Independence Day

Preached: July 1, 2007

Spiritual Equality in Christ
Galatians 3:19, 26-29

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who pours out the Holy Spirit on us through his Word and Sacraments. The Word the Holy Spirit speaks to us today is Galatians 3.

For what purpose, then, is the law? It was added because of trespasses until the Seed who was promised came. . . All of you are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ clothed yourselves with Christ. There's neither Jew nor Greek. There's neither slave nor free. There's not male and female. For all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Now if we are Christ's, then we are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints of God:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . .” That familiar quote comes from the Declaration of Independence adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. But what were they thinking of when they wrote “created equal”?

Obviously people are not physically, mentally, emotionally, or economically equal. We look different and have different abilities and skills, different strengthens and weaknesses. We have different thoughts and goals, different feelings and desires. We have different backgrounds, different incomes, different possessions, different advantages. So what does the Declaration of Independence mean that all are created equal?

John Adams, who was on the Committee of Five to draft the declaration, writes this in a letter “That all men are born to equal rights is clear . . . But to teach that all men are born with equal powers and faculties, to equal influence in society, to equal property and advantages through life, is . . . [a] gross . . . fraud . . .”0. In other words, the Declaration of Independence says that we have equal rights under the law, a political equality. That's the kind of equality the Declaration sought.

Yet if you know U.S. history, you know that equality under the law hasn't always extended to all. For example, consider the history of slavery in our country. Even the Constitution counted slaves as only three-fifths of a person until after the Civil War. Equality under the laws of the land may be a noble goal, but it's only imperfectly achieved.

God's Word today speaks to us of a greater equality, a spiritual equality. This equality is not a self-evident or unalienable right. It is a gracious gift, undeserved and unmerited. No one is naturally born into this equality, but all who are in Christ have this equality in all its fullness. May the Holy Spirit speak to us through these words of Scripture so that we give thanks to God not only for the political equality we celebrate this week, but much more so for the spiritual equality we have in Christ.

A. Deadly equality under the law

In one sense, we are all born equal. We are born equally sinful. What David writes in Psalm 51 applies to all whether young or old, rich or poor, male or female, black or white. “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5 NIV).

Even though you know that truth; nevertheless, the deadliness of this equality often escapes us. When we begin to ask, “How would God send to hell such a kind person who did so much good for others, even though he didn't have faith in Jesus?” such a question shows that we are missing the deadliness of the equality of sinfulness. This equality all people share, no matter how good they act. When hearing Jesus' Good News in church each week seems to be a boring chore that we don't want to do and we skip when we can, we fail to see how much we need rescue from the deadly equality of sinfulness which we too, like everyone else, were born into. When we ignore our God, flirt with temptation, play around with sin, live life for the here and now, or claim to have done nothing wrong, we fail to see that inborn equality of sin, which damns you and me to hell, just as it damns those “bad” sinners like rapists and murderers. How deadly for all!

This sinful desire to deny the deadliness of our sin is one reason God wrote the law at Mt. Sinai. So sinners, like us, are confronted with our denial and see our lost condition, our helplessness, our hopelessness, our deadness. Paul writes in Galatians 3:19, “What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions” (Galatians 3:19 NIV). Because our sins, our transgressions blinded us to our need for the Savior, God wrote the Law. In order to make us see how much we need his promise, God added the Law revealed at Sinai.

Take to heart the Ten Commandments and Luther's “What does this mean?” No doubt you memorized them long ago in Sunday school and Catechism class, but they are not just for children. Under the law it doesn't matter how young or old you are. The law condemns us all equally, for we are law-breakers. Use the Commandments. Use them in your prayer-life and devotional-life. Use them to expose the deadliness of your sin. Sin makes you and me as deserving of hell as any and every other person, no matter how vile and evil we think they are. That's equality under God's law. How deadly for each one of us!

B. Equally sons through faith in Christ

But what does Paul write to us whom the law damns to death in hell? “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26 NIV). How can that be? “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27 NIV). As we said earlier, we were born equally sinful. The law shows that. But in Baptism you were reborn into a new equality. You were reborn as a son of God, clothed with Christ.

Maybe you've seen some of those reality TV shows, such as, “What Not To Where” or “Extreme Makeover.” They attempt to improve a person's appearance by giving them, among other things, a new wardrobe. In Baptism you received a new wardrobe. Instead of the nakedness of our sin and the dirty rags of our own attempts to do right, you received Jesus Christ as your clothing. His righteousness covers you like a white wedding dress adorning a bride. For through Baptism you and all believers became the bride of Christ.

Now in our earthly life, different kinds of clothes fit people differently and anything that claims that one size fits all will look pretty ugly. Can you even imagine all brides wearing exactly the same dress? But Jesus Christ fits all of us perfectly and gives each of us who believe equal status as sons of God, because clothed with Jesus you are dressed as a son of God. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NIV).

Now our natural self doesn't like that. Our natural self wants to distinguish ourselves as better than some of the others. One reason for the variety of styles and brands in clothing is so people can distinguish themselves. But if we try to distinguish ourselves as spiritually better, we're exchanging Jesus for the dirty rags or our own attempted goodness. We can wear nothing better, nothing more glorious, than Jesus Christ. How tragic, when so many do not believe in Jesus! They remain in their sin and nakedness and, under the equality of the law, are damned forever. But through faith you have equal status with all other believers in Christ. So don't feel inferior to your fellow Christians as if you're too great of a sinner. Just as under the law we were equally damned, in Christ you are equally sons of God.

In a way, you might say that Jesus is like the uniform a believer wears. Picture a military uniform. But this is a military without rank, no stars or bars; all the uniforms are alike. Yet your uniform proves that you belong. Wearing Christ marks you as belonging to God's family. As long as you continue in your baptismal faith, you are wearing Christ. You belong to God's family. You are sons of God.

It doesn't matter who are are, your race, your gender, your social status, or income level. It doesn't matter whether you're a parent or child, a husband or wife, a pastor or parishioner, a boss or a worker. You are sons of God through faith in Christ, for in Baptism you were clothed with Christ. Yes, we still have different roles to carry out in this life as the Scriptures teach, but before God you have equal status. We are wearing the same uniform, Jesus. No matter who you are or how bad you have been, as long as you continue in the faith, you are sons of God.

Therefore, you are heirs. That's why whether you are a male or female, you are called a son. In Biblical times sons were the heirs. Through faith you have that status of sons, so you are heirs of everlasting life, heirs of heaven, heirs of God our Father. That's his promise.

So as you celebrate the 4th and the political equality which, although not perfect, we enjoy in many ways in our country, don't forget the greater equality, the perfect equality you have in Christ. This equality isn't high-sounding words pointing to a goal that cannot be fully realized. Rather your equality in Christ is reality through faith in him. For he has achieved that goal for you and clothes you with himself. Let your Baptism remind you of that equality. Through faith in Jesus you are all equally sons of God and heirs of eternal life, according to the promise. 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

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