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. (ESV)
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Go, Be Free
Monday of Pentecost 19
20 October 2014
How blind we are! We so easily confuse freedom and bondage, so that we hanker after slavery and flee true freedom. How could anyone be any more blind than that? Yet, we are exactly that blind. We easily seek to be bound by the law and its precepts, while fleeing the gospel and its liberating speech. As a parish pastor I often encounter this desire when people demand, "Pastor, just tell me what to do." I am always tempted to answer simply: "Go. Be free," and usually I do say some form of those words, although with a bit more explanation. The problem is that human reason can never see or appreciate the gift of spiritual freedom won by Christ and conveyed to us by the gospel. It does not have the capacity to absorb and fully appreciate such a rich blessing from God.
In the kingdom of this world, this incapacity is not considered abnormal. Reason is a gift which God gives to function in the realm of the world. It enables us to sort our way through the law with its rewards and penalties. It answers the question about how to get ahead in the world, to get a job and keep it, build a home and family, and to shape our children's lives. And even though there are obviously spiritual influences in these areas of our life, because the two kingdoms interpenetrate each other, their basic shape is given by the Ten Commandments. Sometimes people are described as being a "slave to their work," as though that could be avoided. While we do have other worldly callings, of course we work in our daily labor within the boundaries of law and requirements, and this implies a kind of slavery.
Relations within human culture are shaped and defined by the law. These are the issues which your mother taught you as a child: clean your plate, don't talk with your mouth full, show respect to your elders, and don't point sharp objects at anyone. If you don't learn these basic principles, you will struggle with human relations. Reason has the capacity to run life in this world. The power of reason-and it is powerful-then deludes us into thinking it can also evaluate the divine gifts. It is a confusion that happens naturally. This is similar to the confusion that many men experience when they realize that hammer will drive a nail very well. They conclude from that that a hammer can fix anything, as many a wife has found out from bitter experience. Reason is great for knowing the law, not so hot for applying the gospel.
But we must declare it incompetent to evaluate our spiritual life with its enormous gifts and liberty. Only the Holy Spirit can free us from bondage to the elements of the world (Gal 4:3). The spiritual gifts can only be spiritually discerned (1Co 2:14). The cross of Christ is a wholly different order of business from the business of reason. In the realm of the spirit the law only binds us, disrupts our liberty, and breaks our fellowship with God. Our Father has given us His kingdom with all of its rich blessings. All reason can do is point out that God has no rational basis to be so generous and according to our reason that is true. But the cross and the gospel are the message, not of what the law would permit, but what God has freely given to poor sinners, entirely because they have deserved its blessings in Christ alone. The work of another is the content of the gospel, never our own. Our own work has absolutely no bearing on the relationship which God has created with us through His own dear Son. Go, be free.
"Reason does not see how great a matter this [Christian freedom] is (Gal 5:1); but when it is spiritually considered, it is enormous and infinite. No one can grasp with any thought what a great gift it is to have, in place of the Law, sin, death, and a wrathful God, the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, eternal life, and a God who is perpetually propitious and full of favor toward us. The papists and all hypocrites boast that they also have the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, a propitious God, etc.; and they also lay claim to freedom. They also promise this to others, but all these things are empty and uncertain. Truly these things are a service of corruption. In temptation they vanish in a moment, because they depend on human works and satisfactions, not on the Word of God, nor on Christ. Therefore it is impossible for them to know what freedom from sin, etc., really is.
"By contrast, our freedom has Christ as its foundation, who is the eternal High Priest, who is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. Therefore the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and life, and freedom that we have through Him are certain, completed, and eternal, provided that we believe this. If we cling firmly to Christ by faith and stand firm in the freedom with which He has made us free, we shall have those unspeakable gifts. But if we become secure and drowsy, we shall lose them. It is not in vain that Paul commands us to be vigilant and to stand fast, because he knows that the devil is busily engaged in trying to rob us of this freedom that cost Christ so much, and to entangle us again in the yoke of slavery through his ministers."
Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 5.1