From a Series on Galatians: Standing Strong

Delivered at New Hope Baptist Church, 10 July 2016.

Note: The nation mourned the 5 Dallas officers killed at a Black Lives Matter rally on Thursday night, 7 July 2016. A sniper killed the officers as they protected the protestors. The protestors ran from the gunfire while the Dallas police and Brent Thompson, a Dallas DART officer, ran into danger.

Scripture reading: Galatians 2:1-10.
Sermon text: Galatians 2:11-21.

Alton Sterling.

Philando Castile.

Brent Thompson.

Lorne Ahrens.

Michael Krol.

Michael J. Smith.

Patrick Zamarripa.

Seven names, representing seven lives lost this past week.

One lived as a convicted felon with a rap sheet that extended back over a decade.

One served a cafeteria in a school; he had memorized the names and food allergies of over 500 children.

Five served Dallas as law officers, killed as the nation tried to process the killing of a man pulled over for a broken tail light.

On Friday, as I attempted to work on this sermon, I posted a Tweet: “As a bi-vocational pastor, Friday and Saturday serve as sermon prep. Right now, my heart’s too heavy to write; I can only pray.” Then, I revisited the sermon I preached on 1 May 2011, the Sunday after the April 27 tornado that devastated our city. On that Sunday, in that sermon, I said something that applies to our situation today:

“Proclaim the gospel.”

You can learn elsewhere all you want about the situations we mourn today. You can watch videos, read biographies, and pore over detailed accounts. If you’re so inclined, you can turn on your television and listen as foolhardy, paid, partisan pundits bloviate and pander to their fans.

Here, in this service, in this sermon, you’ll hear the gospel that will change lives, that can heal societies, and will comfort us with the promise of an eternity marked by peace and immortality.

Today, St. Paul’s message to the Galatians holds special poignancy. I promise you the Apostle didn’t have situations like this week in mind. Instead, he wrote to fractured congregations thrown into turmoil by people so focused on their own issues that they missed the larger picture.

Today’s sermon will focus primarily on one verse from the sermon text. I’ll reference the other verses as I focus on this verse: “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.”

St. Paul faced the problem of Christians who arrogantly taught that grace alone could not save a person’s soul. These people taught that the path to salvation ran through Judaism. They taught that only Jewish converts could receive the grace of God. Therefore, grace relied first on a person’s conversion to Judaism, not on a confession of allegiance to Jesus and belief in His resurrection.

St. Paul steadfastly insisted that God’s grace came through Jesus alone, through faith in Christ’s atoning work and resurrection alone. The Holy Spirit indwells everyone who confesses Jesus as Lord, believing in His resurrection (Romans 10:9-10). Every person who makes that confession becomes a part of the Bride of Christ through Baptism and participates in the life of the Bride: Worship, study, fellowship, and encouragement.

I suppose you agree with me so far. I suppose you think that the confession of Jesus ensures your eternal life, so you have no reason to worry about anything else.

If you think so, you’ve missed an incredibly important part of the Christian life. In fact, I’ve come to believe you’ve completely missed the point of salvation.

Jesus talked about the “Kingdom of God” and commanded His disciples to carry the news of the Kingdom of God everywhere they went. For most of Church history, Christians also believed it their duty, their privilege, to bring people to salvation and thereby change their families and communities into examples of godly living that would exalt Jesus and, in the process, lift others from sin.

That hasn’t happened in the America of today.

We’ve allowed racism to divide Christians along racial lines and prevent Christians from ministering to others because of their skin color. We’ve considered ourselves too good to go to certain communities, and we’ve allowed fear to prevent us from ministering to other areas of our communities. We’ve discriminated and mistreated others and ignored Jesus’ clear command to love our brothers and sisters. In this decade, we’ve reaped the results of our mistreatment of ethnic, racial, and sexual minorities.

Now, we sit on the precipice of social collapse. If you’re here today, your response to this sermon will determine the world your children and grandchildren will inherit.

I want us, for a moment, to ignore the pundits. I wish to heaven that everyone in our nation, especially Christians, would turn off the talk radio and TV for a week and devote ourselves to prayer instead.

To put it bluntly, this past week has convinced me our society needs the gospel more than ever, so much so that I believe our nation has reached a crisis point unlike any in my lifetime. Church, if we continue to waste energy on our petty differences, our arrogant judging of others, and our proud, dogged insistence on getting our way, our nation will fall from within.

The time has come to state our sides. If you call yourself a Christian, choose worship. Our fellow citizens need to see Christianity at work, and they’ll look to our sanctuaries to determine who they’ll watch.

“OK, John,” you say, “I’m here, in this sanctuary. What do you want me to do, and how will you use this passage to prove it?”

I’ll state it boldly: Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. Gay lives matter. Immigrant lives matter. Lives matter, and the gospel alone will change them, and they’ll not find the gospel anywhere if they don’t see it here. Stop with the excuses, and let St. Paul tell us how we’ll change our society before our nation collapses.

For one thing, the Jews considered themselves the most law-abiding citizens of the Roman world. They kept the Jewish law to near perfection. The Pharisees ratcheted the observances several notches above the typical Jew. Yet, Paul intermingled with the Gentiles. Even more surprisingly, he didn’t expect the Gentiles to keep the Jewish law.

Today, we sometimes judge people because they don’t live to our standards. Honestly, I think my standards work better than others’. However, I cannot hold others to standards I can’t meet myself, and I cannot ostracize myself from others because they do not live to my standards. I must remember “I am crucified with Christ.” Christ lives in me. Christ lived to perfection, yet He chose to live among humanity. I, too, must live with others and seek to bring others into my life, especially those who disagree with me or who fail to live as I wish.

This especially refers to worship with believers. I don’t care if you agree with someone on every issue or not; you must worship with other believers. St. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ.” In his way of thinking, St. Paul saw the crucifixion as the history-changing event that made possible the joint worship of Jews and Gentiles in a body that transcended laws and race. If St. Paul could worship with a Roman occupier, I can worship with people with whom I disagree. If St. Paul could worship with born-again homosexuals in Corinth as God changed their lives, so can I (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). I can worship with people regardless of race, political party, sexual orientation, or anything else we’ve used to divide ourselves from other sinners. I, a sinner saved by grace, will worship with sinners who need to hear the gospel that leads to salvation, and I will worship with sinners who have received the gospel for salvation. I will continue to preach against the sins listed in Scripture because I have no authority to change God’s mind on sin. However, I will love every sinner God brings to this congregation. I will preach grace to all, and I will accept everyone who accepts the grace of God as my brother or sister in Christ. Those who claim who say with St. Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ,” must unite in worship and proclaim the gospel of Christ. Let’s get the sinners into the church, and then let’s love them as God changes them into godly believers who carry the gospel in their lifestyles.

There’s another thing that I see. When St. Peter — the Rock on which Christ built the Church, the first bishop of Rome — withdrew from fellowship with Gentiles, St. Paul called him out in front of the entire congregation of Antioch. St. Paul told him flatly that he had sinned by withdrawing from worship and fellowship with his Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ.

To the world, worship defines us as Christian more than anything else we do. When he first converted to theism, C.S. Lewis began attending worship to the horror of his fellow academics at Oxford. He wrote in Surprised by Joy, “As soon as I became a Theist I started attending my parish church on Sundays and my college chapel on weekdays; not because I believed in Christianity, nor because I thought the difference between it and simple Theism a small one, but because I thought one ought to ‘fly one’s flag’ by some unmistakable overt sign.”

As with St. Paul, today, I take my stand: I will no longer tolerate the excuses of anyone who willingly refuses to worship with Christians. You need the Church. You need to humble yourself and learn to deal with other sinners. You need to hear the gospel, you need to worship with sinners, you need to confess your sins before God, and you need to hear the teachings of the Church through Scripture. If you think you’re too perfect to worship with us, then find a church as perfect as you so you can worship. If you’re willing to accept that you live by grace as we do, then join us and help us reach our communities for Christ through worship and service.

I have one last thing to say. This nation has a chance, at this moment, to turn from violence and fear and walk forward in faith and grace. We, the believers in Christ, serve in a Body that has outlasted nations and that will outlast every human civilization. We have the benefit of 2,000 years of history to help us through this time of trial. If we want the United States to continue to exist, the Body of Christ in America must live crucified lives. We exist as an eternal body, built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. We must lift the banner of Christ above the banners of nationalism and partisanship. We must see the gospel as more than a life-changing event in a person’s life; we must see and enact the gospel as the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. We must serve as salt and light in our families and communities (Matthew 5:13-16).

New Hope can’t change the nation, but we can change our families and communities, and faithful worship will play a key role in that process. We will begin that process today by standing strong, together, united in faith; united in our confession of our sins and the forgiveness we have received through Christ; and united in our love for one another. The time for pettiness has passed; we have no time for arrogance and gossip. Our nation will rise or fall on the faith of families and communities. Beginning today, New Hope will forgive each other, love each other, worship together, and follow St. Paul’s words: “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.”

People of God, live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave Himself for you. Live by faith in the Son of God, and love those He has loved and for whom He gave His life. Stand strong in the love of God and resist all attempts by the godless and powerful to separate us from one another. Join us in service in our congregation and let’s turn our part of our nation “right side up” through the love of Christ.