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Delivered By
Rev. Jonathan Gruen
Delivered On
October 26, 2014

Rev. Jonathan Gruen

John 8:31-36, and Galatians 5:13-14, 16-17, “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.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’… But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  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.”

Fight for Freedom

            I love Reformation Sunday.  We sing some wonderful hymns.  We celebrate the Gospel.  And today we get to talk about one of my heroes.  You know who I’m talking about.  Of course, it is….right – J. R. R. Tolkien.  Tolkien was a deeply Christian man, a friend of C. S. Lewis who witnessed to Lewis and helped him grow in faith as Lewis was converted by God from atheism and was saved by grace through faith in Jesus.  However, Tolkien is perhaps better known by the world as the Oxford professor who wrote The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and other works from his invented world. Although these writings are not Christian works per se, they contain many themes that are similar to Christian themes.  One such theme that I believe fits our focus of the day is the internal battle of the ring bearer.

            You see, in The Lord of the Rings world, there is one ring that is essentially and innately evil because the lord and maker of the ring is evil.  This ring has power to dominate the whole earth.  Without explaining the whole story, the ring was taken away from the evil lord.  And whoever came to possess it, whether man or creature, became corrupted by its evil power.  It poisoned minds even as it gave them great power.  Every ring bearer was conflicted within himself, at the same time loving and hating the ring – wanting to be rid of its sickening evil and at the same drunk on its power and greedily obsessed with it.  The war was internal, a civil war.  If you have ever read the books or seen the movies you know how foundational this battle is in driving the story.

            Today in our Gospel reading, Jesus tells us how we are freed from our internal battle: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (v. 31-32).  When the people he was addressing protested (rather untruthfully) that they were not and never had been slaves, Jesus responded, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever” (v. 34-35).  And so it is that even before we can begin to talk about the freedom of Christ, we have to understand the total corruption of the world and ourselves (not by a ring, but) by sin.  The war is immediately lost.  Indeed, Romans 3 proclaims that because we are all sinners we are all under the condemnation of God’s law, and therefore every mouth is stopped, and the whole world (whether they believe it or not) is accountable to God.  We have all fallen short.  In the midst of life, we are in death. 

            Now, the only reason Gal. 5 can speak about a conflict is because the Holy Spirit reintroduces the battle in the lives of Christians by enlivening and strengthening them.  Paul says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  And he goes on to talk about the internal battle between the flesh and the spirit.  He is speaking about how we in our sinful flesh live by nature vs. how we ought to live as redeemed, regenerated people of God by the strength of the Holy Spirit.  He makes it clear that we are to walk by the Spirit, and if we do we will not give in to all sorts of sinful desires.

            It’s cut and dried on paper, and a very clear command.  But it’s complicated and messy to live it out.  You see, we Christians, as we go about our daily lives need constantly to be aware of what sort of creatures we are – simultaneously sinner and saint.  Because of our faith in Jesus Christ, because we are forgiven and filled with the Holy Spirit, we are motivated to do good works.  We are freed by the Son of God from sin and hell, and if He sets us free, we are free indeed!  We rejoice!  And therefore, we want to follow his commands, as St. Paul says in Gal. 5: “You were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  And so the Spirit given to us moves us to do good, to love, to hold onto the truth, to rejoice in the heaven that is ours.

            But we still are not perfect.  Gal. 5 points out that sin “keep[s] you from doing what you want to do.”  We don’t even need to be tempted by outside evil.  If we examine ourselves, we see evil coming from inside of us, from our own sinful nature, don’t we?  We see sinful pride in ourselves even as we do good.  We see our own selfishness even as we help others.  We feel self-righteous even as we forgive others.  We experience the pull of greed even as we give.  We clench our jaws in anger even as we breathe deeply to be patient.  We are afraid even as we trust.  If we carefully examine what sort of creatures we are, we see that sin continually creeps into our good deeds.

           And more disturbing than seeing our sin is seeing that some part of us loves that sin.  Some part of us desires it and wants to keep it.  Some part of it wants to clench our fists around it or wear it on a chain around our necks like a hobbit greedy for a shiny ring of power. 

           Do you ever find yourself thinking in great foolishness. “I’ll give up this sin when I’m older.  I’ll get my life on track some other day.  I’ll turn from sins A through Y, but I think sin Z won’t hurt me too much.  Everyone is doing it.  Nobody’s perfect.  Besides it’s harmless.”

           But it’s never harmless.  There is no victimless crime.  The consequences may be subtle at first, but they are deadly.  Sure, you may be on the lookout for the Devil who is prowling like a lion, but are you keeping one eye on yourself, your own sinful desires?  Do you stand ready to wage the internal civil war?

          Jesus said, “Whoever commits sin is a slave to sin.”  So friends, all people have been enslaved, and all need to be set free.  Galatians 5 says you are called to freedom, and adds, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”  Not being under the law means that we are free from the law’s accusations, free from its conviction of guilt, free of its sentence of condemnation.  This freedom comes through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which delivers the benefits of His cross to you.

          This freedom was concealed for a time by oppressive false teachers, but was championed again by God’s servant, Martin Luther, during the time of the Reformation.  Ultimately, this is what we celebrate (and why we celebrate) on this day.  And not only has the church been reformed, but also our hearts and lives are daily reformed by the Truth.

          You see, we are celebrating that Jesus (and only Jesus) was able to live perfectly.  He had a physical body like you and me, but he always fought off the temptation to sin.  What Jesus did was always good.  His actions were purely selfless.  His love was always unconditional.  His service was totally humble and without pride.  He gave of himself without any thought of personal gain.  Jesus truly loved his neighbor more than he loved himself.  Jesus was not one bit a sinner, but was all saint.  Holy.  Perfect Righteousness.

         Then, when the time came, he gave up all his righteousness and took on sin – not his own sin, but all of our sin.  He took our original sin, which we have been carrying in our flesh since we were conceived.  And he took the guilt of our actual sins, sins of commission and omission.  Jesus took it all, and became sin, through and through, and was executed and damned by the Father in place of us.  So you see, the sin that is in you causing your internal battle was crucified on Christ’s cross.  Our sin has been paid for.  We are covered by God’s grace.  We are forgiven over and over every day.  And so we are set free from our sin and from the law.  Yes, we still sin.  Yes, God still wants us to follow his commands.  But, as Luther explains, “The law says, ‘do this,’ and it is never done.  Grace says, ‘Believe in this,’ and everything is already done.”  We have been saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, as revealed in Scripture, which alone is the source and norm for our faith.  (Happy Reformation Day!)

         You cannot, nor do you have to make up for a single sin.  You do not have to buy your pardon.  You do not have to purchase your freedom.  You do not have to earn God’s grace.  You do not have to whip or punish yourself, or put in your community service hours, or do your time.  Your crime is punished in Christ.  Therefore, you are freed.

         Now is the day of salvation.  Now we are filled by the Holy Spirit of Power.  Now the Valiant One fights for us.  Now Christ is waging the war within us, killing the sin within us. 

         Now, this work of Jesus to make us holy (sanctification) will not be complete in this life.  As long as we live on this earth we will be at war with our sinful flesh.  But we are not without aid in the daily struggle.  The Spirit Himself strengthens us to walk by the Spirit.  He has armed us with the weapons of prayer and the sword of the spirit.  He has equipped us with the full armor of God.  We are rooted in the Word, built up in love, strong in the truth, and ready for the fray.  We are baptized into triumph, and fed by the Body and Blood of Christ and with every gracious promise so we have the stamina for the contest.  Morning has dawned, the King is here and so we take up arms against evil, fight for freedom—fight against false doctrine, fight against the enemies of Christ, even waging war within our own hearts.  We fight a spiritual war.

         “Those who belong to Christ Jesus,” Paul says, “have crucified the flesh along with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).  Every day, we fight for freedom from “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,  idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness,” and the like (Gal. 5:19-21).  Every day we crucify the flesh, nailing it to the cross.  And every battle won is won by Christ.  Every inch recovered is ground gained by Christ.  The saint puts down the sinner through Christ, and Christ alone.  And though devils all the world should fill, they cannot overpower us!  Evil, like Tolkein’s ring, will be destroyed.

        You know, in Tolkien’s world, there is apparently no way good can prevail.  The heroes must rely only on a blind trust, a so-called “fool’s hope,” that somehow things might turn out well in the end.  Their only chance is for evil ultimately to defeat itself.  And yes, in the story ultimately evil fails, and good overcomes.

        Our ending is also a happy one, but the way it comes about is far different.  You see, we don’t have a fool’s hope, but we have a sure and certain victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!  For Christ has proven in his resurrection that sin, death, and the Evil One have been conquered forever.  He has proven in his resurrection that even in our sin and guilt we have been declared innocent.  He has proven that he has the power to conquer our remaining sin, enabling us to walk by the Spirit in faith, and holiness, and righteousness.  And he has shown that sanctification, which is only an incomplete process for now, will be in heaven perfect, complete, and never ending.  We will be holy, and finally at peace.  We will have no more struggles, no more battles.  Our sinful flesh will be gone forever, and instead our physical bodies will be raised, glorified, and perfected.  We will then be what we are only now becoming, all saint.  But more on sainthood next week.

       For now, rejoice that Christ has saved you by grace through faith in Him.  This is our freedom.  And we will always fight for it.  Amen.