O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
There can only be One
There can only be One
Based on Galatians 1:1-12
Preached on June 02, 2013
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Fellow baptized saints, do you like mice? What about rats? What about when they are living in your house? There you are settled into your house. You've worked hard to make it nice and clean, and looking the way you like. Your very own refuge from the world. And though you can't even see them, some mice have figured out how to sneak into your house. It doesn't happen immediately or anything. They take their time, but eventually, even though you've done everything you can to make your house immune to these sorts of invasions, they weasel their tiny little bodies through the smallest opening they can find. And once they are in, they start multiplying.
At first, you don't even know. You don't see them, or any evidence of them. But one day, you hear something in the wall. The scratching starts. All of sudden there is evidence of them everywhere, scurrying, gnawing, clawing. They are destroying the house, and their droppings start showing up everywhere. To make matters worse, these mice droppings can be very dangerous. They could contain Hantavirus, a virus your family could get simply from inhaling the air around the droppings. And Hantavirus can be deadly. Your house is threatened. The lives of your family may be at risk. And all because of the slow sneaky scurrying of a few furry foes.
Today marks the beginning of our sermon series in the book of Galatians, where Paul finds that even the holy house of God has been infiltrated by deadly vermin. Paul had planted the free grace of the Gospel in the churches of Galatia where he had travelled on his first missionary journey. He had brought them Christ, taught them they are made right with God solely by faith in Him and His redeeming work on the cross. Paul had freed them in Christ from the demands of the Law, but shortly after his departure, false teachers snuck in and subverted everything he had planted. These rodents took over God's house and threatened God's family with the eternal death of their false teaching. Satan had sent his own apostles to teach God's people.
They said, "Yes, Paul has laid the foundation of Christian teaching. But he does not teach the true way of justification, for he teaches men to turn away from the Law. Now what he could not bring you correctly, this you should now receive from us." They were men of prestige and authority. They boasted that they belonged to the holy and elect race of the Jews, that they were Israelites of the seed of Abraham, that the promises and the patriarchs belonged to them, finally that they were ministers of Christ and pupils of the apostles, whom they had known personally and whose miracles they had witnessed. They preached Christ, but not just Christ. They preached Christ and good works. Christ and the Law. Christ and a little of your own righteousness to go with Him. That somehow on the Last Day when you stand in judgment it will be what you have done that keeps you standing before God. This is the sneaky teaching of the devil, but Paul does not stand for it.
Paul's entire letter to the Galatians is a response and attack on these rodents that have infested the churches of Galatia with their teachings. He reinforces the righteousness of faith, or passive righteousness, which boldly declares in the face of sin, death and the devil, that Christ is working His righteousness in me with no doing of my own, and that when I stand before God in the judgment it will be this alone that saves me. This Gospel truth is my life.
Throughout the book we will see Paul teach a most important thing about these rodents and their lies - the devil is always trying to setup a second, false, counterfeit teaching in Christ's Church - He is always trying to scurry in with an active kind of righteousness in which you contribute to your salvation - but there can only be One teaching. There is only One Gospel - the one Paul zealously defends in this letter - do not let another sneak into God's house.
Because the devil is sneaky. He doesn't always work the way we think he works. He makes us think he is a black devil, one that will show himself in obvious, powerful ways. That he wears a big label saying "Evil One," and wants to make life here miserable. But most of the time it is just the opposite. He is actually a white devil, one that always appears good. One that wants you to think you are secure while he draws you away from Christ. He doesn't want to be obvious. He wants to trick you. And may I say it now so we all know most clearly. The only thing the devil attacks is the Gospel. It is the only thing he wants you to lose. Your faith. He is not concerned with how much money you make, or your health, or your family, unless he can lean on these things to make you lose sight of the Gospel. The devil's battle lines are not drawn out there in the world somewhere. They are drawn here. In the Church. Across your heart and mind. This is where he works. This is where he fights. And he even uses God's Word when he does it.
The Law. God's Holy Law. He presses it upon you, and wants it to be all you hear from God. For the Law only contains those things which you must do. It speaks nothing of what God does for you in Christ. Listening only to the Law you are trapped in the righteousness of the Law which says "the righteous will live by fulfilling the Law." This is the Hantavirus carried by these vermin. For the moment we have eaten this poison we have lost Christ. The moment we believe our free will or our good intentions or the way we have lived our life makes a difference in our salvation is the moment we have given up the Gospel. For Paul declares it boldly - there is no middle ground. There are only two kinds of righteousness in this world - the righteousness of the Law which is a false righteousness, and the righteousness of faith, which is salvation in Christ. The righteous will live by faith. He writes, "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." I devote those men who mislead you to destruction.
Wow Paul, I think I get it. There is only One thing we ought to be guarding here. Only One thing pastors ought to be preaching in the Lord's Church, and hearers ought to be holding with all their might. And that is Christ and His righteousness. The free gift of His own righteousness which He gives to you in the Word of His Gospel which is to be received by faith alone. Beloved, you are righteous by faith in another. Faith in Christ. His death and resurrection are credited to you by faith. In the Father's eyes, you have died and He has raised you. He has given you what you could never otherwise have. You are His child, born new in the waters of Holy Baptism, washed clean of all your sin and freed from the Law that would enslave you and coerce you to live a certain way.
Because, come on, face it, when we talk about the Evil One slowly sneaking into hearts and minds, you understand it personally. For there are things you do today, ways you think today, that you would never have tolerated as a child. Satan has slowly gnawed at your conscience. Worn it down. Tired it out, so that you now see as normal what used to be clearly wrong. Let me assure you. God has not changed. Your conscience has changed. But it will not defend you in that moment of trial or temptation, when you are hard-pressed. It will not defend you in the moment of death, when you go to face the judgment. In fact, then, it will accuse you. It will turn on you and hand you over. For the white devil has made an alliance with it, and he has patiently waited to serve you the Hantavirus.
What then could possibly comfort you in such a moment? The only True comfort there ever is. The Gospel. The same thing that comforts you now and promises that you are safe on account of Christ. That you are forgiven on account of Christ. That even your failing moral compass, even your fear of death, even the easy way you are tricked by the devil are all nothing because of what Christ has done for you. You cannot claim this salvation for yourself. You cannot earn this salvation in any way. Yet, it is yours by faith. Given to you for free. This Christ, the One who reigns in the midst of His enemies, who reigns over you with His grace while every rodent in the whole world would try to steal it from you, He has made you secure. "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for your sins to deliver you from the present evil age, according to the will of your God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen."
Rev. Cameron Schnarr