St. Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia saying, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 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” (Galatians 5:1,13-15).
Christ frees us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13), not so we can use that freedom to serve ourselves, but in order that we may freely and with ease love and serve our neighbor. As St. Paul said, we are to love one another, not devour one another. The only way we can love one another, rather than devour one another with our various vices, is by devouring and consuming Christ. As St. Paul said earlier in the epistle,
“For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:19-21).
Christ has set us free. We are set free from the curse of the law, the law that brought us death. That curse is gone and now we live to God because it is Christ who lives in and through us. So, for freedom Christ has set us free to live in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another.
The question to be asked is, ‘What are you doing with that freedom?” We talk about freedom a lot in the USA. We talk about our religious freedom especially in light of recent decisions by the SCOTUS. We talk about our freedom to bear arms and our freedom to either eat Mcdonalds of Whataburger. We are free to go to whatever church we want and free to marry whoever we want. If we pay attention to our freedom language it is usually, if not always, self-serving. That freedom is used to serve me so I can pursue my greatest happiness. Is that why Christ has freed us? Did He free us from the curse of the law, the terror of the devil, and the bitterness of death in order that we can gratify the desires of our flesh? By no means, how can we who died to sin still live in it? To put it another way, how do you use your free time?
You get a day off each week; what do you do with it? Do you catch up on your favorite hobby, be it watching reruns on tv or playing with model airplanes? Do you use your “me time” to chill in your private space at the local bar or department store? Do you use your free time, time where you don’t have to work at your job, for self-gratifying and satisfying activities or do you use that time in fervent love for your neighbor? Do you use that free time to increase your own happiness, or do you use that time to seek the betterment of your neighbor and therefore serve and love the Lord your God. If you use your free time for yourself then that means you are still bound and not free. You are bound in love for yourself and live under the curse of the law. On the other hand, if you use that free time to love your neighbor, but at the same time want the thanks for it, then you are still bound because you desire the praises of men rather than of God.
The baptized child loves their neighbor without compulsion and without compelling from either guilt or the hopes of praise. Faith loves the neighbor without any thought prior to or after the action. Dr. Luther in his preface to the book of Romans asserts the activity of faith saying,
“O, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Woever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever, who gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are” (LW:35:370-371).
This quote from Dr. Luther is also quoted in the Formula of Concord Solid Declaration in article five concerning good works. It is impossible to separate good works, or love, from faith just as it is impossible to separate heat and light from fire. The baptized love their neighbor. Why? Because it is no longer they who live, but Christ who lives within them. As the Formula of Concord asserts,
“When people are born again through the Spirit of God and set free from the law (that is, liberated from its driving powers and driven by the Spirit of Christ), they live according to the unchanging will of God, as comprehended in the law, and do everything, insofar as they are reborn, from a free and merry spirit” (FCSD VI.17).
The baptized serve and love their neighbor with a free and merry spirit, not a compelled and grumbling one. Freedom is lived out in love toward the neighbor.
But how do we love our neighbor? Well, you could think that you are loving your wife by giving her free time while you go drinking with your buddies all Saturday night. You could think you are loving your husband by spending all Sunday afternoon at the mall rather than at home with him. You could think you are loving your children by giving in to their tantrums and letting them watch six hours of TV, rather than teaching them the word and spending time in activities with them. The free Christian is released from the curse of the law in order to walk in the law in love for their neighbor. Article six of the Formula of Concord says,
“For this reason, too, believers require the teaching of the law: so that they do not fall back on their own holiness and piety and under the appearance of God’s Spirit establish their own service to God on the basis of their own choice, without God’s Word or command” (FCSD VI.20).
Because the Old Adam or creature still clings in this life and tries to drown the New Man there will be the temptation to create your own way of loving others or hating others. The Law is given because it is the proclamation of what works are pleasing to our Father in heaven. He is pleased when husbands honor their wives and when children love and obey their parents and other authorities. The Ten Commandments are the works that God laid down for us that we are to walk in, as St. Paul said in Ephesians 2:10. We are justified freely, without works, and because of that we are free to walk in the commands of the Lord without any compulsion, but rather freely and with a merry spirit.
The issue is a simple one. The law will never make you a beloved child of God, nor will the law keep you in the faith. The law can’t make you love your neighbor. The law kills you because it shows you how you are to have faith toward God and fervent love for your neighbor. Because we are sinful and fallen, the law kills us and brings all justifications to a halt.
Only Christ can justify us because He kept the Law and fulfilled it for us, on our behalf, and then wrapped Himself up in our failure and became our transgressions. He became our self-serving free time selves and suffered the wrath of the Father. Because Christ has wrapped Himself up in our sin, bound Himself to our fate, we are free because He is bound. He is bound to our fate, our death, our punishment. Because Christ—who is the Free Lord of all—bound Himself on the cross, we are free. We are free as long as we are in Christ, as long as we receive His absolution. If we are not in Christ then we are bound to the fate of eternal wrath and punishment.
The point Luther made was that faith loves the neighbor all the time and can’t do anything else. Not loving your neighbor is evidence of unbelief. What you need is the law to kill that old Adam and then have the Gospel preached into your ears in order that you may have faith in Christ for your salvation as Paul says in Romans 10:17, ‘Faith comes by hearing, hearing the word of Christ.”
When you are forgiven, cleansed, and that heart of stone replaced with a heart of flesh, it is no longer the Old Creature’s domain, but the house of Christ. It is Christ who lives within you. There is your comfort. There is your strength to live in love for your neighbor. You can’t add anything to what Christ has and will always do for you. Let us feast on Christ and not on each other, lest we get consumed by one another. Let us consume Christ as He comes to us in Baptism, Holy Absolution, the proclamation of the Gospel, the Lord’s Supper, and in the mutual consolation of the brethren.
In Christ we are set free from the curse of the law, the torture of the devil, and the sting of death. We are set free, so while we’re here we occupy our time in freedom to love our neighbor as God gives us to do. As Christ forgives us, we forgive. As Christ loves us, we love. On our own we would not do this, but now that it is Christ who lives in us, we live sanctified lives, lives set aside to receive the holy things of Christ and to live in holy acts of love. Let us be of good cheer, knowing that Christ wraps Himself up in our sin and declares us to be as righteous as He is. Peace be with ya’ll and may our Lord, Jesus Christ, bless and keep ya’ll in your baptismal grace until He calls you home to Himself, Amen.