Let us pray: Dear Savior, thank You for setting us free from guilt, from shame, from the ravages of sin, from fear over our future, and from eternal death! Thank You for giving us Your forgiveness won on a cross—giving it to us freely, even when we didn’t know enough to ask for it. Yes, thank You for restoring to us Your gospel—unconditional love and unconditional forgiveness. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO HAS SET YOU FREE!
TEXT: Galatians 5:1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Remember the Mel Gibson movie: “Braveheart”? It was the Hollywood version of the Scottish nationalist, William Wallace, and how he led a rebellion against English domination of his country in the 1300’s. At the end is the famous scene where Wallace is put to death and his final word is the call: “Freedom.” I liked that movie. I like freedom.
We like to say we live in a free country. But, in honesty, we don’t. Since our founding fathers’ time, umpteen laws have been passed which restrict our freedoms in many ways. You can argue whether they are necessary, or not. But, the fact remains they restrict people and thus, we’re not truly free. For example, we have zoning laws which dictate what kind of house you can build on your land. We have laws governing what type of car you can drive, thus our state inspection service. We have laws which force a person to have health insurance whether they want it, or not. We have hate crime laws which restrict what you can say to another. Last week I watched an ABC special by John Stossel about laws which restrict political involvement by the common citizen. A neighborhood in Colorado was about to be annexed into a new town and didn’t want to be absorbed. A group of the neighbors formed a committee to lobby against it. Then the bureaucrats got involved and all the laws about political lobbying were applied to that little group of neighbors. Stossel got a government printout of the laws they had to conform to. It was 2 football fields long, laid end to end! Talk about a curtailing of freedom by the ruling class! So, I guess we can tell ourselves we’re free Americans, but…in the true sense of the word, we’re not. I often wonder what the Founders would think of America today. I often wonder what Ethan Allen would do up in Vermont if he was alive today?
All this provides a backdrop for our celebration of Dr. Luther’s Reformation today. For the Lutheran reformation was about God’s people recapturing freedom. Not political freedom, but freedom of conscience, freedom from sin, and freedom from the burden of the Law, or having to earn God’s favor by their lifestyle. Yes, God’s Church is the only place today where you can be genuinely free! And so, today I want to lay before you:
GOD’S CHURCH: THE LAND OF THE FREE AND THE HOME OF THE SAVED
When God created Adam in the Garden of Eden, He showed him everything. And then God added this one dictate: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” Adam was the first free human being. God made him, and by inference, us, to be totally free. That’s because Adam was created perfect and without any sin. Yes, freedom from sin really is freedom! And by laying before Adam a freedom of choice, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God was not curbing Adam’s freedom. He was actually protecting it. For once evil comes and infiltrates our psyche, the freedom of goodness is lost. Thus, our world today.
The history of humanity up until Christ came is a history of man’s lack of freedom. All human laws are designed to curb freedom, aren’t they? And humans need such laws because sin is hurtful to everyone it touches. Laws are designed to mitigate the hurt of the masses by curbing individual freedom and because of sin, individual abuses of it.
In the spiritual realm it is the same. God gave His Law, His commandments, to curb the abuses of sin. He gave it to us to restrict our abuses of His holy will in thought, word, and deed. But, like any law, we chaffed under it. We hated being told what to do and how to do it. People always think they know best what’s best for them. And so, humanity dug itself deeper and deeper into the hole of alienation from God. But God created us for freedom! And His perfect freedom is to love Him more than anything else and to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. We failed. Humanity failed. Sin and death won and sin and death reigned.
However, God in perfect love for us still wanted us to be spiritually free. And so He sent His Son, Jesus, to earn and win freedom back for us. Jesus did so by perfectly keeping every aspect of God’s Law for us and in total innocence dying for our abuses of it on the cross. And by Christ’s sacrifice, God declared us: Free! Free from any eternal punishment for our sins against Him and free from eternal death. Free from hell. Free from Satan’s scheming. Yes, God’s Church is truly the land of the free and the home of the saved!
At the time of the Reformation in 1517 this truth of spiritual freedom in and because of Christ alone had been lost. Human ideas, human laws were laid upon people’s consciences concerning their salvation. The visible church of the day said: “Forgiveness and the freedom it brings to your soul is something you must earn by penance that we dictate, by actions that we deem appropriate, and by your own efforts and your own human love.” Christ’s love became something He demanded from us instead of something He gave to us. Faith became a work of man instead of a work, a gift, from God. And the freedom won by Christ for us became a seemingly impossible dream.
Dr. Luther changed all that because God used him to reform this abuse of Christian freedom. God lead Luther into the Bible. He led him to the text before us today. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
The slavery St. Paul is referring to is the slavery to human ideas about how to make ourselves right with God. Does God save you and give you heaven because you pay your taxes, obey the traffic laws, grudgingly trundle off the church each week, and put an offering in the collection plate? Does He reward you with heaven because you try to pray daily? Does He cleanse your conscience from sin because you outwardly pay off your debts while inwardly grumbling about it? The slavery of sin is trying to achieve Godly perfection by human actions and always failing to do so perfectly. The slavery of sin is inner guilt and shame. So, don’t lapse back into such slavery of conscience! No, focus on Christ and His gift of freedom that He won for you and gives to you through faith! Yes, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!”
On this Reformation Sunday remember one thing: here at church, you’re free! This is the only venue on this earth where you can find true freedom and actually enjoy it. Because of Christ’s forgiveness each of you is free to love another without preconditions, free to speak the truth in love, and free to live as if heaven is your home, because it is! Christ has made it so. Christ has set you free! So, once more, I want to welcome all of you to God’s Church: The Land of the Free and the Home of the Saved! Amen