Christmas 1a

Preached: December 29, 2013

Free at Last!
Galatians 4:4-7

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit speaks to us about Jesus is Galatians 4

When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, placed under law, to redeem those under law, to adopt us as sons. Clearly we are sons, for God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son. And since you're a son, you're also an heir of God through Christ. (Galatians 4:4-7).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

One hundred and fifty one years ago from this coming Wednesday, January 1, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. His signature technically freed the slaves in the Confederacy, although he had no way to enforce it. But as the Union army took control of southern territory, the former slaves became freedmen. Freedom for the slaves in the states that remained in the Union had to wait for the Thirteenth Amendment. Citizenship with its rights did not come until the Fourteenth Amendment. And even then it wasn't until over a century later that some of those civil rights could be exercised as they are today.

So often political freedoms are incomplete and ever-changing. Earthly freedoms are limited and confined by our own shortcomings and the failures of our society. Although Lincoln is often credited with freeing the slaves, I think he'd readily admit that he was only one actor on a huge stage.

Our spiritual freedom, though, is due entirely to one man alone. Christmas celebrates his birth. Free at last! That's our victory chant because of the child who has laid in a manger. Free at last! Why? Part one: God's Son has redeemed us from under the law. Part two: The Son's Spirit within us calls out to our Father.

A. God's Son has redeemed us from under the law

“When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law” (Galatians 4:4, 5 NIV84).

So much is in that word “redeem!” Freedom is in that word. Release from captivity. Emancipation from slavery. Deliverance. When a slave is redeemed, he no longer belongs to his former master. He's set free. When a kidnapped victim or hostage is redeemed, she's no longer under the control of her captors. She's set free. Freedom is in that word.

But it's freedom at a price. Redeem doesn't just means “to set free.” It means “to pay the price that sets someone free.” How costly our earthly, political freedoms are! The cemetery on Memorial Day teaches us that lesson. But how much more costly our spiritual freedom! It comes at a price that none of us could pay. In fact, not even all of humanity working together could pay the price to redeem even one person.

So God sent his own Son.

What was the slavery he came to redeem us from? He redeemed us from under the law. Don't get the wrong picture here. The law is not evil. The law is good. For it comes from God, who is the giver of all that's good and perfect.

As creatures we were under the law. We were bound to obey it. But we did not. We were incorrigible, unable to be corrected, irreformable. In fact, the better we understood the law's demands, the more resentful and obstinate we became. “These rules are impossible. No one can obey them perfectly. Besides they take the fun out of life. Why should I deny myself, especially since I can't keep them well enough anyway?”

Or else the conscience modified God's law so that we could imagine we were keeping it. “As long as I go to church, God will be happy.“ Or “since family is so important, as long as I love my family, God will be happy.” Or “as long as I try hard and do my best, God will be happy.” Or “as long as I keep away from those big sins out there, God will be happy.” But we were under law, not above it. It wasn't and isn’t ours to modify. It's God's law. Imagining that we can change it, usurps his place. That breaks the very first commandment.

God's law commands complete, constant obedience and condemns each and every infraction, no matter how minor we imagine it to be. God's law convicts us and damns us to hell. For we are sinners, born under law. We are law-breakers.

But God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law. The eternal, almighty Son became one of us, flesh and blood, born as a baby, to take our place. He, who is God above all, placed himself under the law, just as you and I were under the law.

He became our Substitute. He kept the law fully and completely in our place. He obediently served without a single infraction, not one stumble, not one misstep or fall. He never sinned. He perfectly took our place under the law.

He took our place to pay the price, the redemption price, the ransom that sets us free. As our Substitute he suffered our lawful punishment, yours and mine. He suffered the lawful punishment for all sinners. And so paid God the ransom price for you and me and all sinners. He has redeemed you from under the law. You're free at last.

Let the full meaning of that sink in. Some try to limit this freedom. Some say that Jesus freed us from Old Testament laws but that he or his church replaced them with New Testament laws. False. Jesus did not come as a law-giver. Others say that Jesus freed us only from the Old Testament ceremonial laws like sacrifices and circumcision. Partially true. Jesus did free us from those, but not only those.

He freed us from all law, including the moral law, the Ten Commandments. If we were still under the Ten Commandments, they would condemn each and every one of us. For you and I break all the commandments day after day. But as Romans 8 declares, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NIV84). Why not? Because “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law” (Galatians 4:4, 4 NIV84). God's Son has redeemed you from under the law. You are free at last!

“But won't this lead to a break down of morality? Does Jesus really give us that much freedom?” Listen to what Jesus himself clearly says, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36 NIV84). No limitations on that freedom. If you are in Christ clothed with his righteousness, you are no longer under any law whatsoever. The Apostle writes to Timothy, “We also know that the law is made not for the righteous, but for lawbreakers and rebels” (1 Timothy 1:9 NIV84). A little later in this letter Paul tells us, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1 NIV84).

So rejoice and find comfort, dear Christian. The law can no longer accuse you who are in Christ Jesus nor condemn you — not even the Ten Commandments can. For God's Son was born for you. He has redeemed you from under the law. Shout out, “Free at last!”

B. The Son's Spirit within us calls out to our Father

But what about that question concerning the break down of morality? Let's consider that more here in part two.

When the slaves were set free, it didn't bring instant happiness. They had no land, no money, no livelihood. Many struggled to feed their families. There was very little help that came along with that freedom.

But how different our gracious and bountiful God is! He not only sent his Son, but he also sent the Spirit of his Son, the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit has brought you into God's family. God not only set you free, but he adopted you as well. The Son's Spirit within you calls out to your Father in heaven. “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son” (Galatians 4:6, 7 NIV84).

As God's children, we delight in obeying our heavenly Father's will, who has given us the richness of his grace and mercy. That's the Holy Spirit at work in us. We call out to the almighty God as dear children calling out to their dear Father. For because of the Son, who set us free, we are no longer slaves but God's true children through faith in him. Whether male or female, through faith in Jesus you are a son of God, for the one and only Son has set you free.

But our sinful flesh still lives within us at war against the new self that the Holy Spirit created within us. Later in this letter to the Galatians, Paul describes that battle, “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:17 NIV84).

Our sinful flesh is still under the law. It still needs the law to expose the true nature of sin and to condemn the sinner. It still needs the law to serve as a curb and club to beat it into outward obedience.

But the new nature, which the Holy Spirit created in you, is free from the law. It does not need the Ten Commandments. It gladly obeys our heavenly Father. It does not need any sort of law punishing disobedience or rewarding obedience. It's eager to do what's good.

Which nature will you follow? Will you listen to your sinful nature and return to that slavery under the law, giving up your place in God's family? Or will you live by the Spirit? Will you beat down that sinful nature with the club of the law and instead follow the new self within you, freely, gladly, eagerly obeying God's will, all because of Jesus who alone has set you free?

And so we call out with the Holy Spirit, “Abba, Father, keep me this day from all sin and every evil. Help me to beat down my sinful nature and drown its evil desires day after day. Strengthen me to live according to your will. Let me delight in your Law and obey your commands willingly and cheerfully. May I cherish your commandments in my heart and practice them in my life, as I live as your free child bringing honor to your name.”

That, dear friends, is not slavery under the law. That is freedom in Christ. He has redeemed you from under the law and his Spirit is at work within you. Let your words and actions proclaim, “Free at last!” as you gladly serve your heavenly Father. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313