Reformation – You are free
Sunday, October 25, 2020
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You Are Free
“9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Pet. 2:9–10 NIV11-GKE)
Who could possibly harm or frighten such a heart? If awareness of sin or dread of death overwhelms it, it is ready to hope in the Lord. It neither fears hearing about these evils nor is moved by them, until finally it despises its enemies. For it believes that Christ’s righteousness is its own and that its sin is now not its own but Christ’s. … So the heart learns with the Apostle to scoff at death and sin and to say: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” For death is swallowed up in victory—not only Christ’s but ours—because through faith it becomes our victory and is in us and we are conquerors.1
What if those who help harm? As we look at Martin Luther’s life, what we need to understand is that those who were in his life, and in the lives of so many other Christians for their good—to help them—those were the ones who were harming them. There was this spiritual slavery that Martin Luther endured. The papacy had put in effect horrible teachings which said that, in order to get into heaven, you had to do good. But no matter how much good you did you could never be sure that you ever got to heaven. And, to make matters worse, the pope said that all churches everywhere had to subject themselves to him or they could not get into heaven. So, those who were in the lives of these people 500 years ago to help them, instead, harmed them.
In this beautiful writing of Martin Luther he preaches and proclaims to us that we are free. We are free from the twisted teachings of the papacy. We are set free by Christ who had made us a kingdom of priests. Since God put is name on us in our baptisms, we have direct access to God through Jesus. But even more than that, we are set free from sin and death. We do not need to carry with us this load of guilt and shame because Jesus had died for our sins and paid for them. We do not need to fear death. For Christ’s resurrection has set us free from the power that death holds over us. We are free from all those evils. We are free from false teachers. We are free from sin and death. So let us be thankful and always remember and repeat this fact to ourselves: Christ has set us free.
“I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding.” (Psa. 119:32 NIV11-GKE)
Look at what love and joy in the Lord flow from faith! Moreover, from love proceeds a joyful, gladsome, and free soul, prepared for willing service to the neighbor, which takes no account of gratitude or ingratitude, praise or blame, profit or loss. For such a soul does not do this so that people may be obligated to it, nor does it distinguish between friends and enemies, nor does it anticipate thankfulness or ingratitude. Instead, it expends itself and what it has in a completely free and happy manner, whether squandering these things on the ungrateful or on the deserving.2
Now where do you want to go? We have been set free from any evil that would enslave us. That is the amazing work that Jesus has done for us. But there is a question that follows that fact. Since we are set free, where do we want to go? We do not want to follow ourselves. For that leads back to sin. We do not want to enslave ourselves by going back to false teachers and false teachings. We want to follow Jesus. And what flows from this amazing fact is this amazing irony. We who are set free gladly serve. There is this amazing change that happens in us. We cannot do any good to enter into heaven. Our sin disqualifies us from that and Jesus has earned heaven for us in our place. And yet, spontaneously, naturally, gladly, we want to do good. We want to serve.
My dear friends, that’s ok. That’s what this gift of faith does in us. It leads us to want to serve others—not to earn heaven. But instead, we serve because we already have heaven in Christ.
Serve Your Neighbor
“7 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Rom. 14:7–8 NIV11-GKE)
Each person lives only for others and not for himself or herself. The purpose of putting the body in subjection is so that it can serve others more genuinely and more freely. As Paul says in Rom. 14[:7–8], “We do not live to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord.” Thus, it can never happen that in this life a person is idle and without works toward one’s neighbors. 3
Life is ironic. As we come into this world, we are helpless. We need help from our parents—especially our moms in those early days. And yet, as we grow, we face this huge temptation. We start out unable to help ourselves. Then we have to fight the temptation to be unwilling to help others. And our lives close with a final irony. In our later years we need help from others once again. And yet, in pride, we face the temptation to not ask for it.
For all of these areas where we sin and fail, we repent. We repent of our selfishness and pridefulness. And we return again and again to a Savior who sets us free from our sin. But our Savior also gives us a faith that wants to serve. We want to serve our Lord above. And we want to serve others. How amazing it is that we start out yearning to be free from people that would enslave us. And then, freed by Christ, in this new freedom, we yearn to serve others. That gets at the heart of what our Christian life is. It’s this beautiful irony and paradox: We are set free, and yet we gladly choose to serve others.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2 NIV11-GKE)
For, under these circumstances, it is also Christian to care for the body. At times when the body is healthy and fit, we can work and save money and thereby can protect and support those who are in need. In this way, the stronger members may serve the weaker and we may be sons [and daughters] of God: one person caring and working for another, “bearing one another’s burdens and so fulfilling the law of Christ.”4
You only have one body. Years ago, when I went to the doctor, that is what he told me. You only have one body, so you better take care of it. But my dear friends, there is another reason we take care of our bodies. Jesus speaks about it here: so that we can bear each others burdens. And what I love about Luther is how practical he is. Yes, burdens can be the anguish, stress, and worry others have. But burdens can be just that: burdens and heavy weights. When your aunt or grandma cannot carry those heavy boxes into the house, you can.
So we carry each others burdens. But notice what Luther points out: we need to be able to carry each others burdens. We need to take care of ourselves. Do you get enough sleep? Do you exercise? If you are stressed out at work, what do you do to calm down at home? Do you make sure that your diet is not all bacon and twinkies?
All of this is good to consider. For taking care of others is costly. It drains our time. But it also drains our energy. In a very real way, we need time away from those we serve. But when we take that time away, we need to use that time to take care of our bodies instead of letting them go.
Luther mentions this so that we would be free to serve and not enslaved to service. Let us not conclude that we are coerced to serve. Let us not conclude that we have to serve in such a way that we have to give up our own health to preserve someone else’s health. For there will remain this irony forever in our lives as Christians: We are free from the slavery of false teaching, sin, and death. But Jesus sets us free to serve him and others gladly and freely. Amen.
1 The Roots of Reform, ed. Timothy J. Wengert, vol. 1 of The Annotated Luther. Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), 509.