Summary: That the Gospel’s offer of free grace is never qualified by the demands to keep the Law.
“Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2008
Text: Galatians 3: 16-22
The Rev. Jerry D. Kistler
St. Stephen’s Reformed Episcopal Church
“Brothers, let me give you an illustration from ordinary life: Even though it is only a man’s will and testament, when it has been duly ratified, no one can subtract or add conditions to it…What I’m saying is this: the law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate the covenant that was previously ratified by God in Christ, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is on the condition of keeping the law, then it is no longer of promise.”
It’s an age-old maxim: You can’t get nothing for nothing. Have you noticed how expensive it’s gotten to get something “absolutely free”? A while back when I was looking to buy a cell phone I was very interested to follow the ad-wards in the newspapers between the various wireless companies. Here’s one I found from Cingular. It says, “Free Phones… Available on 1 year contracts!” Here’s another one from Cingular: “ Free color flip phone…. After $50 mail-in rebate with 2-service agreement.” Here’s one from Verizon: “Get a FREE camera phone... when you buy one for only $99.99... after $70 mail-in rebate ($169.00 activated price per phone)... New 2-year agreement required per phone… Shipping charges may apply.”
Now maybe each of these companies offers you a good deal on a cell-phone, but do they offer something that is truly free? No, of course not. There are all kinds of strings attached. But, you see, we’ve come to expect that getting something for free means you have to meet certain other conditions. With most of these companies you can get “free” roaming and “free long-distance.” But if you read the small print you learn that these “free” service are available on their more expensive rate plans. Again, it may end up being a good deal, but is it really free?
American consumers are daily being fleeced by the very shrewd marketing ploys of advertising agencies who know that we have come to understand that free doesn’t really mean free; that free means less... for a while... after you’ve met certain other requirements. Because, after all, you can’t get nothing for nothing.
Unfortunately, because we’ve been trained by the world to believe that free doesn’t really mean free, it’s very easy to doubt that the gospel’s offer of free grace is really, in the end, absolutely free. The world teaches us expect that free grace is given only to those who meet certain other obligations.
For a lot of us, this is how the gospel first came to us. We heard an evangelist tell us that Jesus came to save sinners just like us and that we could have forgiveness of all our sins and eternal life absolutely free just by believing in Him. And - praise God! – that is the gospel. But the gospel message was only ever given to us when we were still unconverted sinners. There was plenty of free grace for us then. But as soon as we were converted, the whole weight and burden of the Law was piled on. You had to your get-out-of-hell-free card, but now you were introduced to the fine print – the not-so-subtle suggestion that now you would have to meet certain behavior requirements to really qualify for the free gift. If you were really a Christian on your way to heaven, you couldn’t drink, dance, smoke, or chew, or go with girls who do. Right?
But even if it wasn’t as legalistic as all that, you may have still had the impression that now that you’d received the free forgiveness of all you past sins, you’d still have to somehow earn God’s ongoing approval by living a righteous life – by keeping the Law.
I’ll never forget someone saying to me that if he were driving 57 miles an hour in 55 mph zone and the Rapture came, he’d be left behind because he didn’t get a chance to repent of his sin. Think of the guilt and the fear he must have been living under. But this is no different from the way people used to live back in the Middle Ages before the rediscovery of the gospel at the Reformation. People used to live in terror of dying “unshriven,” that is, without being purged of their sins by making confession to priest. If you died unshriven, your soul was lost and you went straight to hell.
It reminds us of Martin Luther when he was still a monk and hadn’t yet discovered the gospel, how he would spend three or four hours a day in the confessional booth confessing his sins and wearing out his confessors, because he was absolutely terrified that if he died with even one sin unconfessed he’d go to hell.