For Freedom, Christ Has Set Us Free

“For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Do you have a retirement account?  Do you have stock in it?

Would you buy stock in the Christian Church and put it in that account?

I read an article recently – matter of fact a couple of days ago – in the Wall Street Journal. In it the author Gerald Seib stated: “The steady , long-term decline in church attendance is confirmed in the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. Just 29% of Americans now say they attend religious services once a week or more often. This is down from 41% in 2000….the decline in churchlessness is most dramatic among young Americans.  Among those aged 18 to 34, …the share of those younger Americans who never attend religious services has more than doubled, to 36%.” (1)

This is not a good trend.

Paul Johnson is an historian who has written about a number of subjects including the Christian church.  In his book about the Christian church he wrote about a situation that he felt could have stopped the growth of the church of the church in its earliest days. (2)  We also read about it in our epistle reading today.

It concerns Paul – the Apostle Paul.

After his conversion on the Damascus Road he spent many years in missionary work. Including Galatia.  Roman Galatia was in what is now part of the country of Turkey.  It was inhabited by Celts – a people and a name we normally associate with Ireland and Scotland.  They were a pagan people.

Paul succeeded greatly in his missionary efforts in Galatia.  Those of you who have served as Readers may recall names such as Lystra, Derbe. Iconium – these are all cities in what was what Galatia.

Have you ever worked in a company or organization where you were responsible for a certain area or type of project – clearly responsible for it?  And then the boss sends somebody else in to take charge of the area or project? Doesn’t even tell you about it. And then you learn of it.  How would you feel?

You have been spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.  The message has been received, the Holy Spirit is at work. And then you learn that some interlopers are at work at work in your territory but they have been saying the Good News of Jesus Christ is not enough.  You cannot be saved, they say – you cannot have the right relationship with God – unless you have been circumcised – and follow the precepts of the Torah.  Jesus Christ is not enough.

How would you respond if you had listened to Paul, followed Paul, and then these “other Christians” start talking about what else you need to do.  “OK, what Paul says makes sense but why not be doubly sure of salvation by going ahead and getting circumcised – and we go along with some of this Torah stuff.”

So to be in right relationship with God in addition to what Paul has been talking about it is necessary as well to observe the commandments of Torah.  All the rules and regulations – and the Law.

To all this Paul responded – as he had been saying from his earliest days in Galatia – the experience of God in Jesus Messiah is the ultimate norm for life before God. Even Torah itself must henceforth be understood in light of this new experience of God.  The Torah is both annulled and fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah. As expressed by Luke T. Johnson in his book The Writings of the New Testament (3)  the  Galatians resemble healthy breathing people who are told the only way to breathe is by means of an artificial respirator.  No one can deny the efficiency of a respirator for those who cannot breathe for themselves.  But the Galatians are now breathing by the life of the Spirit, to choose a respirator is to choose slavery.  In short Paul opposes two principles of salvation, the first being that we win God’s favor by observing of Torah with all the in’ and outs of laws, regulations, and Laws of Torah, and the second:  we respond to God by faith in Cbrist.

Naturally Paul appealed.

Paul Johnson’s account:

“Some time about the middle of the first century, AD, and very likely in the year 49, Paul…travelled south from Antioch to Jerusalem and there met the surviving followers of Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified about sixteen years before.  This Apostolic Conference, or Council of Jerusalem, is the first political act in the history of Christianity….

“We have two near-contemporary accounts of this council.  One, dating from the next decade, was dictated by Paul himself in his letter to the Christian congregations of Galatia in Asia Minor.” We have heard portions of it read this morning.

“The second is later and comes from a number of sources or eye-witness accounts assembled in Luke’s Acts….It is a bland, quasi-official report of a dispute in the Church and its satisfactory resolution….It relates that ‘fierce dissension and controversy’ had arisen in Antioch because certain persons from Jerusalem and Judea, in flat contradiction to the teaching of Paul, had been telling converts to Christianity that they could not be saved unless they underwent the Jewish ritual of circumcision…..James, the younger brother of Jesus…Put forth a compromise…Luke’s record in Acts states that this halfway position was arrived at unanimously…The Jerusalem delegates were thus able to return to Jerusalem, having “solved the problem”, and Paul is able to carry on with his mission.”

I like Paul Johnson’s description of the Apostle Paul: “Paul is not interested in smoothing the ragged edges of controversy….He is a man burning to tell the truth and to imprint it like fire in the minds of his readers…..”

Paul’s response was more in keeping with what we understand about this man Paul:

“I must make it clear to you, my friends, he writes, ‘that the gospel you hear me preach is no human invention.  I did not take it over from any man; no man taught it to me; I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

 

There is a type of person I suppose that always has to have stuff written out.  What am I supposed to do?  Please write it out for me. Then if it’s written out – and incidentally I’ve shifted the responsibility to someone else to write it out – to spell out which must be done – which means I can’t be blamed if what is written out may not describe accurately – or at all – what needs to be done. 

These are the people who like taking orders.  On the other hand there are some people who understanding what needs to be done would just as soon figure out on their own how best to get it done.  Who understanding what needs to be done are comfortable – indeed prefer – figuring it out and doing it on their own.

I thought it sort of interesting the words Paul associated with those who live by the Spirit and those who live by what he calls the desires of the Flesh.  I’m going to play with the words a little bit – maybe leave some out even. Some words have such strong emotions tied up with them that they distract, get in the way of thinking…

First this group of words:  Enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy….

What do these words – together – suggest to you? What situations do they suggest to you?

To me they suggest our political situation today. I’ve heard it described as toxic.  If one thinks these words are descriptive of the political situation today that one probably would agree with “toxic.”  Some might even say that these words describe our situation today in some areas of our culture where there is disagreement.  Possibly even our situation in some church disagreements where there is controversy.

Now, let’s take the other group of words.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

What do these words suggest to you?

I think they suggest people. A particular type of person. I think they suggest the type of people I’d like to be around.  I think they suggest the type of people I would like to be around in the company I work for, or the school I would like to attend or teach in.  They suggest the family I would like to be a part of.

I think they suggest the type of people I’d like to go to church with.

What am I trying to say? Or for that matter what is Paul trying to say?

At this point some of you are probably saying to yourself, ‘Hey, we’ve been listening to you now with the patience of Job.  Don’t wind this thing up without telling us if you would buy stock in the Christian church and put it in your retirement account!’

Well, ok.

Probably the fact that I am standing where I am this morning and saying the things I am saying to you suggest what is important to me.  After all I am not this very morning at the wheel of an oversize motorhome clogging up the traffic on some interstate headed to some vacation spot with a bumper sticker on my motorhome that says, “Spending my children’s inheritance.” I am here.

I am here because I believe there is a God.

I believe He loves us.

I believe He wishes freedom for us.

I believe He wants the best for us – and to be in relationship with us.

And I believe his “Law” for us is that we love our neighbors as ourselves.

And at the end of the day He wishes for each one of us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.


Amen.

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Richard Robertson – 501-425-9993

(1) Wall Street Journal – June 25, 2019 – Gerald F. Seib – “Cradles, Pews, and Shifting Politics”

(2) The History of Christianity by Paul Johnson – Some quotes used about the Apostle Paul and The Jerusalem Council

(3) The Writings of the New Testament by Luke T. Johnson – Chapter 23 – The Letter to the Galatians

 

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