Sunday, September 3, 2023

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity - Gal 3:15-22


Trinity 13

                                                                                      Gal 3:15-22



          Paul hasn’t told you the whole story. He is holding back and misleading you.  Should we be surprised?  After all, he is not one of the apostles chosen by the Lord during his ministry.  He wasn’t there when Jesus rose from the dead.  Instead, he is someone who persecuted the Church of God.  He can’t be trusted.   

Yes, you need to believe in our Lord Jesus. He has that part right.  But if you Gentiles want to be part of God’s people, you must do what the Scriptures say.  You must obey the Law.  You must do what God’s people have always done.

          For starters you men must be circumcised.  You must receive the sign of the covenant, just as Abraham did.  Apart from this you can’t be part of God’s people.  You must do the law.

          You also need to observe the days and festivals commanded by the law that God gave to Moses.  And while you are at it, you need to keep the food laws.  No more bacon and sausage and bratwurst.  God’s people can’t eat these things. This food is unclean and forbidden by God.

          This is the message that Paul’s opponents brought to Galatia.  Paul had evangelized the Galatians during his first missionary journey.  However, at some point after this, others came to Galatia with a different message.  It wasn’t a complete denial of what Paul had said. Faith in the crucified and risen Lord was still central.  But the opponents told the Galatians that Paul did not have things right.  Salvation came from the Jews.  And if the Gentiles in Galatia wanted to be part of God’s people then they needed to live like Jews.  They needed to do key parts of the Law, beginning with circumcision.

          Paul was infuriated by this.  He knew that it was a denial of the Gospel itself as the opponents added doing of the law to the reason a person was saved.  Rather than opening his letter with the usual statement of thanksgiving, he jumped right in 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.”

          In this section of the letter, Paul is contrasting the promise and the law.  God’s promise is received by faith. The law, on the other hand, is about doing.  Paul’s point is that God’s salvation has always been based on the promise and faith. Earlier in this chapter he wrote, “just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.”

          When God first called Abraham, he promised him, “In you all nations will be blessed.”  Many years had passed.  Sarah was far too old to have children anymore.  Yet when he pointed this out, God reaffirmed that he would give Abraham his own child as an heir.  We learn that Abraham believed God’s promise and that God counted him as righteous.  He considered him to have a righteous standing because of faith in God and his promise.  Paul added, “So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”

          In our text, Paul says that salvation has always been about faith in the promise.  This couldn’t be changed. To illustrate this, Paul uses the example of a manmade covenant.  No one annuls it or changes it once it has been ratified.  It remains set and in place.   In the same way, the Law given to Moses had not changed or annulled the promise.  Paul writes, “This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant 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.”

          God had given the promise that in Abraham all nations would be blessed. Yet in our text Paul clarifies that this promise had not been spoken to Abraham alone.  God had repeated the promise by saying it would be fulfilled in Abraham’s seed – in his offspring.  Paul explains, “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.”  God’s promise about the One in whom all nations would be blessed has been fulfilled in Jesus.

          Salvation was always going to be based on faith in the promise.  Yet God had given the Law to Moses. So in our text Paul asks the obvious question, “Why then the law?” The apostle explains, “It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made.”  The law of Moses was given because of transgressions.  It was given to make transgressions known – to make sin known.

          This might make us wonder about the relationship between the law and promise.  As Paul asks, Is the law then contrary to the promises of God?”  His answer is, “Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.”

          The law and the promise are not competing ways to have a righteous standing before God.  They cannot be, and Paul tells us why in our text.  He says, “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 revealed our sinful condition.  It has made known the ways that sin has twisted and perverted us. It has revealed the depths to which sin has affected us – something we could not perceive on our own.

          The problem is not the law.  Instead, we are the problem.  The law is about doing and if you can do it then everything is fine.  Paul says, “But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’”  The reason the law can’t bring life is because as sinners we fail to do it in thought, word, and deed.  And when you break the law it brings God’s judgment.  It brings God’s curse. As sinners the way of doing – the way of the law – can only bring curse.  The apostle tells us, “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.’”

          For sinners, doing the law cannot be a means by which we can have a righteous standing before God. Left to our works, we would receive nothing except God’s curse.  And that is why God acted to save us.  He sent his Son into the world to redeem us. Paul says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,

to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

          God acted to redeem us – to free us from slavery to the curse.  He did it through the cross.  Paul says in this chapter, “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.’”  When Jesus Christ was lifted upon the cross he was cursed by God in our place.  He received what should have been ours as he died on the tree.

          Yet the curse was not the end. On Easter God raised Jesus from the dead. He vindicated Christ as the One who redeemed us from the curse.  He began in Christ the new life that will be ours when the risen Lord returns on the Last Day.

          Now we live by faith in the crucified and risen Lord.  We live by faith in the promise – the promise fulfilled in Christ the offspring of Abrham. We who live by faith are blessed along with faithful Abraham.

          We are justified before God by faith in Christ.  And now it is through Christ that we are the descendants of Abraham – we are part of God’s people.  Just after our text Paul says, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”  You are in Christ.  You have been joined to him.  You are because you have been baptized into Christ.

          The apostle tells us, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.”  Jesus Christ was Abraham’s offspring.  You have been baptized into Christ and so now through Christ you are also Abraham’s offspring.  It does not matter that you are a Gentile who has no right to make this claim.  Through baptism into Christ it is now true for you.

          In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul emphasizes that salvation is not by works.  He shows us that the way of works can never make us righteous before God.  Instead it brings the curse of the law. 

          Yet when we are living by faith as the baptized who are in Christ, things change. Faith makes us busy in doing works.  Paul says in chapter 5, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”  Faith trusts and believes God’s promise fulfilled in Christ. And because it does faith then becomes active in doing.  The apostle goes on to say, “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.”

          This doing is focused on the needs of my neighbor.  Paul says, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  So consider: What can you do for your spouse, your parent, your friend, or co-worker?  How can you support and assist others around you?  God has loved you in Christ, how can you share this love to meet the needs of the people in your life?  God doesn’t need you works.  You don’t need your works to be justified before God.  But your neighbor does need them, and God has made you a new creation in Christ Jesus.  He has placed you in the lives of others as the instrument of his love and care.

          Paul’s opponents had it all wrong. They had lost the Gospel.  Doing of the law can never be part of the reason we are forgiven.  We are sinners who fail to do the law, and this failure brings God’s curse.  But God has acted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He has redeemed us from the curse of the law, and made us the sons and daughters of God in Christ, through faith. Now this faith worked by the Spirit acts in love towards others.
















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