Saturday, September 08, 2007

Sermon - Sept 9, 2007

Sermon: Galatians 5:16-24, Trinity 14 September 9, 2007

Title: Is This Really a Sanctification Text?

We have all heard the statement made by some that the Bible is mostly about sanctification, that is, it's main subject is teaching us how we should live our life in this world. That is also called the Third Use of the Law, serving as a guide for our lives. The First use of God's Law is to restrain the unbelievers, as a curb, through the application of government laws, such as one forbidding murder. The Second use is to show us our sins. As Christians who are in need of forgiveness and tend to wander from the truth, this use of the law is most important. It prepares us to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, who died to take away all our trespasses against the law.

Certainly the Bible contains passages that involve the third use of the law. God does desire us to seek to live lives more and more in line with His will and He expresses His Will in His Word. However, some folks believe this third use is the main topic of the Bible. Some have even said that every page of the Bible is about sanctification, twisting Martin Luther's statement that you can find Jesus Christ on every page of Scripture. Often the epistles written by Paul are held up as primary examples of passages that have a Sanctification focus. Galatians may be one pointed to by some. Here, in our text, it may appear we have a selection that is primarily about sanctification. However, lets take a closer look.

First, lets set our standards for a sanctification text. What should it look like? It should be primarily communicating how we should live life in an encouraging, non-critical fashion. It should not be pointing out that perfection is required in following God's law and that any failure is enough to condemn us to hell. A sanctification text will not set up abolute, rigid boundaries. The purpose of a sanctification text should be to inform us, not persaude. Recall that only the Gospel can modivate us to live our lives more and more according to God's will. The law cannot motivate us; it can only set our goals. In contrast, a text that is primarily second use of the law will drive us to despair of our own efforts to keep the law. It will point out an absolute standard that we cannot satisfy the law's requirements. It will point to our repeated failures.

Now let's work through the text, beginning with verse 17 (cite). It tells us that the spirit, that is God's spirit, is opposed to our sin corrupted flesh and vice versa. The result is we do not do the things we desire. Doesn't this leave you feeling discouraged? This points out our constant failures. It points to the futility of our sanctification efforts. How can we succeed if our flesh keeps opposing the spirit? This verse doesn't sound like sanctification but more like second use of the law.

Moving on to verse 18, we read that being led by the spirit we are not under the law (cite). We are told that being “led by the spirit” is something different than trying to keep the law. This doesn't seem to be discussing the third use of the law either, since in this special state of being led by the spirit we are no longer under the law. The process of sanctification is necessarily being under the law.

Considering next verses 19-21 we see a list of works of the flesh (cite). We are told that if we do these we will not inherit kingdom of God. That's no problem, because these only apply to other people, right? It is a good thing we are not a sinner like them. But, wait a minute! Consider these more closely. They are listed using some extreme words, but you really see on that list common behaviors like anger, envy, jealousy, hatred and impurity. Have any trouble with those? Well, if we are honest with ourselves we would say we all all all have trouble with them. In fact, remember how Jesus expanded adultery to include even lustful looking at another? And hating another is the same as murder. So too with these extreme sounding sins here. We cannot escape finding ourselves as one of those that does these works of the flesh. The necessary conclusion is then that we will not inherit the kingdom of God. This has to be 2nd use of law. It is condemning, exhaustive, conclusive. It pummels us to a worthless heap. Our works count for nothing. We fail at keeping this law.

When we continue on to verses 22-23 we see a list of the fruits of the spirit (cite). Notice these are not works but fruits. They are not really parallel to the list of the works of the flesh. Fruits are more of something that comes naturally as opposed to works that involve expending some effort. Perhaps these “fruits of the spirit” are something special like being “led by the spirit” back in verse 18. Notice further how verse 23 comments that there is no law against such fruits. What an odd way to put it. It doesn't say there is a law commanding such fruits, only that there is none forbidding them. When looking at the list of these fruits you also see something different that the works of the flesh. The works of the flesh are personal offenses, often directed toward another person or they are emotional extremes. The fruits have a different characteristic and even include faithfulness, joy and peace.

Perhaps you can see something completely different in these fruits of the spirit as I can. Faith is something that is a gift to us from the Holy Spirit. The faith we have causes us to trust in Jesus Christ as our savior from sin. He sacrificed His life on the cross to pay for our sins. He did that out of love and in essence gives us that salvation He earned as a gift of love. We have joy because are works of the flesh are erased. We have peace with God, who has been gracious with us by not judging us according to our sins, but in His longsuffering He bore our sins. He showed us His kindness and goodness. He was gentle and self-controlled with us, not enacting His wrath which we deserve. Against this Gospel there can be no law, for God's actions are necessarily just.

Hopefully you agree with me at this point that our text is not a sanctification text. Instead of the third use of the law, this is primarily a second use of the law showing us our sins and, indeed, providing us the Gospel relief to our conviction under that law.

Lastly, we can look at verse 24 (cite). Notice that this is citing a completed thing for those who are Christ's. That is, if you belong to Christ, then you have already crucified the flesh. It isn't a thing in progress like our sanctification. We are not being told here that we should go and crucify our flesh more and more in our lives. It is a done deal. The Holy Spirit creates faith in us and our flesh is crucified because our sins are erased. The works of the flesh that we perform are elimated from the perspective of God's eyes. When God no longer sees them, they do not count against us.

From our perspective we still see our works of the flesh. We still struggle because we do not do the things we want to do. We look forward to the day of Christ's revealing, however. Then we will see God face-to-face and observe from His eternal perspective. Then it will all be clear what a wonderful blessing we have in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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