Sermon -- June 23, 2013 -- Galatians 3:26-28 -- Diagnosis, Prescription, Prognosis
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
New International Version ®, NIV ® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. ®
Our text this morning gives us God’s diagnosis of what’s wrong with the human race. It gives us God’s prescription for our problem. And it also gives us a prognosis – in other words, it tells us what the future holds for those who have faith in God’s Son. May God bless our consideration of His Holy Word this day!
So what do you think? What’s wrong with the human race? The Bible says that we have a problem with sin. We are turned in on ourselves. Despite our best efforts, we miss the mark. According to God's Word, sin is something we’re born with. In a very real sense, it’s genetic. On our own, and no matter how hard we try, we can never be what God wants us to be. On our own, no matter how hard we try, without God’s intervention through His Son, we will all be destroyed by our sins. That's the diagnosis, and it's not good news.
If that’s true, then what is God’s prescription? If sin is a genetic disorder, where in the world can we find the cure? The Bible tells us that Christ died for our sins, when he shed His blood on the cross. God offers us the healing we need – but He does that only through His Son. What He wants us to do is to trust His son, by faith. God sends His Holy Spirit to enable us to do that.
The diagnosis? We’re all sinners, afflicted by sin. The prescription? Trust in Jesus Christ. And the prognosis? An abundant life here and now, and eternal life with our Lord in heaven. God speaks to the world through the Law and the Gospel. You may want to think about it this way:
- The Law gives us the diagnosis. In other words, it tells us what's wrong with us.
- And the Gospel gives the prescription – the cure for our ailment.
God’s Law reveals our spiritual status before God. It reveals our sinfulness. It points out what we already know – and that is that we fall short of what God wants for us. Most Jewish people back in Jesus’ day mistakenly believed that they could keep God’s law in a way that was pleasing to him. Jewish people still believe that, even today. They didn't understand that just one sin is enough to condemn them.
The people of Israel were convinced that they could save themselves from sin’s destruction. They honestly thought that, by their own efforts, they could make themselves pleasing to God. It was the apostle Paul’s thankless job to give them the bad news. He said that, rather than bringing them life, God’s Law was condemning them to a death sentence. He told them what they didn’t want to hear – that they were in bondage to sin and that they could not – and would never be able to – free themselves. In other words, God’s Law could never set them free. Period. End of sentence. End of story.
In the book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul pointed out that God’s Law is like to a custodian, who was hired back in ancient days by a parent to look after a child, until that child reached maturity. After the child reached maturity, the custodian would no longer be needed. What the apostle Paul is thinking of here is a custom that was found in the ancient world, where wealthy people hired servants to look after their children. The custodian was allowed to discipline the child. Their task was to guide the child through to maturity and independence. In our text this morning, the apostle Paul is saying that God's law acts in a similar way – it leads us to where we need to be and then it steps aside.
There is another way to look at the function of the law. And that's mentioned in our catechism. Martin Luther said that God’s law is like a mirror that reveals our sins. Like the mirrors we look at every single day, it shows us what we do not want to see. Here's the bottom line: the function of God’s Law is to prepare us for the wonderful Good News of the Gospel. Once God’s Law has done its work in us, and once – by God’s enabling – we receive the Gospel, our hearts are filled with joy and thankfulness.
When, by faith in Jesus Christ, you and I become Christians, we begin to live by a totally different set of standards than the world around us. And when you and I become Christians, no matter what our background – we all have equal status and importance in the eyes of God. So, in Christ, worldly distinctions fall away. According to the apostle Paul, racial, economic, and gender differences – are all removed in Christ.
Back in Paul’s day, a deep division existed between Jews and non-Jews – the Bible calls them “Gentiles” – a division that still exists today. In Jesus’ day, the Jews believed that Gentiles were unclean sinners who had no place in the kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul taught the shocking truth that, in Christ, all of these barriers are removed. And because of that, there’s no place for prejudice or racial discrimination in the church. The apostle Paul taught that every person -- without exception -- is created by God, and loved by God. He taught that Christians ought to hate sin, but love the sinner – because that’s how God does it.
Faith in Christ removes cultural differences. And it also removes differences in social status as well. In Christ, says Paul, there is neither slave nor free. In other words, social distinctions – so important in Jesus’ day – and in our day, too – count for nothing in the Kingdom of God. You may want to think of it this way -- the Christian church is made up of all kinds of people – wealthy and poor, educated and uneducated, owners and workers. But we are all equal in Christ.
There's more. In Christ, according to the apostle Paul, it doesn't matter whether you are male or female. We need to remember that back in Paul's day, women were treated very badly – and this is still true in large parts of the Islamic world today. Back in Paul's day, women were considered inferior to men and little better than common slaves. Jewish men often prayed:
'I thank you Lord, that thou hast not made me a Gentile, a slave or a woman."'
And this attitude wasn't just found in religious circles. An ancient historian by the name of Josephus wrote,
"Woman is inferior to man in every way."
The views of the ancient world regarding women couldn't be clearer than that! According to the Apostle Paul, however, the Gospel declares all people – both men and women – to be equal in equal in status and equal in importance. So here's the point the apostle Paul is making – outward differences do not affect our spiritual standing before the Lord. Things which used to divide us divide us no longer in Christ. Despite our outward differences, we are free to fellowship with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all equal in the fact that we are sinners. That's what God’s Law tells us. But, through our faith in Christ, we are also equal in possessing salvation – all of us have been rescued from our sins by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, God promised that the world would be blessed through the Messiah, who would be a descendent of Abraham and of King David. That promise was fulfilled when Jesus Christ rescued the world from sin, at the cross. Here's the best way to think about it: Abraham was saved by faith in the Christ who was to come. Nowadays, we are saved by faith in the Christ, who has already come.
For the Apostle Paul, all people – no matter who they are – no matter their gender, social status, age, or ethnic background – are saved by faith, not by their keeping of the Law. For the apostle Paul, Christian people are members of a worldwide faith family. Many faithful believers have lived before us, and have now gone on to be with the Lord. You and I now take our place in that long, unbroken line of believers – stretching back into the past and forward into the future.
The apostle Paul deal with some in the early church who argued that faith in Jesus Christ was not enough for salvation. Some argued that it was faith in Christ PLUS THE KEEPING OF THE LAW made people right with God. For the apostle Paul, it was unthinkable that Christians would want to go back to that caretaker we spoke of a moment ago, that caretaker that had authority over them in the past.
Now don't get me wrong. God’s Law still has an important role to play in the Christian life. It hasn't been tossed onto the trash heap of history. God’s Law has nothing to do with earning our salvation. But it does provide rules for us to follow, after we become Christians, by faith. God’s Law is now a guide – or perhaps I should call it a roadmap, or an operator’s manual – as you and I travel the road of faith. We don’t throw away God’s rule-book after we become Christians. We do what his Law asks of us, not in order to be saved – as many people mistakenly think – but because we are already saved, through our faith in Jesus Christ. God normally brings us into his faith-family through baptism. In baptism, God delivers the benefits of the cross and the empty tomb to you and to your address and mine. In and through our baptism, our sins are forgiven, and we are given a place in God’s family.
In our text this morning, the Apostle Paul compares two chapters in the history of the human race – one which occurred before the coming of Christ, and the other which took place after his arrival. As we have already heard several times this morning, the Apostle Paul says that the Law was given by God, not to save us, but to lead us to Christ, who rescues us from the curse of our sins.
Let me try to explain this concept with the following illustration. I’ve shared it before, but it definitely bears repeating. A lamb and its mother passed a pigpen each morning on the way to the pasture. Watching the pigs wallow in the mud seemed like fun to the youngster. On one especially hot day, the lamb had a question for its mother. It asked:
"Can I jump the fence and wallow in the cool mud?"
As you would expect, she said, "No."
The lamb asked: "Why not?"
The mother replied, "Sheep do not wallow."
This, of course, did not satisfy the youngster in the least. He felt that his mother had no good reason to refuse his request. And so, as soon as she was out of sight, he ran to the pigpen and jumped the fence. He felt that cool mud on his feet, and on his legs, and on his stomach. After a while, he decided to go back to his mother, but he couldn’t – he was absolutely stuck! The lamb’s thick wool was now weighed down with heavy, sticky mud. What it happened? Simple. His pleasure had become his prison! He was now hostage to the mud. He cried out and the kind farmer, his owner, graciously and lovingly rescued him. When that lamb was thoroughly cleansed and returned to the fold, his mother repeated something he never forgot: "Sheep do not wallow!" And neither do we!
On the surface, sin looks so inviting. We try to convince ourselves that we can escape from it whenever we wish. But such is not the case. Like that foolish lamb, our pleasure becomes our prison. Like that foolish lamb in the pigpen, all of us know – from personal experience – what it’s like to be mired in sin, what it's like to be unable to free ourselves. And like that lamb in the pigpen, we also know from personal experience that Christ has washed us free of our sin – and, for that, we are eternally grateful.
So, to repeat – and conclude! – God’s Law diagnoses our problem – we are sinners, doomed to eternal separation from God, unless He personally intervenes. In the Gospel we find God's prescription for our malady—as the Scriptures say, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s Word also provides us with a prognosis – what the future holds – an abundant life in the here and now and eternal life with God and his people in heaven! May God bless us – all of us – with a faith that stands the test of time. May he remove discrimination and prejudice from our hearts, by reminding us that all people – no matter what their race, social status, gender or ethnic background – are equal before him. May we always remember that our Lord Jesus died for all – without exception. May we never forget that God’s Law is a tutor whose only job is to lead us to Christ. May we experience great joy in knowing that we are now “unstuck” from the mud and mire of sin because Jesus Christ has rescued us, and washed us clean in holy baptism. Amen.
Let’s Pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – Enable us to proclaim your Word of Law and Gospel to the world. Your Law tells us what we are to do for you. And Your Gospel tells us what You have done for us in and through Your Son. In His name we pray. Amen.