1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
You are saved by works. You heard me right. You are saved by works. But don’t misunderstand: you are not saved by your works but by the works of Jesus for you. As He did His Father’s will of suffering, bleeding, and dying on the cross, Jesus set you free from the Law of sin and death (Ro. 8:2). Through Jesus’ work of becoming a curse for you, you have been made right with God. Christ has made and set you free. Stand firm in that freedom.
Stand firm in the freedom that Christ has won for you. Stand firm in the fact that it is Christ’s righteousness alone that makes you right with God. Stand firm in God’s proclamation that you are in Christ and a rightful recipient of all of God’s promises. Don’t be so foolish as to think that you are free and saved by a concoction of grace plus your work and efforts, otherwise “Christ will be of no advantage to you,” and you will be obligated to keep the whole Law. You are saved by Jesus alone. Jesus plus nothing equals everything. Hold fast to Jesus’ work for you.
Aesop tells a fable about a dog who was given a bone from the butcher. As the dog went home, he had to cross a bridge over a calm, clear pond. The water was so still it’s reflection was like a mirror. As the dog crossed the bridge, he happened to look down and thought he saw another dog with a bone that was bigger than the one in his mouth. In his greed, the dog dropped his bone as he lunged and snapped at his own reflection to get the bigger bone only to find himself swimming for his life to reach the shore. Finally, he managed to scramble out and realized what a foolish dog he had been.
We do the same. We have been given the greatest bone in the Gospel – one that reconciles us to God for all eternity. But we think there is another bone, a better bone, and this other bone takes two different forms. And we fall for both:
The first, let’s call ‘the meatier bone.’ This is the bone of works. We know that God is angry at our sins, so we conclude that God will be pleased with our good works. So we drop the bone of the Gospel and snap at the meatier bone of good works. But when we do this, we lose everything.
For the Galatians, the meatier bone was circumcision. They were being told that they needed to keep the law of circumcision in order to please God. But that law had already been fulfilled by Christ. Paul emphatically says, “No! If you think that obeying some law or doing some other work will make you right with God, then Christ is of no advantage to you. If you want to be justified by the Law and works, then you have fallen away from grace.”
Paul writes, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything.” In other words, when it comes to being righteous in the sight of God, it doesn’t matter what you do or what you do not do. The only thing that counts is “faith working through love.”
Which brings us to the second bone we lunge after. Let’s call it ‘the tastier bone.’ This is the bone of sin. Our sins taste good – at least for a while. But they never leave us full and we are always looking for something even more tasty. But when we lunge after those sins we lose hold of the Gospel.
By saying that the only thing that matters is “faith working through love” Paul is already warning against the tastier bone. Paul writes, “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Paul also writes in 1 Cor. 9:19, “Though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all.”
To keep us from falling from either of these two fake bones, Luther takes these verses and offers us two statements that are very helpful: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”
While these statements seem to be contradictory, they are both true. When you think that you have to do good works to complete or improve your salvation, remember the first. When you think that you can go on living for your sinful self, remember the second.
The Gospel gives you everything. Don’t think that peace with God comes by anything but through faith in Christ. The Scriptures do command us to do good works, but those good works are always done in service to our neighbor. You do not have to aim your good works at God. God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does. So aim your good works at your neighbor. Live in step with the Spirit bearing the fruit of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Let’s get away from talking about dogs and bones. Let’s talk about this fruit. You, believer, bear fruit. Jesus says that He is the Vine and you are the branches (Jn. 15:4-5). A branch does not produce fruit to benefit itself. It produces fruit for the benefit of others. Same with you as you bear the fruit of the Spirit.
You belong to Jesus. He has claimed you as His own. He has grafted you into Himself. And now, fruit comes forth. With the fruit of the Spirit, there is no law, no comparing, no scorekeeping. The Spirit produces this fruit where and when it pleases Him – all for the benefit of your neighbor.
And you will fail to bear this fruit. But that is when you return to Christ’s mercy which never fails. When you fail to bear the fruit of the Spirit, and you will, return to Jesus. Your love, joy, and peace, your patience, kindness, and goodness, your faithfulness, gentleness and self-control will all fail. When those fail, hear God’s word of forgiveness, remember your Baptism, and come to the Lord’s Supper. There, your God will forgive you, refresh and restore you. God will pour out His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control upon you so that you can go back into the world and bear those good fruits. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.