June 27, 2010 — Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
“Two Dangers to Our Freedom in Christ” — Pastor Lassman
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My Fellow Redeemed in Christ,
We Americans cherish the freedom that we have in our country. We are free to make decisions for ourselves and to conduct our lives according to what we want...free of restrictions and coercion. But with freedom comes responsibility and freedom can be abused. How far does freedom go? Can people simply do anything that they want? Not many people would say that. And so there is a tension. How many laws are needed? Too many laws will restrict freedom. But if people abuse their freedom then more laws may be needed. And so there is a tension between freedom and responsibility. However, in our lesson for this morning Paul is not talking about political freedom, but our spiritual freedom that we have in Jesus Christ. And just as there are threats to political freedom so likewise Paul reminds us that there are “Two Dangers to Our Freedom in Christ.”
I. Before we hear about the dangers to our freedom in Christ, let’s first make sure that we understand what our freedom in Christ is.
A. The freedom that Paul is talking about is the freedom from trying to be saved by what we do, the freedom from trying to be saved by keeping God’s Law; the freedom from trying to be saved by being a good person. It is a horrible burdon to try to be saved by keeping God’s Law, so much so that Paul refers to it as “a yoke of slavery.” Here’s the problem: if we want to be saved from sin and death and have a good relationship with God that leads to eternal life then we have to keep God’s Law the way he wants it to be kept: perfectly. We don’t get to keep God’s Law they way we think it should be kept. That’s crazy. That’s why you get a speeding ticket for doing 70 MPH on the freeway instead of the posted 60 MPH. You broke the law. Who says? Those who made the law...and they really don’t care what you or I think. The law is the law. You either do it or you don’t. And so it is with God. He wants his Law to be kept perfectly. Well, that’s fine how do ya do. Who can do that? Exactly. That’s why Paul calls it “a yoke of slavery.” The moment you have to meet certain conditions in order to be saved from sin and death, your conscience can never find peace with God because you can never keep his Law perfectly. Try as we might we can never get rid of sin. You and I can’t even say one perfect “Lord’s Prayer” without letting our mind wander off to other things. Try it. And if we can’t even say one perfect Lord’s Prayer then there is no way we can be reconciled to God and overcome sin and death by how we keep God’s Law. We just can’t do it. And so we are slaves; and we cannot free ourselves just as we said in our confession this morning.
B. Ah, but here’s where our dear Lord Jesus comes in. He has freed us from this slavery of trying to do what we can’t do. Jesus Christ frees us from this horrible burdon of trying to be right with God on the basis of how good we are. And he did this by doing what we cannot do: he has kept the Law for us...kept it perfectly...he didn’t have even one sin. If he did he would also be a sinner who needed a Savior. But he never sinned, not once. And here’s the Good News, the Gospel: he did this as our representative before God, as our substitute...so that we get credit for what he did. Did you hear what I said? You get credit for Jesus perfecting keeping of the Law. Do you see why the Gospel means “Good News?” But what about all the times that we have broken God’s Law? What about that? Jesus took care of that too when he died on the cross and was punished by God for your sins and canceled your debt of sin to God...in full...no strings attached. Isn’t this amazing? Jesus did for us what we could never do: keep God’s Law perfectly. And on top of that, he did for us what we would never want to do: be punished God for our sin. And this is why in Jesus Christ we are free. Free from trying to win God’s approval by what we do; free from a guilty conscience; free from the fear of death and God’s judgment. Free...completely free. This is what Jesus is talking about in John’s Gospel: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (8:31, 32, ESV) This is Christian freedom as Paul says: “For freedom Christ has set us free. For you were called to freedom...” You don’t have to do anything to save yourself from sin, death, and God’s wrath. Nothing. Jesus has done it all for you. You are free. This is why the message about Jesus Christ is called “Gospel,” “Good News.”
II. However just like there are threats to political freedoms, so likewise, there are threats to our spiritual freedom in Christ; actual there are two.
A. One threat to our Christian freedom is “permissiveness” abusing this freedom with sin. That’s what Paul says: “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” In other words, just like with any freedom, our freedom in Christ can be abused. And we do that whenever we defend, excuse or accept any sin that we have in our lives. This is a constant danger to our freedom in Christ because, even though we are spiritually born again through faith in Jesus Christ, we still have our flesh, our sinful nature. And this is how our sinful nature thinks: “Well, if I don’t have to keep the Law of God to save myself and if Jesus has done it all for me...it must not matter how i live. I can live in any way that I want. I can sin all I want.” Our sinful nature, our “flesh” thinks this was because, as Paul says, “The desires of the flesh are against the spirit.” And he’s writing to Christians. He’s talking to you and me. And then he lists some examples of what the flesh produces: “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these.” These are examples of abusing our freedom in Christ and if we do not repent of such things we can lose our faith and salvation as Paul says: “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” However, because we have been born again by the Holy Spirit we can control the desires of our flesh as Paul says: “And the desires of the spirit are against the flesh. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” In other words, because we have the Holy Spirit we can resist sin and live for God so that the fruits of the spirit are seen in our lives: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Political freedom is all about living for the self as the Declaration of Independence reminds us: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But spiritual freedom is not about living for self or the pursuit of happiness...this is nothing more than original sin, the flesh. Spiritual freedom is the freedom from the self and from sin; it is the freedom to love God and to serve our neighbor in love as Paul says: “...But through love serve one another.”
B. There is a second threat to our freedom in Christ which is just as dangerous as permissiveness and that is “legalism”. Legalism shows up in our lives whenever we base our relationship with God on his Law instead of on Jesus Christ. For example, we have fallen into “legalism” whenever we think that we are better than other people. Think about the times that we have looked down on someone else because we think that we are better than they are. They are bad and we are good. Who says? We do. But who are we? Who made us judge and jury? We become critical of others and yet we are guilty of the same things. For example, I can’t tell you how often I get irritated by a driver making a left turn and backing up all the traffic behind him...unless of course, I am the one making the left turn. Then it’s OK. Having a holier than thou attitude causes all kinds of friction among people, even in the Church and so Paul says: “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” Truth be told, we can find all kinds of things we don’t like about another person. But we don’t think about all the things that people can find wrong with us. Isn’t this what Jesus is getting at when he says that it’s so easy to see the speck in the eye of another person and yet so hard to see the log in our own eye? And the danger is that we will start thinking that God loves us and saves us because...because of what we do, how well we keep his Law, because we are better than other people. But “legalism” can show itself not only in self-righteousness but also in despair. Whenever we think that God does not love us, that we are just too sinful----we are living under the Law and not the Gospel, we have fallen into “legalism” focusing our attention on how we have failed to live up to God’s Law instead of focusing on Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. Living under the demands of God’s Law will rob you of your peace in Jesus Christ. Because the Law robs you of your forgiveness and freedom in Jesus Christ. And that’s why Paul says: “Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Conclusion: Paul says: “For freedom Christ has set us free.” In Jesus Christ you are free. Free of trying to be right with God on the basis of his Law. In Jesus Christ your conscience is free because your debt to God is cancelled, you are forgiven. And you are free from the fear of death and the fear of God’s judgment. You are free. Guard this precious freedom. Don’t abuse it by excusing and defending the sin that you see in your life. Jesus didn’t die for our sin so that we can enjoy it. And don’t fall into legalism by using God’s Law to think you are better than other people...or using it to think that you cannot be saved. And remember: you are not alone. The same Holy Spirit who has called you to this glorious freedom in Jesus Christ will also keep you in this freedom. Thanks be to God. Amen.