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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1271

September 11, 2016 Galatians 5:1, 13-26

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“Religious Liberty”

 

First Amendment – According to the constitution of the United States, the congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. It is our understanding of history that our nation was established in part because people were escaping nations that did not give certain rights to religious freedom or freedom of speech. It is also our understanding that those same people believed in those rights because they were based in the Judeo-Christian worldview. Of course, in today's climate of political power, it appears that everything is up for critique and the rewriting of history. All the facts and assumptions from those facts hold no credibility with various sectors of society and political powers.

We have always known a particular freedom in the United States that was once the envy of the world. It is one of the reasons many people came to this country even today. But while it seems every religion still receives a free opportunity to practice their faith, as they should, Christians in particular are confronted with laws that prohibit the exercise of Christian faith.

 

  • Our National Slippery Slope

 

Issues at the forefront

 

The three main issues threatening the Christian Church are abortion, same sex marriage, and gender distinctions.

The scriptures affirm that life is a gift and that life begins at conception. God is at work knitting that life together in the womb from the very beginning. But the world believes differently, against God's word and thus some Christian pharmacists have been pressured to sell abortion drugs or doctors to perform abortions or all of us to give tax dollars for the killing of the unborn.

The scriptures affirm that marriage is designed by God to be between a man and a woman, male and female he created them. This understanding of marriage has been the norm for every civilization until the US Supreme court saw fit to confront God's definition by allowing same sex marriage by law. Government employees who have refused to sign same sex marriages, judges who might refuse to perform them, and probably not too far away, churches will be forced to abide by the law of the land, or at least the attempt will be made.

The scriptures affirm that we are created male and female. Gender is a part of the created order and to challenge that truth, even if mandated by the POTUS, does not make it true.

All three of these issues, and probably more to come, are also evidence in today's world of the fallen nature of humanity. We are all born into sin and in Christ we have victory over sin and death, we don't celebrate sin and death.

 

These issues have come at the expense of biblical authority. The Bible has no more authority in cultural issues. Few politicians give much consideration to scriptural truth. When the Bible is abandoned by a nation, there is not much hope left for that nation. But, we are still here, the church is still here, and it is here to stay. We will always have freedom to exercise our faith, not because the constitution gives that freedom, not because it has been traditional to our national identity, but because we are always free in Christ. I am deeply concerned that religious liberty is threatened in our time, but the question I want us to entertain this morning is this: How do we live free in Christ no matter what infringements come upon our religious liberty?

 

 

 

  • Religious Liberty

 

Constitution – Yes, the first amendment is still in tact, but it is under threat by judges, by certain politicians, pressure groups, and by the ever growing contempt for the Christian faith. We can still come here this morning without concern, still meet in our homes for Bible study, but we have seen the problems coming in other ways to exercise faith. Florists and bakers and companies and schools all facing pressures in one of the three issues we have noted.

 

Will other religious business owners of other faiths who share our beliefs in these areas also share threats to livelihood? This is yet to be seen. We assume that religious liberty would allow faith practice is private and public life. But what we are finding is that other laws, like those for discrimination, override religious liberty. Religious liberty is being limited to these walls of the church building or the interior of your home, but not in your business or in government or in schools or in any public arena.

 

We must also remember that religious liberty in our nation is for all religions. When one is threatened we all are. People of faith could at least come together to protect the other and themselves on this issue of the constitution. When the government attempts to force Catholic nuns to pay for abortions through insurance coverage, we are all in jeopardy of losing our freedom. But we are only in danger of losing freedoms given by the constitution. That could truly be taken away someday, but another freedom is given us that cannot be taken away by anyone.

 

  • Freedom in Christ

 

Christians have true freedom. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Gal. 5:1).

 

Christians have true freedom in the word of God. “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

 

For over 200 years Christians and Jews and others have enjoyed the freedom offered through our constitution. It truly is a great gift to be able to exercise our faith as we have for generations, but in reality that is a somewhat superficial level of freedom compared to the freedom we have in Christ. Freedom in Christ goes much deeper than the freedom to worship. Freedom in Christ makes us free even if we have no freedoms from national laws. Christians are free in any situation where freedom does not look like freedom. Civil freedoms may come and go but freedom in Christ is eternal.

 

 

 

 

  • Living Free

 

No matter the context, we are always free. Galatians 5 is particularly about freedom to live in a particular way. We are called to live in love, which we can do in any context. We are to live in the Spirit, which we can do in any context. We are called to bring light to darkness, to call out sin for what it is, that is, to tell the truth. We live free because we live in Christ.

The command to love is all over the Bible. Today we read Paul's letter to the Galatians, 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We know freedom by living in love and service.

Paul also calls us to live by the Spirit which includes love and lots of other characteristics, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. There is nothing in this list that we cannot do without religious liberty.

I thought I would add a few other concerns for us in our context which is telling the truth that brings light to darkness. Jesus gives us a prime example from John 8. When the religious leaders bring the woman caught in adultery, they ask him if they should follow the law of Moses and stone her. Jesus tells them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus does not allow them to condemn her but neither does he let her sin go. He tells her to go and sin no more. Sin is recognized and named. No excuses, no acceptance of sin, go and sin no more. Stop sinning! This is the truth the world needs to hear.

 

With all that we see going on in our nation, it can become easy for us to become discouraged. Paul goes on in Galatians to encourage us to not grow weary of living in this freedom. We might grieve over the loses of religious liberty and the changes in American society, but we cannot lose heart. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Gal. 6:9). Set free in Christ means never giving up, never giving up on faith, God's faith and our own. Yes, there are lots of bad things going on, bad for the church and for Christians in general, but our hope is in the Lord and our freedom is also in the Lord.

One last exhortation: Pray for our nation, pray for those who do not believe, and pray for the church. Amen