Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | June 27, 2010

Sermon on Galatians 3:23-29

Downloadable Version

Sermon preached to celebrate the 480th anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession (June 25, 1530).

There Can Be Only One

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

There is a great difference between baptized and unbaptized people. That’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?  Not anymore.  Those words, confessed by the Lutheran Church in the Formula of Concord, are subject to a great hue and cry today.  In this politically correct time, in this religiously plural world, there isn’t one truth, there are many.  There aren’t right and wrong religions, there are different paths.  Your way is just as good as mine.  And for someone to assert anything that sounds exclusive, to dare to say that there’s a difference between someone who is a Christian and someone who isn’t, is heresy.  And worse, it’s intolerant.

But there is a difference between baptized and unbaptized people.  We confessed:  Concerning Baptism they teach that it is necessary for salvation, that the grace of God is offered through Baptism, and that children should be baptized. And then we said:  [S]ince the fall of Adam all human beings who are propagated according to nature are born with sin, that is, without fear of God, without trust in God, and with the inclination to sin. And they teach that this disease or original fault is truly sin, which even now damns and brings eternal death to those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit. And finally, They teach that human beings cannot be justified before God by their own powers, merits, or works. But they are justified as a gift on account of Christ through faith when they believe that they are received into grace and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins.  God reckons this faith as righteousness.

With those words we put ourselves out on a limb.  But we’re in good company.  We’re in the company of Jesus, who said, No one can enter the kingdom of heaven unless he is born of water and the Spirit. And, I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me. And Peter who said, Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name, under heaven, given to men, by which we must be saved. And Paul, who wrote:  Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into 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. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Perhaps some of you have seen the Highlander movies.  There was a television show too.  The premise is that there is this race of people who cannot die.  But they must hide their immortality, because when these immortals discover each other, they’re supposed to kill each other and absorb the others power.  Because, “There can be only one.”  It’s like that Western cliché, “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.”  Which usually led to some sort of apocalyptic gun-fight.  It makes for good theater.  But our sinful natures hate it in religion and theology.  But it’s the truth there too.  There can be only one.

There can be only one path to righteousness.  Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. Once, when we were unbelievers, we were caught in the net of the law.  It thundered against us.  It condemned us.  It owned us.  It pointed at us and said, “Do!  Don’t do!”  And before we could react, it hissed, “Sinners!  Unclean!  Enemies of God!”  It cursed us with demands for perfection – complete perfection, in every possible way, in every possible moment.  But it did that for a very specific purpose.  The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ so that we might be justified by faith. The law prepares us for Christ.  Not in the sense of sparking faith in our hearts, but in driving us to our knees.  The law always accuses.  It still does that today, even though we might be believers in Jesus.  It clubs us over the head with our failures.  It shows us our place in hell.  It forces us to set aside all reliance on ourselves, because we see that we can not be perfect as God desires.  Which means the law, doing good deeds, obeying commandments, is not the path to heaven.  This condemns all religions, all organizations, all faiths, all people who say, “You do…something!”  Those are not paths to Jesus and heaven.  They are not faith, because they look at what they can see – me, myself, and my deeds.  I become the object of my faith.

But, there can be only one object of faith.  Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. The only object of our faith is Jesus.  Because what the law demands, He did.  God said, “Be holy and perfect.”  Jesus says, “I am, now what?”  God demands, “The payment for sin is death.”  Jesus says, “Okay, I died on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.”  I didn’t do that.  You can’t.  No religious or moral or ethical system can.  None try.  No other religion posits the atoning death of God in man’s place.  No guru says, “You’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough, and God hates you!”  They all put you in the center of the universe.  You’re the object of faith.  But the law crushes that.  Your sins crush your confidence in yourself.  But now faith has come, in the form of Christ.  The Word became flesh to bring us light and life.  To take away the burden of the law.  Christ says, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you….  [M]y yoke is easy and my burden is light. On the one hand is only evil all the time me.  On the other is the takes away the sin of the world Lamb of God.  My sins included.  And there is only one place where this happens – the Holy Christian Church!

And, there can be only one Church into which we are gathered.  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into 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. There’s a place where it doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, yellow, or red!  There’s a place where it doesn’t matter if you make lots of money or no money, if you’re a boss or not, if you come from the right family or neighborhood or not.  There’s a place where it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman.  Sounds like what America claims to be, but has yet fallen short of achieving.  We find this in only one place – in the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.  We find this only where we find baptized Christians, not anywhere else in the world.  In every country, in every religion, in every organization, in every culture you find distinctions and differences.  You find better and worse.  You find prejudice and bias.  Not in the Church.  Not in Baptism.  Not in Christ.  In Christ, there is only One.  Through faith, He unites us to Himself, to His life, His death, His burial, His resurrection, so that when God looks at us, He doesn’t see our filth, He sees Jesus – you have clothed yourselves with Christ!

But we divide ourselves!  We pit the old against the young.  We pit black and white and brown against each other.  We pit north versus south.  We pit rich versus poor.  We put ourselves against ourselves as we hold on to our stupid, silly, petty grudges.  This is not the Church.  Baptism made us all one across all those lines!  Those divisions mock the Augsburg Confession.  They mock our eating at the Lord’s Table.  These divisions are the purposeful taking OFF of the new clothes you received in Baptism.  “No thanks, God!  I’d rather wear these ratty old things.”  Sometimes this happens in doctrinal affairs too.  We rightly watch our life and doctrine closely, persevering in the true faith, but we can get into a war of words that is not about actual differences in doctrine, but personality clashes, personal preferences, or pride over our way of saying things.  Well, the Spirit says, “STOP IT!”  Here is our motto:  There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

There can be only one:  only one path to righteousness – faith!  Only one object of faith – Christ!  Only one place where we find those two things together – the Holy Christian Church!  There is a great difference between baptized and unbaptized people.  It’s an eternal difference.  Praise God that His law convicted us.  Praise God that in Christ He put an end to the law’s condemnations for us.  Praise God for bringing us to faith.  Praise God for preserving the one true faith among us.  Praise God for the ability to return to our Baptism, to the forgiveness won and given.  Hear Luther’s comforting words:  In this way one sees what a great, excellent thing Baptism is. It delivers us from the devil’s jaws and makes us God’s own. It suppresses and takes away sin and then daily strengthens the new man. It is working and always continues working until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory.  For this reason let everyone value his Baptism as a daily dress in which he is to walk constantly. Then he may ever be found in the faith and its fruit, so that he may suppress the old man and grow up in the new. For if we would be Christians, we must do the work by which we are Christians.  But if anyone falls away from the Christian life, let him again come into it. For just as Christ, the Mercy Seat, does not draw back from us or forbid us to come to Him again, even though we sin, so all His treasure and gifts also remain. Therefore, if we have received forgiveness of sin once in Baptism, it will remain every day, as long as we live. Baptism will remain as long as we carry the old man about our neck. Amen!

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