willingly and willingly do what God says to do. We are heirs. We aren’t on the outside looking in. The Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, is not a designation for others but for us. We have the Spirit of God’s Son living within us assuring us that we are the children of God. Amen