Blessed Reformation Day!
Below is a sermon from The Rev. Dr. Armin Wenz. He is the pastor of Evangelical Lutheran St. John's Church in Oberursel, Germany. St. John is a church in the SELK (the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is in fellowship with the LCMS). I translated this sermon last week and polished up my translation this week. I am glad I have it ready for today.
St. John's website is: http://www.selk-oberursel.de/index.htm
My Reformation sermon (text and audio) can be found here: http://www.lutheransonline.com/servlet/lo_ProcServ/dbpage=page&mode=display&gid=01280001361019533903983181
Reformation Festival - 31.10.2006 - Galatians 5,1-6 - Oberursel- Armin Wenz
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
,,The Open Society and their Enemies,” is the title of a book by the English philosopher Charles Popper. Inside the scholar sits apart with the enemies of freedom on a political level. Since freedom is a lofty estate, it is necessary, always again to truly engage and repel what endangers freedom.
It is a hallmark of dictators, that they lull the people while they say: ,,Simply trust us with your needs; do not be concerned about the risk to your freedom.” In the Church, one also encounters this under the devout clothing, when the impression is awakened, that whoever shall warn against heresies that alter the gospel must not have any faith in God.
Paul and Martin Luther proceeded differently. For they heard the mission-task of the Lord Christ to His Church to faithfully teach only the gospel. And furthermore Paul and Luther were uncompromising in their quarrels against the enemies of the freedom of the gospel in the Church.
The Reformation thereby came about when Luther, charging through the holy Scriptures, calls out to the Church of his time, about the same sorrowful temptations he had experienced: You have lost Christ. Like Paul, Luther was not arbitrary with his unrelenting criticism, but reminded them about the reason of salvation for the lost: For freedom we have been released by Christ!
Reformation, therefore, means: Discovering again the freedom that we have from Christ as a gift. Reformation means: Discovering again Jesus Christ and His salvation. If the Son now sets you free, then you really are free; so says Jesus in John’s Gospel (8,36).
There rings with that freedom that Christ gives it as a present or gift, and it must not be added to. Freedom is lost to us if we attempt to obtain it through our own mighty works instead of receiving the gift. Whoever the Son has made free, he is really free.
Luther has summarized it with the famous solus Christus - Christ alone. He alone is the reason of our salvation and our freedom. However, adversaries surely then arise who endanger this freedom, in that they want to add to the work of Christ.
Against these enemies of freedom, Paul holds firm about a certain salvation, that we can only have salvation in Christ, if He alone comes to us by grace. And secondly he remains firm against the enemies of freedom, that we can receive the salvation in Christ alone by faith. With the Latin phrases it says: The solus Christus is inseparable from the sola gratia, that is: by grace alone, and likewise it is inseparable from the sola fide, that is: faith alone.
We come to the first argument of Paul against the enemies of freedom: Solus Christus stands only if sola gratia stands. That is: The salvation of Jesus Christ for us is grace and nothing but grace. Paul cries out to these same Galatians: You have Christ lost; you have fallen from grace.
What brings the apostle to speak these piercing words? It is the piety of the Galatians that has brought them to this serious danger. The Galatians had not all of a sudden reversed and become atheists. In the end, one must take ,,by faith” seriously.
Christ has released us from the yoke of sin and death. They believed that also. However they experienced just as we do that sin and death are still a painful reality. This is the temptation.
Was the sin really forgiven if you must still ask for forgiveness? Was one now really a child of God with eternal life when you still had to suffer painful sickness and death?
What could be more appropriate than the visible signs of faith which help his own deeds? Jesus, however, had been a Jew. And Christians should nevertheless model their lives after Him. If it was so difficult to live as righteous and holy as He could, then at least one could let himself be circumcised.
Such regulations like the law of the circumcision can at least clearly redeem someone. If one is circumcised, then one has, so to speak, a mark of certainty on his body. What’s the objection? Paul doesn’t exaggerate here, when he exclaims: If you allow yourselves to be circumcised, then Christ will be of no use to you? For Paul, freedom is at stake here. You have lost Christ, if you want to be justified through the law, and you have fallen from grace.
He says that you cannot secure freedom by your own power and discretion. You may not help Christ. Whomever Christ has made free, is completely free; no additional mark of this freedom is needed, for Christ is the proof of this freedom.
Do not put on again the yoke of slavery! What does this mean for us? What does this mean for us, when we waver, become uncertain, and before long we are unsure whether we really belong to God? The question is then: Where do we look for help?
The answer to these questions is clear when Paul says, either you are looking for your salvation in Christ alone, or you have lost Christ. In medicine, many diseases simultaneously need different medications and treatment methods. Not so with freedom.
The answer to the question: ,,Who will I call on to help me when my faith wavers?” is: Christ alone. As soon as we join Christ ,,and” fill-in-the-blank, then we have lost our freedom and will become enslaved. Such examples of this enslavement are: Christ and circumcision or Christ and Buddha, Christ and the Anthroposophy, Christ and my holiness, Christ and my good works, Christ and my sacrificial life to family and career.
The whole system of relics and the countless works of penance in the Middle Ages go back to this desire of the Christian to reassure himself by imagining that God approves of me, and He does so rightly. Anyone can see it, because I have obtained it.
Luther’s Reformation turned itself against this mania beginning with his 95 Theses against indulgences. Whoever grounds his freedom and Christianity on own performances or on the performances of others, builds on sand. Why must Christ die, if we can achieve freedom with our works? Christ wants to give away His freedom, but if we want to even partially obtain this freedom by our own works, then aren’t we guilty of making Christ a liar?
Grace is not a measurable thing, that we can supplement or multiply. The grace of God in Christ is rather our recent acquittal in the court by virtue of the power of Baptism, because Christ bears eternal death for us and we have been reconciled with God. And that works itself also out of the question, how we properly receive the grace of Christ.
Again, the solus Christus, that is ,,Christ alone” shall not be encroached upon. Therefore, the second argument of the apostle against the enemies of freedom is: Solus Christus stands only if grace alone is received by faith.
For what applies for grace also applies for faith: it is not a work of the people, by which we complete or supplement God’s work or make it valid for us, but faith is entirely and truly a gift of Jesus Christ through the proclamation. In the third chapter Paul asks the Galatians: I just want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by the preaching of faith? (3,2) As the acquittal stands by grace alone, so also faith as a gift of the Spirit is contrary to any notion that we are justified by the law.
This justification, which you still miss and cannot see, says Paul, is not fabricated through your chosen works, but by trusting on it, that God will accomplish what He has begun in you, as He has planted the seed of the word God into your hearts. Therefore he says: We wait in a spirit of faith for the justification on which we must hope.
We are completely justified for Christ’s sake, because He has acquitted us from our sin. At the same time, our justification is still hidden, it still waxes, because we repeatedly fall into sin. But in such situations our works don’t compensate, but our only help is that we take refuge in Jesus, receive His Absolution, and strengthen our faith through His holy meal.
The life from the Sacraments and from the proclamation is the only right answer for all temptations and doubts. It is no wonder that when the works of man and the pride in them become important, then one gives little respect to the work of God in preaching and the Sacraments. But this was exactly the situation that Luther interrupts at the end of the Middle Ages. Only in the intense life from God’s Word and Christ’s Sacraments do we remain in freedom, because we only receive Christ’s grace. The freedom must always be received anew and strengthened by the rescuer.
The tension is over now, so that only the right fulfillment of the law in the form of love becomes possible in us. Because if I am exempt from the necessity to achieve my salvation, then Christ makes me free to love the neighbor. I must now no longer devote my life’s strength to the purchase of my salvation. Circumcision is not necessary; an indulgence is not necessary. I must no longer be like a humming-top that is only spinning around for myself. So I find time and freedom in the works of life, that I don’t do so I will be saved, but I do them because I am saved and I want my neighbors to also find and experience this freedom.
Just as by faith, we put our hope in God alone and our relationship to God is repaired, so also faith that is active in love repairs the damage of our relationship to our neighbors.
The soul breathes because it is free from the coercion that it must continually prove something before God and the world, just what it always means, that we believe that we are obedient to God and man. With Christ’s forgiveness and grace, a person therefore also gladly and freely gives to the neighbor so that he can also breathe, in that he grants forgiveness and love to him, he also gladly gives everything as a gift, just as what he has received from God.
Luther had uniquely described this life of Christian freedom as: ,,The Christian lives in Christ by faith, and lives in the neighbor by love. By faith he runs to God, and from God he runs again by love and remains always in God and divine love. This Christian freedom, which makes the heart free, surpasses all other freedoms, just as heaven surpasses the earth.” Amen.