“The One Gospel Produces One Church” (Sermon on Galatians 6:1-10, 14-18, by Pr. Charles Henrickson)
“The One Gospel Produces One Church” (Galatians 6:1-10, 14-18)
Today we wrap up our six-part series on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. And our theme today, as we look at chapter 6, is this: “The One Gospel Produces One Church.” First of all, though, let’s review where we have been in this series.
Week one. Title: “No Other Gospel.” Key passage, Galatians 1:6-7: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” Paul starts out rather abruptly–roughly, really–chastising the Galatians for letting themselves be deceived and led astray by false teachers who have come in among them. The Judaizers were going around, telling the Galatians that they now had to keep the whole Mosaic law–circumcision, dietary laws, Sabbath laws–in order to be saved. But Paul, practicing some tough love, rebukes the Galatians and tells them in no uncertain terms: “No! If you fall for that trap, then you are buying into a whole different gospel, a false one. For there is no other gospel other than the one I preached to you.”
Week two. Title: “The Gospel Paul Preached.” Key verse, 1:11: “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.” One of the tricks the false teachers were using was to undermine Paul’s authority as an apostle. They said Paul wasn’t really an apostle like the Twelve were. And Paul hadn’t cleared his message with headquarters. So you can’t trust what he told you. He didn’t give you the full story, about how you now have to keep the law in order to be saved. But again Paul says, “No! I did not receive my gospel from any man. I received it directly from the ascended Lord Jesus Christ himself, by revelation.” Friends, do you see how much attention Paul is placing on the one true gospel, that there is no other?
Week three: “Justified by Faith, Crucified with Christ, Redeemed from the Curse.” Key verse, 2:16: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” This section of Galatians is one of the most important, classic passages on the doctrine of justification, which is the central article of the Christian faith. Paul states very clearly and emphatically that a man is justified, that is, put right with God, not by his own works, but rather by what Christ Jesus has done for us. It’s a gift, the free gift of God’s grace, and this gift is received by faith. Faith in Christ, not trust in our own works, is how we are put right with God. Paul then goes on to say, “I have been crucified with Christ,” that is, my old sinful nature has been put to death, and I have been raised up with Christ to a new life. I’ve been redeemed from the curse of the law, and now live under God’s blessing.
Week four: “Sons and Heirs.” Key passage, 4:4-5: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Through faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the law for us, we now–all of us who are baptized into Christ and believe in Christ–we too are God’s sons. And if sons, then heirs. In other words, because of Jesus, we stand to inherit eternal life and all the riches of heaven. Cool!
Last week, week five: “Free to Be Fruitful.” Chapter 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” We have been set free from our guilt and our slavery to the law, but that does not mean that we should use our freedom as an excuse to indulge the desires of our sinful flesh. No, rather, we are led by the Spirit and are called to walk in step with the Spirit. And the Holy Spirit will produce in us some beautiful fruit–love, joy, peace, etc.
So that brings us up to speed. Those have been the five weeks of our series so far. Now today, week six, our message builds on all that went before–which is exactly what Paul does in chapter 6. And so our theme: “The One Gospel Produces One Church.”
Very simply, here in chapter 6, St. Paul is saying that faith in the one and only gospel of Christ—the gospel preached and taught in its truth and purity–this one gospel will produce one church. A united church, in which the people care for one another. Where they love one another and support one another and forgive one another. This will characterize the life together of the congregation where the pure gospel of Christ is paramount.
How we need this to be so! Without the love and the forgiveness and the patience that the Holy Spirit produces in us through the Word and the Sacraments, no church, no family, can live together in peace and harmony. We will always be biting and devouring one another. You know, the closer a family lives in relationship with one another in a household, the more opportunities there are for people to rub one another the wrong way. But forgiveness–forgiveness is the lubrication, the soothing oil, that keeps us from tearing one another apart. This divine ability to forgive comes from God in Christ. This is where you and I have received forgiveness. This is where we have learned it and experienced it, what it is like to be forgiven. And so now, in the power of the Spirit, as Christians, as children of God, we are able, and are called, to forgive one another.
Forgiveness and humility and love. This is what we hear in these verses of Galatians: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are a family. God’s family, the church. God has brought us together in this congregation, so that we can care for one another. So that we can help restore one another, when one of us goes astray. When one of us in this congregation has a need, the rest of us will be there for that brother or sister to give our help, as we are able. This is a beautiful thing, this church family that we are a part of. This is God extending his care to us, through Christian brothers and sisters doing good to one another.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Yes, let us do good. We Christians are called and equipped and empowered to do good works. We’re not saved by them. But because we are saved, we are able to do them. Oh, not perfectly. That will never be, this side of eternity. We will always need God’s forgiveness, in everything we do, because our old sinful self clings too closely to us. Pride and self-seeking enter in, even when we’re helping other people.
So, dear Christian, once again, be assured of God’s forgiveness for you. Jesus Christ died for you, for your sins, lifting that burden from you, when he carried your bundle of sins on his back to the cross. “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Jesus is saying to you today. Lay down that burden of guilt at the foot of the cross. The slate is wiped clean. You are free.
Christ’s works free you, and they free you, in turn, to do good works for others. That means also to those outside the church. As children of God, you share in his character, and he is kind and merciful to all. And your works of charity and kindness to others will bear witness to the love that God has for them. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
But especially do we show love and kindness within the church, within “the household of faith,” as Paul calls it here. For one thing, we have more opportunity here, living as we do in community. We get to know one another better, and know one another’s needs, here in the church. And our care for one another likewise is a demonstration to the world of the power of God’s love and forgiveness. “See how they love one another!” people used to say about the early Christian church.
And may people say that now about our church, about our congregation! See how we love one another! It will happen, dear friends, as we live together, united around the one gospel, which produces among us one church–a united, forgiving, loving church, where brothers and sisters care for one another.
And so we come to the close of our series on Galatians. But the book is not closed, by any stretch. For now a new chapter is just beginning here among us.