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“The scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” Galatians 3:22 (Read Galatians 3:1-29)

Are we saved by our obedience to the law of God or through faith in Jesus Christ and for the sake of His perfect obedience to God’s commandments and His innocent sufferings and death upon the cross in our stead to atone for our sins and the sins of all? That is the question the Apostle Paul answers for his readers in Galatia and for us today in Galatians, chapter three.

But first of all, we might consider how David was justified as he expressed it in the words of Psalm 32. Was it by his own righteousness? Or, was it by means of repentance and faith in God’s promises for the sake of the Messiah and Savior who was to come?

David says in verses 3-5: “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. … I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” (Cf. Psalm 130.)

And, what about the Jewish lawyer in Luke 10 who wondered what good work he must do to inherit eternal life? Did he measure up to his own summary of God’s law? Did he love God with all his heart, soul and strength, and his neighbor as himself? What does the parable reveal?

What does the Apostle Paul say to the Galatians? Paul opens the chapter (v. 1-3): “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”

Paul asks them why they were turning aside from the truth that they had known and believed. By the gracious working of the Holy Spirit through the hearing of God’s Word, they had been brought to trust in Christ crucified for their salvation. Were they now going to go back to trusting in the inadequate works of their flesh under the law of God?

And, consider Abraham. How was he justified? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (v. 6; cf. Gen. 15:6). And those who share in the faith of Abra- ham — whether Jew or Gentile — are counted children of Abraham and share in the blessings promised to him (cf. v. 6-9).

The apostle couldn’t be more clear than what he writes in verses 10-14: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

Paul explains further that the giving of the law some 430 years later did not nullify God’s covenant with Abraham. His covenant promises made to Abraham still stand. And Paul explains (v. 18): “For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.” And, with Abraham, God has promised to us and all who believe in the promised Seed of Abraham, which is Christ Jesus, an eternal inheritance in His kingdom.

Why did God give the law? Was it that we might begin with faith but then seek to be righteous and acceptable to God by keeping His law? “It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made” (v. 19).

The law is not opposed to the promises of God. St. Paul writes (v. 21): “Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.”

Verse 22 says it all: “But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”

This is exactly what we read in Romans 3:19-20: “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”

How are we saved? Romans 3:21-22 explains: “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe …” (read 21-28).

It is as St. Paul wrote in Galatians 2:16: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”

Or, in the words of verse 22 of Galatians 3, “The scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”

So, are we saved by our obedience to the law of God or through faith in Jesus Christ and His perfect obedience to God’s commandments and His innocent sufferings and death upon the cross in our stead to atone for our sins and the sins of all? We are counted just and righteous and are saved eternally through faith alone in Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us.

God grant that we hold fast to Christ Jesus in faith. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version.]

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“And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness.” Isaiah 29:18

It was truly an amazing thing when Jesus opened the ears of one who was deaf, or opened the eyes of one who was blind. We see an example of this in today’s Gospel lesson (Mark 7:31-37). But even more amazing is when Jesus opens the eyes and ears of those spiritually blind and deaf to see and hear with understanding His life-giving word.

Consider Jesus’ words in John 5:25-27: “Truly, truly, I say to you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father has life in himself; so has he given to the Son to have life in himself; and has given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.”

Though it often happens yet today that people close their eyes and ears to the Word of God and God hardens them in their foolish unbelief and takes away all understanding (cf. Isa. 29:9-12), it is also God who, through the preaching of His Word, opens the eyes of those who are spiritually blind and the ears of those who are spiritually deaf. It is as St. Paul writes: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).

In Isaiah 29:13-14, we read: “For as much as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.”

And how true this is in our time as well! Because our religion became an outward observance only, because the Word of God was neglected and our people just observed the precepts of men, the wisdom of our wise men has perished and the understanding of the prudent is hidden from our eyes.

But God also promised (in Isaiah 29:17-19, 22-24): “Is it not yet a very little while, and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest? And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness. The meek also shall increase their joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. … Therefore thus said the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob, Jacob shall not now be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale. But when he sees his children, the work of my hands, in the middle of him, they shall sanctify my name, and sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and shall fear the God of Israel. They also that erred in spirit shall come to under- standing, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine.”

Through the preaching of the Word of God, our Lord Jesus opened the eyes of the spiritually blind and the ears of the spiritually deaf. He raised the spiritually dead to life. He created faith in men’s hearts and unloosed tongues to sing His praise (cf. John 6:63; Luke 19:37-40).

And so also today, Jesus, through the preaching of His Word, still calls people to repent of their sins and place their faith in Him as the Messiah and Savior of the world for pardon and forgiveness. He calls people to come to Him in faith and receive life everlasting, and the Holy Spirit, working through the Word opens blind eyes and deaf ears to see and hear (cf. John 3:3-6, 14-15; John 4:10, 13-14; Matt. 11:28-30).

Think of Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith: in which Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all sins to me and all believers, and will at the last day raise up me and all the dead, and give unto me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.”

To most, the Bible remains a closed book — they may have read it and studied it but do not understand its message. But, by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel, Jesus still opens eyes, unstops ears and gives understanding that people might see their sinfulness and repent, looking to Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice for pardon, forgiveness and life eternal.

God grant you eyes that see, ears that hear, hearts that understand and believe the message of His Word that you might have pardon and eternal peace through faith in Jesus’ name. “He that has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15). Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the American King James Version.]

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“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.” Colossians 3:1-4

In our baptism, we have been joined to Christ in His death and in His resurrection. Our sins and our old sinful nature were crucified, punished and put to death in Christ Jesus, upon His cross; and as Christ was raised from the dead by the working of God’s Spirit, so we have been raised to new life — brought to faith in Christ — by the operation, or working, of God the Holy Spirit (Col. 2:10-15).

We are no longer dead in our sins and the uncircumcision of our flesh; we have been made alive to God through God-wrought faith in Christ, and all our sins have been forgiven and washed away in Jesus’ shed blood (cf. Col. 2:13-14). In Jesus, our salvation is complete. In Jesus, we have all we need — God’s forgiveness and the promise of life everlasting!

Therefore, since we as believers have been raised up with Christ Jesus, He is our life.

As the Apostle John writes, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

By our natural birth, we all shared in the nature and sin of our first father, Adam, who disobeyed God’s commandment and brought sin and death upon us all. By our rebirth, the result and working of God’s Spirit in us through the “washing of regeneration,” “the washing of water by the word” (Tit. 3:5; Eph. 5:26; cf. Col. 2:11-12), we are joined to Messiah Jesus. His death on the cross for the sins of the world was our death and the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Being raised up from the dead, His life is our life and the guarantee that we too shall be raised up unto life everlasting with Him in heaven!

Therefore, since our “life is hid with Christ in God,” and since we look forward to His return and being changed into His image and likeness, why would we want to set our love and affection on the things of this world — things which will pass away with the using and things which will be burned up with unquenchable fire at Jesus’ return?

Not only does this apply to man-made doctrines and rules about the foods we may eat, the days we must observe or ways in which we ought to live to prosper in this world (cf. Col. 2:20-23), it has application to the very focus of our lives. Are we focusing all our energy and all our resources upon this life — on such things as our homes, cars, clothing, recreational activities and the like — or are we focused on Christ, who is our very life and our only hope?

Paul’s point to us is this: If we have been joined to Christ in His death and resurrection — if we are indeed risen and alive in Christ — the focus of our lives will not be here in this world or on man-made teachings and rules to better life in this world; our focus will be on Christ and on those things He is working to achieve — the salvation of lost souls and the building up of His church, that we all might be saved and reign with Him in everlasting glory!

And so, while so many are focusing their attention on the betterment of life in this world — whether it be through the foods we eat, our lifestyles or teachings about love and charitable deeds — the true focus of Christians is on Christ and reaching out to lost and condemned sinners with the saving gospel of forgiveness and life in Jesus. You see, Christians know that this world is hopelessly under the sway of sin and will soon be judged and pass away. Christians know and believe that the only way to have life is through faith in Jesus.

One might also say it this way: Rather than using Christ and religion in an attempt to better one’s life and the lives of others in this world, the Christian uses his life and the goods entrusted to him in this world to save lives for the world to come. Does that include works of kindness and charity to help people in this world? Most certainly! But the focus is always on the chief work of Christ — the salvation of souls for His eternal kingdom, a kingdom which is not doomed to pass away as will this world!

Dearest Jesus, my Savior from sin and death and my life and eternal salvation, graciously keep my eyes on You and on those things You seek. Let the focus of my life be on You and the glories of heaven which await us at Your return, and grant that I seek what You seek, the salvation of lost souls, that they too might partake of the everlasting joys of Your kingdom through faith in Your name. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“And he spoke this parable to certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank you, that I am not as other men are, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote on his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 AKJV

How do you appear before God? On the basis of your life and works? Or, by an appeal to God’s mercy for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ?

If you noticed, our liturgy provides the answer. The first thing we do in our worship service is to confess our sins and seek God’s mercy and forgiveness for the sake of the holy life and innocent sufferings and death of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is only then, when we have heard and received God’s absolution in Christ Jesus, that we come before God with our worship and prayers. (Cf. Lutheran Service Book, Divine Service, Setting 3, Page 184.)

In today’s epistle lesson, Ephesians 2:1-10, we learn that we are justified and acceptable to God by God’s grace alone and through faith alone in Jesus Christ, and even that faith is of God’s working.

The Apostle Paul, in His letter to the Romans (3:20-25), writes: “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ to all and on all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.”

And in the Gospel, we have the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. This parable was told by Jesus to those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.”

When we feel that God will be pleased with us, hear and answer our prayers, accept our worship, or receive us into His everlasting kingdom because we have been faithful Christians and are not unfaithful and sinful as others are, we are praying in a similar fashion to the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable. Rather, we should come to God as did the humble tax collector who acknowledged his own sinfulness and unworthiness before God. When coming before God, we should come humbly, confessing our sins and looking to Him for mercy and forgiveness. With the publican, we join in praying: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”

And Jesus said: “this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.”

We also have it spelled out for us in 1 John 1 and 2 (1:8-9; 2:1-2): “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. … My little children, these things write I to you, that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our’s only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Cf. Psalm 32:1-5.

Since Christ died for our sins and rose again, we can come before God with the assurance that He will forgive our sins and hear and answer all our proper prayers (cf. 1 John 5:11-15). One might even say that we come to the LORD God in humble boldness — humble because we are unworthy sinners, but in boldness because Christ died for us and redeemed us (cf. Heb. 10:19ff.).

And, when our last hour comes, we can have the assurance that we are counted just and righteous and have eternal salvation entirely of God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ.

Before Thee, God, who knowest all, with grief and shame I prostrate fall. I see my sins against Thee, Lord, the sins of thought, of deed, and word. They press me sore; I cry to Thee: O God, be merciful to me! O Jesus, let Thy precious blood be to my soul a cleansing flood. Turn not, O Lord, Thy guest away, but grant that justified I may go to my house at peace with Thee. O God, be merciful to me! Amen.” — “Before Thee, God, Who Knowest All,” The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn #318, Verses 1,3.

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“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” Colossians 2:16-17

The Apostle Paul, writing these words by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, makes his point. Believers in Christ are not to let anyone judge them in regard to their food or drink, in regard to observing certain holy days or religious festivals, or in regard to observing the Sabbath Day.

Why? Because believers in Jesus Christ are complete in Him. They are no longer subject to Old Testament laws which served only to point to the coming Messiah and the salvation He would provide for all mankind by His holy life and innocent sufferings and death upon the cross — and the promised Messiah and Savior has come!

The word “therefore” is there for a reason. It gives the basis for the apostle’s assertion, referring back to what was already written in the epistle. God the Father has made us meet and fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light through the sacrifice of His Son. When He brought us to faith in Christ, He delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son, Jesus Christ. In Jesus, we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.

Christ Jesus is the very image of the invisible God and the creator of all things. In Him, all the fullness of the Godhead dwells, and He made peace through the blood of His cross and paid the price for the reconciliation of all mankind to God by His atoning sacrifice in our stead.

Believers in Christ, even though they were at one time alienated from God and enemies in their minds by wicked works, are now reconciled to God through faith in the atoning sacrifice of His Son, Messiah Jesus, that He might present them holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight.

And how? Not by being circumcised, obeying dietary regulations or observing certain days, but by faith in the Son — by continuing in the faith, grounded and settled, and not being moved away from the hope of the gospel (cf. Col. 1:23).

Believers in Christ are joined to Him in baptism, have their sins washed away, and are regenerated and given new life by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit, who also raised Christ from the dead on the third day.

Since believers in Christ Jesus already have forgiveness of sins, life and eternal salvation for the sake of His holy life and innocent sufferings and death upon the cross, why would they want to go back to mere shadows meant to point them to Jesus? Why would they listen to anyone telling them that to be saved and pleasing to God they must eat only certain foods, observe certain feasts and festivals and do no work on the Sabbath?

Jesus has already fulfilled all righteousness for us, and He has paid in full for all our sins. We rest from our labors when we place our trust in Him and the salvation He has won for us (cf. Heb. 4).

In the early church, when certain men said it was necessary for salvation to be circumcised and keep the laws of Moses, the apostles and believers in Jerusalem laid no such burden upon the churches but simply asked them to refrain from “pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” because of the large numbers of Jews in every region (cf. Acts 15). And, the Apostle Paul had strong words for those who added such things to the Gospel (read his letter to the Galatians).

I remind you of Paul’s admonition to the believers at Colosse: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”

You have all you need in Jesus; He won your salvation for you and gives you forgiveness and life through faith in His name! Simply hold fast to Jesus!

Dearest Jesus, thank You for fulfilling all righteousness in my place and paying in full the penalty for my sins. Graciously keep me trusting in You unto life everlasting. Amen.

[Scripture quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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