All who were baptized in Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:27-28
Did you know that until seventy or eighty years ago men sat on one side of the church and women sat on the other? It's true. I have asked many older people why this was the rule but I've never gotten the real answer. It sounds like a good deal for men not having to care for a pew full of active children. Moms had to do all that themselves. Things were different in those days. Most often the sermon and hymns were in German and the service could last over two hours. A forty- five minute sermon was the standard. How things have changed.
Our text mentions a great change that has taken place through the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. It says that at one time believers were held prisoner, locked up by the law. Now that faith has come, we are set free.
We can't understand what freedom is unless we know what living is like without freedom. St. Paul is writing to the Galatians warning them not to come under the power of legalism. He reminds them that before they learned of the grace of God in Jesus Christ life with God was full of demands they were obligated to fulfill. The law of God was their guide. They had to eat the right foods, marry the right person, offer the right sacrifices, and fulfill thousands of requirements which were their religious code of conduct. God gave these laws so his people would know they were different. They were set apart to worship him with their whole lives and He would be the God taking care of them. When they were unable to obey all the requirements, they were to ask for God's forgiveness and look forward to the time he would send a savior to forgive them.
Things changed when Jesus came. He did not come to abolish the law of God, but to fulfill it. Jesus lived a life different from all other people. He was without sin. He obeyed the requirements in every aspect as they were originally given. We believe that when he offered up his life on the cross, it was a sacrifice to substitute for us. He kept the law for us. Every detail was perfect.
What a change this makes. Now when we pray to God we know he will hear and help us. We do not need to bargain with God, saying something like, "Yes Lord, I will obey you and live a good life if you will find a wife for me."
Paul says the law was like a paidagogos. In Bible times a paidagogos was a slave who followed a young boy around and kept him out of mischief. He went to school with the son, walked behind him in the streets, and reported back to the Father what the Son was doing.
St. Paul says the law of God once did this for us, following us around. But now we have faith in Jesus we need no babysitter. We have grown up and are full sons of God. God goes with us wherever we go, not through the law that follows us around and makes us feel guilty, but by the Holy Spirit who lives in us and guides us when we believe that God loves us and wants the best for us. He is not a boss who orders us to do this or that. He is a loving Father who has given us an eternal inheritance and who welcomes us into his house.
Legalism happens when people say we must do something in order to make ourselves worthy to receive God's love. In Paul's day it was the practice of ritual circumcision. Today there are legalists who say we must give a certain amount of income, pray a certain way, feel a certain experience in order to be certain of our salvation. Legalism is dangerous because it moves faith away from what Jesus has done and puts all the attention on what we are doing. No matter how closely we follow God's law, we never deserve God's love in ourselves.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is able to change our lives drastically. Some Christians still live in fear that they will not be accepted into heaven when they die because they haven't followed all the right rules. I have heard people say that they went to church all their lives but never understood the gospel of the freedom of the Christian life. That tells me we have to stand up to legalism and keep preaching the Gospel until Christ comes again.
With all the trouble we have in the world today with racism and discrimination, where people can't get basic things like housing and medical care because of the color of their skin, their gender, or the amount of money they make, isn't it good to know that God is blind to these things? Here we hear that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but that we are all one in Jesus Christ. That means God freely offers salvation to all. It doesn't matter what you've done or where you came from. Jesus died for you. If you believe in him as your savior, you are one with him and the Father. You are forgiven and you have a place in heaven. We call this justification by faith apart from works.
Now if we believe in Jesus, then, naturally, we will want to listen to what he says about how we live this life, and we are going to follow what he says because we are so thankful for all he has done for us. And when someone says we can live otherwise than Jesus says, we should tell that person they are wrong. This is to confess the faith. The gospel reading for today relates how Peter confessed Jesus as his Lord and that we should do the same by picking up our cross and following him. We should not be afraid to follow Jesus in every way, not because we have to do it to be saved, but because we are saved and we want to follow Jesus in everything.
But be aware. This passage about being one in Christ has been misused lately. Whenever somebody wants to change something in the church they quote this and say, "See, it doesn't matter what we do. I can go this way and you can go that way because we are all one in Christ." For instance, women have been accepted into the office of the ministry in most denominations today even though the Bible says men should do the preaching, because people have cited this passage that says, "there is neither male nor female." It is also used to support same sex relations among Christians.
This is a shame. Yes, our relationship with God does not depend on us being a man or woman, or for that matter rich or poor, black or white, Native American or Asian. That doesn't matter at all. Salvation depends on Jesus dying on the cross for sins, and on the faith God puts in our hearts to believe it is so.
But believing God accepts all people does not negate the things he has said in the Bible about the roles we should play and the doctrine we should uphold. There is no reason women should not preach other than the biblical fact that God has given this role to certain men he calls to serve him. We should not take offense at this but accept it as a gift from God.
When we have trouble with things like this, we should ask ourselves why. Is it because we are influenced by the world so that when God speaks to us we want to argue with him? He has given us a brand new life that has no end.
Those who ignore the roles God give us to play, or who dismiss them and want to live otherwise are to be warned. This is why we do not commune those of other confessions in our church. We care enough to say, "Hey, we recognize you as a Christian, but we are committed to upholding everything God has said regarding our faith and how we live. Communing with us means you believe as we do and you will live according to these beliefs, even if it means you will have to pick up your cross and follow Jesus through hardship. Are you ready for that kind of commitment? "
This is what you are saying when you come forward to this altar. "I believe I am one with these people in Christ and I promise to live out what I believe."
We are saved by faith, not works. Things have changed in the world and things change in the church as well. The reason for our salvation will never change. And if we say it has, we should not call ourselves Christians, for we have no need of Christ.
Thank God that Dads can now sit with their wives and help with the children. That was a good change. But departing from the inspired and revealed word of God? Never. We ask God to guide us in every area of life, and when we stray away from him to call us back to the mercy of Jesus Christ, our Lord and king. God help us to confess the faith in times and circumstances. Amen.
Copyright © 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.
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