For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (ESV)
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Wednesday of Pentecost 18
15 October 2014
Some years ago I counseled with a young man who had graduated from severe drug addiction and after kicking the habit had fallen into an actively homosexual life. Of course, I expressed my concern for his eternal welfare, about which he obviously was also concerned. He would scarcely have spent the time with me discussing his views of salvation and its relationship to his immoral practices, if he hadn't been concerned. After some discussion about homosexuality, the argument that carried the day for him was the "civil rights" argument, namely that since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had set in motion the civil rights movement people have finally realized that discrimination based on "sexual orientation" was a violation of civil rights. And while I think this argument is false on face of it and demeaning to the true meaning of a colorblind society, as Dr. King conceived it, it still is worth asking what it might mean that the governance of sexual activity is a matter of civil law.
This is saying that civil law ought to give me permission to do whatever I please. Unfortunately, this is also taken to mean that God ought to concur with this particular civil law. In contrast to this, Christians need to state categorically that what is legal may well be immoral. There is a higher standard than the willy-nilly created law of any community or particular country. But beyond that, it must also be stated that civil freedom is a legalistic freedom, that is, a freedom created by the boundaries of the civil law. Worldly opinion says that homosexual acts are good and right. What happens when worldly opinion says the opposite? What happens when worldly opinion limits your partners to one at a time, or to humans only, or (to take an opposite example) considers chastity and abstinence as unworthy of full humanity or just simply to be impossible? These are all extreme boundaries, but they are boundaries nonetheless. The point is that our freedom in the civil realm has to do with very real and specific legal prohibitions and commands; civil "do's and don'ts" so to speak. But these are only boundaries over against society and are not necessarily proper reflections of the divine will for humans. Therefore, what humans call civil or earthly freedom is simply another kind of legalism, because it creates the requirements and prohibitions that apply to our earthly life in relation to other humans as human beings.
How different our relation to God is. The freedom with which we Christians are blessed is not about boundaries (whether they be strict or loose), but it is about the freedom we have from the law and the divine wrath that comes upon those who are confronted by the law. This is a different order of things. This is a matter of giftedness; it is not about boundaries of either prohibition or command, but about the bestowal of the highest divine blessings. It is not our work, but a work of Christ. This is the highest liberty and it is what defines the church and the Christian theology. All other concepts of freedom are about permissiveness or restrictiveness; about more or less and nearer or farther. The homosexual young man was caught not by his immoral behavior, but by becoming subject to the elementary legal principles of the world. This is why I grieved most for this young man. He did not know what it was to be truly free; free in Christ.
"Every word is emphatic (Gal 5:1). 'Stand fast,' he says, as if to say, 'Be vigilant.' In what? In freedom. Not in the Emperor's, but in the freedom for which Christ has set us free. The emperor gave, indeed was forced to give, the Roman pontiff a free city and other lands, as well as certain immunities, privileges, and concessions. This, too, is freedom; but it is a civilfreedom, according to which the Roman pontiff with all his clergy is free of all public burdens. In addition, there is also the freedom of the flesh, or should we say of the devil, which reigns in the whole world. Those who have this obey neither God nor the laws but do what they will. This is the freedom which the rabble runs after today; as do the fanatical spirits, who desire to be free in their opinions and actions, in order that they may teach and do with impunity what they imagine to be right. They stand fast in a liberty by which the devil makes them freed. We are not dealing with this here even though the whole world seeks this alone and chases after it. Nor are we dealing with political freedom, but with another kind, which the devil most viciously hates and attacks.
"This is the freedom with which Christ has set us free, not from some human slavery or from a Babylonian or Turkish captivity, but from the eternal wrath of God. Where? In the conscience. This is where our freedom comes to a halt; it goes no further. For Christ has made us free, not politically nor in a fleshly way but theologically or spiritually, that is, to liberate us so that our conscience is free and joyful, unafraid of the wrath to come (Mt 3:7). This is the most genuine freedom. It is inexpressible. When the other kinds of freedom-political freedom and the freedom of the flesh-are compared with the greatness and the glory of this kind of freedom, they hardly amount to a dribble or a drop. For who can express how a great a thing it is when someone is able to declare for certain that God neither is nor ever will be wrathful but will forever be a gracious and merciful Father on account of Christ? It is surely a great and incomprehensible freedom to have this Supreme Majesty kindly disposed toward us, protecting and helping us, and finally even setting us free physically in such a way that our body, which is sown in perishability, in dishonor, and in weakness, is raised in imperishability, in glory, and power (1Co 15:42-43). Therefore this unspeakable freedom by which we are free of the wrath of God forever is greater than heaven and earth and all creation."
Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 5.1
Lord Christ, free those who have been held in bondage to death through the Word of your mercy that they would know true peace. Amen.
For the young people of the LCMS, that their joy in the truth of the gospel would continue to grow and flourish
For the life of Christ which is freely given by the power of the gospel, that those who do not know its freedom would be brought to repentance and into that life
For Scott and Maryann Murray, who are celebrating their thirty-first wedding anniversary, that the Lord Jesus would give them many more years of joy together
For all church musicians, that they would be upheld in their calling to set the Word of God on the hearts of God's people through song
Art: Crucifixes Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014