Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sermon for 16 June 2013, Proper 6C

Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Was: Galatians 2:11-21
Galatians 2:15-21; 3:10-14
Doctrine, Life
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6C, 16 June 2013
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:3-5)

          No Other Gospel. No preaching but Christ. So far these are important truths St. Paul teaches us as he writes the churches in Galatia. These are not teachings that just sit on shelves like dusty old books, never to be taken down and read. No. These teachings, these doctrines show their usefulness by how they apply to daily life—to how they apply to your salvation, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone revealed by Scripture alone.
Doctrine. Life. Some teach that what one believes is most important. Others focus primarily on how people live. Which is the most important to Christianity? Consider that question as we begin with Galatians 2:14: But when I [Paul] saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas [Peter] before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Confrontation is the order of the day as Paul opposes Peter: “But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I [Paul] opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” How exactly was Peter in the wrong? 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
Even Barnabas, longtime companion of Paul, was led astray. This is serious. In part, Peter was afraid of what one group of people would think of his holiness of life. Paul is troubled by the doctrinal implications of what Peter is doing—focusing on life.
The matter of circumcision is a Jewish matter. On the eighth day, each male child was to be circumcised. So says the law. What now? Christ has come. Is the law of circumcision still in effect? Do the Jewish ceremonial laws now apply to the Christians? No. The doctrinal problem is this: Peter is worried about those who disagree and say that the law of circumcision is still in effect. Peter is in danger of giving up the Gospel for another false-gospel that is really no gospel at all.
The first council of the church in Acts 15 declared that Gentiles were not to be compelled to be circumcised. Christians are not to live under the law, but in the freedom of the Gospel. If Christians gave in to the requirement to be circumcised, they would be confessing that Christ didn’t do enough for them to be saved. They would have been saying that additional works, outward actions were necessary to finish the work Christ did. Instead of giving in to the legalists, called Judaizers, they stood fast in the freedom of the Gospel. This is the message about Doctrine and Life that Peter needs to be reminded about.

Doctrine. Life. Which is more important? More importantly, we should ask whether this question is the best one we can ask. Is it really the right question to ask? If one were to say only, Christianity is how one lives one’s life, that would be wrong. It would be equally wrong to say that Christianity is only Doctrine. Christianity is Doctrine and Life.
In a multiple-choice test, it is always a good idea to take a look at answer C. Both A and B, Doctrine and Life, are important. We should instead look to see how the two are connected. A better question would be to consider “What is the proper relationship between doctrine and life?”
14 But when I [Paul] saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas [Peter] before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Life. In this case, it appears Peter is putting his emphasis on life, external customs, mere appearances. He was in a difficult spot. If he ate with the Gentiles, “sinners,” he would have offended the Jews. If he ate with the Jews, he would have offended the Gentiles. Apparently, Peter chose the path of least resistance, choosing not to teach either group about the freedom of the Gospel in such matters. As a result, Paul justly calls him to repentance for being a hypocrite.
One cannot preach the Gospel of Christ and then worry about what legalistic people think. One cannot preach Christ alone and give in when others say salvation is won because of things people have to do in order to be saved. Focusing solely on how one lives one’s life denies the importance of divine doctrine, God’s truth!
On the whole, non-Christians can be nice, friendly, clean-cut, patriotic, good people. Their life may be impeccable. They may well be good people. But that’s not the main point. Dr. Luther wrote, “Works without faith is idolatry.” In writing this, he is only saying what the apostle wrote: Anything done apart from faith is sin. Any unbeliever, by scriptural definition, cannot do good works in God’s sight. What one believes matters because apart from God-given faith, all is naught.
All people, Christian and non-Christian alike have the need to hear the message of the Scriptures that we believe, teach, and confess. All need to hear and hear again the Good News doctrine about Jesus Christ and His Gift of salvation that changes lives for all mankind!
Holiness of life should have a right and not a wrong place in our system of doctrine. The fruitfulness and beauty—the very life—of a tree depends not only on having roots and branches but on these being place in their natural God-created order. Let a tree be planted upside down, the roots in the air and branches in the earth, and I don’t have to ask how much fruit it would yield nor how long it would survive such idiotic treatment. Plant sanctification (a holy life) in the ground and justification (the Gospel doctrine of Christ) on top—expect this to flow from that—and a similar catastrophe will occur.
Holiness of life flows from the pure Gospel doctrine of Christ. It is not works that fulfill the law, but the fulfillment of the law produces works. Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law for us, giving us a solid, well-rooted foundation so that we, as faithful trees, can produce fruit, by faith in Jesus Christ.

Writing to his own people, Paul said: We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
St. Paul emphasizes correct teaching here, but not at the expense of life. Consider the dangers of doing so. If a person regularly attends our services, confesses his or her sins with us, prays with us, listens to the Word with us, and confesses the faith with us, it would be unthinkable for that same person to leave this place and behave like a pagan, cursing, carousing, committing adultery or another intentional, premeditated sin.
The Gospel doctrine of Christ is meaningless unless it reshapes who you are and what you do or don’t do. The Gospel is the source of a holy life. How does our doctrine change your life? This is the problem with Peter. His life doesn’t match his doctrine. Whenever that happens, there is trouble. The Holy Gospel does not change, but it changes us!

Fourteen years have passed since Paul’s first trip, his first pastors’ conference in Jerusalem. Both Paul and Peter have different areas of responsibility within the church. Paul’s Gospel message hasn’t changed—that’s because it isn’t his to change—it is the Lord’s.
Yet we, like Peter, are often hypocrites. You know it. I know it. We all suffer from the consequences of the difference between what we believe and how we live. We behave differently here than we do out there. We do not always forgive others as we have been forgiven. We do enjoy even a little bit of praise for things we have done, which makes our motive in doing such things impure. And which one of us doesn’t worry about what other people will think.
We need to be reminded of what Christ has done for us so that we will despair of trying to save ourselves. It takes a lot. We must die to the law and be crucified with Christ. St. Paul continues: 17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.
20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
          This is such a contrast to the bookshelves full of self-help how to live the Christian life books found in so many generic Christian bookstores. We so need to hear the message that because Christ was raised from the dead, we now walk in newness of life.
In his youth, St. Augustine was a prodigal son. However, through the prayers, rebuke, and witness of his sainted mother, Monica, he was converted and became one of the great fathers of the church.
One day in his later life he was walking through a part of town he had frequented in his younger days. A woman recognized him and called out to him: Augustine! Augustine! Augustine ignored the call, so the woman cried out again: Augustine! Augustine! It is I! But Augustine, turning neither to the right nor the left, kept walking straight ahead saying, But it is not I.
The old I of Augustine had now died to sin. That I no longer lived, but Christ lives in him. The life he lived in the body, he lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved him and gave himself for him, the Christ into whose name he had been baptized. You and I have these same assurances, Gospel promises based on the Lord’s Word and His baptizing you.
21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.         Christ died so that we may live in His new life. We die to the law so that we may live for God.
Cast away your own righteousness entirely and rely on faith alone. Take the focus off yourself! You are the problem. Reject yourself! Forget about yourself. You have been crucified with Christ and you no longer live, but Christ lives in you. The life you live in the body, you live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave himself for you.
C. S. Lewis writes at the very end of Mere Christianity: Look for yourself and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
No other Gospel but that of Christ alone can do what His Gospel doctrine does—it reshapes lives, especially your life.

The conclusion of our Epistle today comes from Galatians Chapter 3: For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
 About the Cover: Justified has been described as “just as if I’d never sinned.” God indeed administered justice, not on our wicked heads but on the blameless head of His beloved Son, thereby fulfilling the Law. Now, we stand justified, that is, declared righteous, as if we’d never sinned. Despite the fact that we have sinned, we are holy in God’s sight, justified, grounded on Christ crucified.

The grace of our Lord Jesus be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. (Galatians 6:18)