Sunday, August 21, 2016
Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity - Gal 3:15-22
In a recent blog post Julie Garber wrote: “As an estate planning attorney I used to receive a call at least once a month from a potential client who wanted to contest the validity of a loved one's will, and at least once a month I had to explain the four legal reasons for challenging a will, how difficult it is to prove any one of them, and how costly it would be to proceed.”
She goes on to describe the four legal grounds for contesting the validity of a will. The first is that a will most be signed in accordance with the applicable state laws. Garber says that “failing to sign a will in accordance with applicable state laws is the first and foremost reason why a will is contested and also the most common reason why a will is found to be invalid.”
The second is that the individual lacked the testamentary capacity to the make the will. Testamentary capacity involves an understanding of the nature and value of the assests; the people who will inherit them; and the legal effect of signing the will. Garber notes that “the testimony of the witnesses to the will signing becomes crucial, and absent a doctor's visit or an adjudication of incapacity within days of the will signing, lack of testamentary capacity is difficult to prove.”
The third reason is that the individual was unduly influenced into signing a will. But Garber adds that like a lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence is difficult to prove. And fourth reason is that the will was obtained through fraud – that the person was tricked into signing it. Obviously when the person is dead, they can’t be questioned about what they thought they were signing. Again witnesses are the only source of information and the only hope for overturning a will is if for some reason their stories don’t add up.
It’s apparent that invalidating a will is quite difficult to do. And there’s a reason for this. A will is a person’s final wishes about what is to be done with the things they have acquired during their life. It’s their stuff, and so they have a right to decide what happens to it when they are gone. Since the will goes into effect when the person has died and can’t express their wishes anymore, the legal system assumes that a will describes what is to be done. The burden of proof is on anyone who wants to contest the will, and the demands for proof are very high.
With very few exceptions, you don’t invalidate wills or make changes to them after the person has died. In the epistle lesson this morning, the apostle Paul uses this fact to help the Galatians understand that God has never changed the manner in which he gives salvation to all people. It has always been based on God’s promise that is received in faith, and not because of things we do. And he emphasizes that not even the giving of the Law at Mt Sinai changed this basic fact.
St. Paul had founded the Galatian church on his first missionary journey in south central Asia Minor – modern day Turkey. However, at some point after he had left, other Christian teachers had come to Galatia. These Christians were trying to convince the Galatians that Paul had not told them the whole story.
The Galatians were Gentiles – they were not Jewish. Paul had told them that they were saved through faith in Jesus Christ and that they did not have to do the things required of Jews in the Torah in order to be saved. But these other teachers told the Galatians that if they really wanted to be part of God’s people, they did have to do the law of Moses – or at least certain parts of it. They had to be circumcised, follow the Jewish food laws and observe Jewish religious days and occasions.
To be clear, these teachers weren’t saying that a person earned salvation on their own by doing these things. They certainly believed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But they were saying that a Christian had to do something in addition to Jesus in order to be part of God’s people and receive salvation. To Paul, this was nothing other than a rejection of the Gospel. He began this letter by saying, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”
To Paul, the idea that a person’s actions were part of the reason they were saved was a perversion of the Gospel. In this chapter he is arguing that a person is not saved by works of the law, but instead by faith in Jesus alone. This is in fact what God had said from the beginning. Earlier in this chapter Paul says, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” God had reckoned Abraham as righteous by faith. In Abraham God showed that faith was the means by which all people would be saved. And God had promised that in Abraham’s offspring all nations would be blessed.
Salvation was going to be given by faith in Jesus, and not by doing something – not even if it was just a part of the equation. The reason for this is simple. Paul says before our text, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” The Law is about doing. It’s not about faith. Paul adds, “But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’”
The apostle says that when you do things in the way of the law, you have to go all the way. The law offers life – if you can do it. Yet throughout this whole discussion Paul is operating with an assumption that you know well. Paul assumes that people can’t do the law. It’s not just that we don’t. Instead we are completely unable. Paul says in our text, “For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
God’s Word has declared what our true situation is. We are trapped by sin. It poisons our thoughts; our words; our deeds. It has infected everything so that even when we do good things, they are rarely pure. Instead, we have ulterior motives that are often self-serving in some way. We are not motivated only by love of God and love of our neighbor.
Yet the good news of the Gospel is that salvation was never about doing. By his grace, God had promised it as a gift – a gift received by faith. God had spoken the promise to Abraham. And this fact was not changed by the Law that God later gave at Mt Sinai. Paul uses the example of a will to illustrate this. He says in our text, “To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made testament, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a testament previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.”
What Paul described as good news for the Galatians is still good news for you. We may no longer be bound by the law in the specific form given to Israel. But the Law – the ordering of how God’s creation is to work – determines how life is to work for us. And transgression of that Law still brings the curse of God’s judgment.
The good news – the Gospel – is that Christ stepped into our place. Pauls says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
God had promised that in Abraham’s offspring – in his seed – all nations would be blessed. Paul tells us that Jesus Christ is this seed. It is Jesus - crucified and buried, and then raised from the dead on the third day. Jesus is the One who has fulfilled God’s promise. And now, through baptism and faith God has included you as well.
At the end of this chapter Paul says, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” You are the offspring of Abraham because through baptism you have been joined to Christ – you are “in Christ” as Paul like to phrase it. As the apostle goes on to say, “And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.”
You have received forgiveness and salvation not because you have done anything. Instead, you have received it through faith in the promise; through faith in Jesus Christ. And because your salvation is based on what Christ has done it is certain and sure. There is no doubt.