Several days ago, an article in The New York Times reported that Romans, chapter 1, in the New Testament of the Bible, calls for the execution of gays. Of course, this isn’t true.
I got upset. I even thought about writing a blog post or an email to The Times.
But as I reflected, I realized that reporting like this stems less from an anti-Christian bias in the media than from a larger society that is incurious about God, believes all religion is murderous, and thinks that all religions believe essentially the same things.
I told myself not to bellyache, because when I do that, I’m not doing what Jesus commissioned all believers to do: make disciples.
Our call as Jesus’ disciples isn’t to score debating points or vent our grievances.
Our call is to present the Gospel--the good news--of new life for all who turn from sin and believe in Jesus.
We’re to use our lives to help people to understand that Romans 1 does not call for the murder of gays; that all religions are not the same; and that while some people have perverted Christian faith through the years, it is not the same as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, Islam, the daily horoscope, or other religious systems.
Christian faith is about Jesus and Jesus, true God and true human, is different from anyone else who has ever walked on this earth.
Besides, we all have to remember that there are many who call themselves Christians just as ignorant of what it means to follow Jesus Christ as the most committed atheists. And I recognize that I myself can be ignorant and incurious about my faith in Jesus.
Let’s be clear though: Christian faith isn’t about what you know; it’s about who you know, the God revealed to all the world in the crucified and risen Jesus.
Knowing Jesus Christ is the defining passion of people committed to being His disciples.
Philippians 3:10-11 expresses this: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”
As we get to know Jesus better and follow Him more closely, the Holy Spirit works faith in us and God changes us. We start to see things as Jesus sees them, see people as Jesus sees people, and share Jesus’ goal of saving our neighbors from sin, death, and hell, just as Jesus is saving us from these things.
Our lives begin to testify to the fact that God doesn’t want us to kill gays or anybody else.
The God we know in Jesus wants us to proclaim the same life-giving message of repentance for sin and faith in Christ that has saved us by grace through faith in Christ.
No flinching on calling sin sin.
No withholding of the good news that Jesus died and rose to make sinners into saints.
No good works required, just surrender to Jesus.
The good works and the changed lives won’t come from our trying to be good people, but from God transforming believers from bad people willing to be changed into Jesus people. Only Christianity proclaims this truth.
It’s a truth of which we need to be constantly reminded. Paul found that as early as 49 AD, first-generation Christians needed the same reminding.
Today is the fourth part of our series on the New Testament book of Galatians, Freedom in Christ.
Remember that shortly after Paul founded the churches in Galatia and the Holy Spirit had won Gentiles--non- Jews--to faith in the crucified and risen Jesus, some people we today call Judaizers came to them and said that Good Friday and Easter Sunday were wonderful, but that if they really wanted to be saved, they had to fulfill all the Old Testament dietary, ritual, sacrificial, and civil laws that Jesus said He already fulfilled when He died on the cross.
But this raises the question, what to do with all of those Old Testament laws? Were they all wrong? Paul tackles these questions in our second lesson, Galatians 3:23-4:7.
Please take a look at the start of the lesson. Paul begins with a history of the human race before the coming of Jesus: “Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.”
Before it was possible to believe in the crucified and risen Jesus, Paul is saying, the whole human race was held in check by God’s law. Even people who had never heard of God’s law, which the Bible says, is written on every human heart [Romans 2:15].
C.S. Lewis explains this well in Mere Christianity where he says that while some cultures may say that you should only have one wife and others says you can have many, the moral code of no culture says that you can have your neighbor’s wife. And while different cultures may have different ideas of what constitutes murder, no culture says that murder is OK. Who taught us that these were the right values? No one needs to be taught God’s law; though we can’t keep it, we know it from birth.
And this law, Paul says, had an important role before Jesus came into this world. He says that before Jesus, the law was our guardian. That word, in the original Greek, is paidagogos, or pedagogue, a word that more literally means leader of a child.
In the first-century Roman world, a pedagogue was a household slave whose job it was to oversee the life and upbringing of wealthy men’s children. The pedagogue was there to keep the heirs safe and out of trouble, to preserve and prepare them for adulthood and their inheritance.
That, Paul says, was like the function of God’s law written on every heart and given to Israel through Moses.
The law paints a picture of what the kingdom of God would be like for all who turned from sin and had faith in Jesus. It would be a kingdom without idolatry, murder, lying, adultery, sexual promiscuity, or false witness, a kingdom of selflessness and love.
Once we trust in Jesus, we no longer need a pedagogue. We’re grown-ups who have claimed our inheritance in Jesus. By faith in Christ, we live in the kingdom of God.
No more anticipation; just participation!
When our children were growing up, we often prayed with them. Today, they pray for themselves, not because mom and dad expect it of them, but because as grown-ups, they believe in Jesus for themselves. We taught them about Jesus and, in a sense, we made them pray, worship, go to Catechism. We were God’s pedagogues. We were the Law. But then our children reached a point when they asked themselves, “Do I want life with Jesus?” By faith, they grasped the inheritance of life with Jesus that we pointed them to when we made them pray, worship, and go to Catechism.
So, Paul is saying, following Jesus isn’t about adding another item to your to-do list. It’s about taking your rightful inheritance through faith in Christ.
So, Paul says in Galatians 3:26-29: “...in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Paul goes on to write: “What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees [the pedagogues] until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons [Paul deliberately uses this term because in the ancient world, only sons of the rich inherited the estate of the father. Through faith in Jesus, everyone who believes in Jesus--Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male, female--hold the position of sons, inheritors of life with God. Paul then says:], God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
These are important words. They show that after Jesus, everything has changed!
In only a handful of verses in the Old Testament, God is called Father.
In popular Jewish culture, God was never called Father; it was deemed far too intimate a term for the Creator of the universe and the Giver of the Law.
But when Jesus taught His disciples, including you and me, how to pray, He taught us to refer to God as our Father.
Paul says that when we are able to approach God in this way, seeing Him as our Dad (a rough translation of the Aramaic word for father, abba, that Jesus uses in the Lord’s Prayer), the Holy Spirit bears witness that we no longer live under the constraints of God’s Law, His guardian, but are heirs set free from sin, death, and darkness.
When I was growing up, my father, though he only stood about 5'-8" tall, seemed like a giant to me. I was also a little frightened of him. When mom told me to do something, I might slack off. But when dad gave me an order, I hopped to. And though today, I think I might be able to take him, when he wants me to do something, I still hop to. But my motivation is different now. Back then, as a child, I obeyed my father because he was the law. Today though, as a grown-up, I obey his wishes because I'm grateful for all that he has done for me, for loving me.
A similar transformation in our relationship with our heavenly Father happens after we come to believe in Jesus Christ. Now, when we obey God’s Law, it isn’t to keep the guardian off our backs; it’s to express love and thanksgiving to the Father Who, through Jesus, has made us free to live as God’s grown and grateful children.
Nothing has changed in God’s Law. But it operates differently in our lives, as a guide to those who want to show love to God for Jesus.
Years ago, one of my sisters and I were talking on the phone. She was upset. A relative had told her that because she wasn’t tithing, giving the first 10% of her income to the work of Christ's Church in the world, she was going to hell. “What do you say?” she wondered.
"Think of John 3:16," I told her. "Jesus doesn’t say that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that all who believe in Him and tithe will be saved." It says that God so loved the world that all who believe in Him will be saved.
To be sure, God’s Law will call the person saved by God’s grace in Christ to tithe. And also to love God and love neighbor, to be kind to those hated by others, to keep sexual intimacy within the bounds of marriage between a man and woman, to make disciples, to refrain from covetousness and stealing, and to keep God’s other commands.
Gratitude for grace will incite us to desire the things God desires.
But we aren’t called to be God’s enforcers in the world.
And we certainly can’t perform our way into His forgiving grace.
All we can do is repent and trust in Jesus, which really just means to surrender to grace, to trust Jesus with our past, present, and future. That’s where freedom happens.
So, believers in Jesus, live in that freedom!
[This was shared with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, during worship earlier today.]
[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]