Monday, July 04, 2016

Freedom Through Christ's Indispensable Family

Galatians 6:1-10, 14-18
One of the most commonly overlooked aspects of Christian life today in North America and western Europe is this: Whenever and how we profess our faith in Christ, we are saying, “I am not in this alone. I’m part of the Church. I care about other believers. I’m accountable to other believers. I need other believers to live in the freedom Christ died to give me.”

We chafe under this kind of thinking as Americans. We like to think we’re self-sufficient.

But the fact is, we’re all dependent on countless other people. They produce the food we eat and guarantee its safety,  give us running water and electricity, make the cars we drive and the computers we use, and provide the medical care we need, and so on.

The notion that any of us is self-sufficient is a dangerous lie, dangerous because it makes us think that we don’t need God, when in fact, everything--even safe food, running water, cars and computers and medical care--ultimately comes from God.

The lie of self-sufficiency is even more dangerous within the Church. In fact, it’s demonic.

Romans 6:19-20 reminds believers that we are totally dependent on God for our lives and for the eternal life Christ gives to those who repent and believe in Him: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. [A purchase Jesus made on the cross where He spent His life to save us.] Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (That means with our whole selves!)

And Jesus tells believers in John 15:5: “apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

We need the God revealed to us and the rest of the world in Jesus Christ.

But we also need and are called to sacrificially love those who make up Christ’s Church.

Jesus says to His Church: “ A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” And then, Jesus says: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” [John 13:34-35] The credibility of Jesus and the Church’s message about new life for all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ depends on whether Christ’s Church sees itself, collectively and individually, as mutually-dependent, mutually-accountable sisters and brothers of faith in Jesus.

Romans 12:4-5, drives home the call to mutual dependency, telling the Church: “...just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

The New Testament repeatedly refers to the Church as “the bride of Christ.” One truth we see from this metaphor is that the believer’s relationship to Christ and His Church is more important than the relationship of a husband and wife. Marriages end at the grave. But the Church endures for all eternity!

We Christians need each other and we are commanded to live in love with each other and in accountability to each other for the sake of Christ’s mission in the world.

But let's be honest: Whether among husband and wife, friends, family members, or the disciples who make up a Christian congregation, conflict happens.

And conflict isn’t inherently bad. Conflict can be creative and lead to new ways of people looking at things and relating to each other, if the parties are healthy, loving, and Christian toward one another.

Over the past several weeks, in this series called Freedom in Christ, we’ve been looking at the words the apostle Paul wrote to Christians in Galatia in about 49 AD. Paul wrote to correct a dangerous heresy, a false belief, that had taken root among some of the Galatian Christians. They believed, in effect, that Jesus’ death on the cross was insufficient to give those who repent and believe in Jesus life with God, that the men had to be circumcised and that all believers also had to add to it good works proscribed by Old Testament law.

There was a conflict in the churches at Galatia between those who believed what Jesus taught--that all who turn from sin and believe in Him are saved and have new, everlasting life--and those who believed that what they did was what saved them. Paul called one the life of the flesh and other, the life of the Spirit. Clearly, the two perspectives contradicted each other. There could be no compromise between them: one was of God and the other wasn’t. It was to correct those who had strayed from God’s truth that Paul had written this letter.

In today’s second, Galatians 6:1-10, 14-18, probably praying that the first sections of his letter had reminded those who had strayed what God’s truth and the way to life really were, Paul wrote to encourage all the Galatian Christians to repent, reconcile, and move on with their life as Christ’s people in the world.

Take a look at our lesson, please. Paul writes: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.”

Unrepentant sin on the part of just one Christian disciple in Christ’s Church has an impact on the whole Church. There may be times, then, when it becomes the responsibility of another member of the Church to approach the person engaging in unrepentant sin.

It isn’t easy. I’ve told before about the Christian I knew and respected who used God’s name to make exclamations or punctuate sentences. Finally, I asked, “Why do you use God’s name like that?” “I’m not cussing,” he said defensively. “No, you’re not cussing. But you are using God’s name for something other than prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. That disses His holiness.” The man thought for a moment and said, “You’re right.”

Now, listen: I didn't tell that story to paint myself a hero. (If you knew how much my knees were knocking when I confronted that brother in Christ, you'd know that I'm no hero!) But, hers my point in telling you that story: It was at the moment that I helped that man see the need for repentance for taking God’s name in vain though, that I was in the most danger as a Christian. Do you hear what I'm saying?

It was right for me to be concerned--in Paul’s words “to carry that fellow believer’s burdens”--about unrepented sin. Lovingly confronting him was a way to fulfill Christ’s law that I love others.

But had that little confrontation become an occasion for me to cave into self-righteous crowing, even within my own mind, I would have fallen into sin myself.

We’re to speak the truth in love to help our fellow believers hold onto Christ, not to make ourselves look or feel better than others.

Let’s slide down a few verses now, to verse 7, to see Paul’s warning against self-righteousness in dealing with conflicts and disagreements: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Earlier in Galatians, you’ll remember, Paul spent some time distinguishing between life in the Spirit and life in the flesh.

Life in the Spirit is life lived with the freedom of knowing that while I’m not perfect, as I trustingly turn my sins to Jesus and seek to follow Him obediently each day, the life of faith, I am being saved from sin and death.

The life of the flesh is life lived according to the beliefs of this world. Whether their belief system is religious or secular, people who live life in the flesh look at themselves and pronounce, “I’m good enough to pass muster with God and the universe.”

The Galatian Christians who got circumcised and claimed that their good works would save them were living life in the flesh.

But, Paul was warning, any time we rationalize or forget our own sins while looking down our noses on fellow Christians or other people because we think they’re not as good as we are, we’re sowing our own eternal destruction.

If we want to live in the grace of Christ, we need to extend the grace of Christ to others. Jesus says bluntly in Matthew 6:15: “...if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

In the Church, Paul is saying here in our second lesson, “You must call each other to account. You must call each other to live in the freedom of forgiven sin, helping each other out of the traps of sin and death with which life this life is littered. But you must also forgive. Otherwise, you’ll fall into death too, via the sin of self-righteousness.”

Finally, Paul writes to anyone who may be inclined to say, “Who is this Paul character to tell us how to live out our faith in Christ?” Verse 14: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.”

“My only brag,” Paul is saying, “is in the power of Jesus’ cross to crucify the old sinner in me and in all of us, so that the new self can live in the freedom of forgiven sin, new life, and holy purpose."

Folks, nothing else matters! Only faith in Jesus Christ sets us free to live as we were made to live by God. Only faith in Jesus Christ sets us free to live as a vibrant church.

The cross of Christ is our only brag too.

The cross is where freedom comes from, both for individual disciples and for Christ’s Church.

Our common confession is that in order to live in the freedom to be all God made us to be, to claim the victory over sin and death that Jesus won on the cross, we need Jesus Christ and we need His eternal family, the Church. Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

No comments: