Epistle: Galatians 5:1, 13-25
1For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 13For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
In Martin Luther’s Treatise on Christian Liberty (The Freedom of A Christian), he summarizes his argument at the very beginning. He writes:
To make the way smoother for the unlearned—for only them do I serve—I shall set down the following two propositions concerning the freedom and the bondage of the spirit:
A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.
While these may seem to contradict each other, they echo the verse for today: For freedom, Christ has set us free.
We Lutherans hear it every year on Reformation Sunday that we are saved by grace and not by good works. We know that. But Luther would be quick to remind us that good works are only good if they are for the proper purpose. Good works are GOOD, BUT they are BAD if they appear that they are necessary to earn the love of God.
We can do nothing to make God love us more. Nothing we can do to make God love us less.
We are free from trying to save ourselves. This is God’s doing and not ours.
This is the good news we need to hear over and over and over again. The more we hear it, the more we trust in it. The more we trust in it, the more we are able to be set free from the bondage of trying to do what only God can do.
IN RESPONSE, God calls us to respond by caring for the neighbor. Servant of all. Subject to all.
Near the end of this treatise, Luther puts it this way (I apologize for the male pronouns)
…the good things we have from God should flow from one to the other and be common to all, so that everyone should “put on” his neighbor and so conduct himself toward him as if he himself were in the other’s place. From Christ the good things have flowed and are flowing into us. He has so “put on” us and acted for us as if he had been what we are. From us they flow on to those who have need of them so that I should lay before God my faith and my righteousness that they may cover and intercede for the sins of my neighbor which I take upon myself and so labor and serve in them as if they were my very own. That is what Christ did for us. This is true love and the genuine rule of a Christian life. Love is true and genuine where there is true and genuine faith. Hence the Apostle says of love in I Corinthians 13:5 that “it does not seek its own.”
How is God calling YOU to love your neighbor.
For freedom, Christ has set us free.
At the end of this passage, we read these words:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
I love that – no law against such things. In other words, you won’t get in trouble if you do these!
Use the gifts of the Spirit against which there is no law.
As forgiven squanderers of God’s bountiful goodness, forgiven and freed from the bondage of sin and death, may we respond with whatever means available to us to further God’s kingdom in the world.
It always comes back to this – love, serve and worship God. Love and serve others. By all means.
By all means!
Let us pray: Almighty God, may we be so bold as to proclaim the good news so graciously given to us to others. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.