Bible Passage: Galatians 5: 1 - 12
Well morning friends and visitors. My name is Pastor Matt Johnson and today we find ourselves continuing a sermon series on freedom and liberty. I know, still ironic. What is Christian freedom? Romans 13 teaches that Christians must submit to the governing authorities and generally speaking I believe that to be true. But is there a point where it is right for Christians to undertake civil disobedience?
Well as I explained last week Bishop Augustine explained that from God’s perspective there are two kingdoms or two spheres in this world. (SLIDE 2) 1) The Kingdom of man is full of people in slavery to Satan, lies and the desires of the flesh. But in love God brings peopleout of this kingdom of slavery and into his new kingdom (the Church) through the gospel of Jesus. But until Jesus returns – Christians live with a foot in both kingdoms. 1) We are meant to obey Jesus always and where appropriate 2) we are also to obey the state.
Now during the Protestant Christian reformation Martin Luther took this idea a bit further. (Martin Luther is the guy who started the reformation by nailing 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517). Anyway Luther argued that God still ultimately rules over both kingdoms, but in slightly different ways. (ENTER) Luther explained that God rules the kingdom of men through what he called the ORDERS OF CREATION. God has written into creationnatural orders that are known by everyone like marriage, the nuclear family, basic rights to life, property and equal justice. The Governments role is create laws and justice systems to preserve these natural orders.
(ENTER) Meanwhile, Luther argued God rules His kingdom through Jesus, led by the Bible, the gospel and the Holy Spirit. Now Luther did not believe in the separation of church and state at all. Luther believed that the two kingdoms are INTERDEPENDENT because 1) the gospel does not establish the natural orders of creation, and civil government is not about salvation. So the two must work together.
Now in a context where most the rulers in Germany were Christian, the idea of the two kingdoms working together made sense. Luther never really entertained the idea of a tyrannical government and this was later to prove disastrous. In Luthers teaching the only valid reason for opposing the government was if the preaching of the gospel was in jeopardy.
Sadly, Luther’s teaching, led to zero opposition from the Lutheran church as Hitler took over Germany. (Hitler never stopped the Lutheran church preaching the gospel). So the Lutheran church never actively opposed the state – even as they saw serious evil taking place. In the midst of this tyranny – the famous DIETRICH BONHOEFFER and the NORWEGIAN BISHOP EIVIND BERGGRAV recognized the church needed to be taught a clear and robust rationale for when and how to oppose the tyranny of evil.
And perhaps – (under significantly changing circumstances) this is something the church in the west may need to consider again…
Point 1: Christians must stand Firm against Injustice
Show: Gal.5:1 (READ)
Explain: Well friends, let me begin by saying that because this is a topical sermon series about Christian freedom I admit I am handling the Bible a bit differently. I am not so much looking at the text closely in the context of Galatians. Rather I’ve chosen biblical passages that loosely follow the themes I’m trying to teach you. So I ask that you graciously allow me a degree of latitude because right thinking on this subject entails more than looking 1) at Mark 12 – render unto Caesar and 2) Romans 13 – submit to those in authority. So with that said – please notice in this verse Paul talks about 1) Christians coming into a sphere or kingdom of FREEDOM and we should be careful 2) of falling back into old patterns of SLAVERY. Now I particularly want to think about the words burdened, yoke and slavery. When laws or kings or authority figures put on their fellow man burdens, yokes and/or forms of slavery we have a JUSTICE issue. Remember that.
In the context of Galatians there is significant pressure upon Christians A) to submit to the Jewish laws AND B) Paul is urging the Christians to stand firm in Christ. The church is being told (by some false teachers) that they need to be circumcised, they need to eat kosher and perhaps they need to keep the Sabbath laws in order to have God’s blessing. But Paul is like no. Whether you are a JEWISH Christian or a GENTILE Christian you have come out of the kingdom of men and come into the Kingdom of Christ and that means your first loyalty is Christ. So on one end we have to stand firm “in Christ” and on the other end – watch out you don’t get enslaved again.
Illustrate: Now friends, I can’t read Galatians 5:1 without thinking of Mel Gibsons movie BRAVEHEART. You know the scene where his face is painted HALF WHITE and HALF BLUE and his riding his horse back and forth rallying the Scottish troops. (I know you’re all now thinking about the scene where all the Scots turn around lift their kilts and show off their butts to the English forces). Yes, it’s a classic.
But that’s not the scene I have in mind. The scene I’m thinking of is where William Wallace cries out; They may take away our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom! I love it.
Apply: Well Paul is doing a similar thing. He is calling Christians to stand firm in that which liberates. Now in context Paul knows certain false teachers are trying to get Christians to go back and obey every detail in the Jewish law. But that’s not going to make them more liberated. It’s going to make them less liberated. When Christians start trying to keep the 613 laws of the Old Testament it ends up putting people under a sense of GUILT and CONDEMNATION and even a YOKE OF SLAVERY. Now this then becomes a justice issue. If you are imposingon people laws that are actually making them less free – justice issues start coming into play.
There are laws that are good – in the sense that they liberate and promote justice. And there are laws that are bad – in the sense they enslave people and deny justice. Now as Christians what sort of laws should we be for (generally speaking) laws that liberate or laws that enslave? What is Christ for? (PAUSE) Well let me show you a very important passage from Isaiah 10 in this debate (Slide 3 – Isa.10:1-2).
Now notice God’s proclaims “WOE” on leaders who make unjust laws and oppressive decrees. But this is not just a gentle “woe, you really shouldn’t do that”. This is full blown wrath and condemnation. I do not think it is too strong to say God hates leaders who pass laws that enslave people and oppress people. And the more vulnerable (ENTER) the people experiencing unjust laws and oppressive decrees – the more serious God’s wrath. So if God is hates such laws – what should the Christian attitude be to such laws? (Pause). Should we just accept such laws or oppose such laws? Although the world is constantly telling Christians to stay out of politics – that’s rubbish. If the Government is passing unjust laws to turn fatherless embryos into medicine – we should oppose it loudly.
If the state is passing unjust laws – preventing Afghanistani refugees (who have helped our military for the last 20 years) coming to Australia we should oppose it very loudly.
Yes, certain segments of the world (especially the woke) are telling the church to stay out of political debates. But wherever there are blatant laws leading to forms of slavery, oppression and injustice – Christians need to find their voice and be a lot more loud and proud. We should be the people who at times fight the state for the rights of the poor, the refugee, the widow and the orphan. We should be the voice for the voiceless. A couple of years ago when laws were being passed in our state for late term abortions – I went to the protest rally in the city and I was saddened to see so few Protestants there. The huge rally was full of Orthodox and Catholics and when they called for pastors in the crowd to come forward and pray I went to the front and in a circle of maybe 30 priests and pastors – there were only two of us – not in clerical robes. Where were the protestants? THE TRUTH IS – failing to have a very loud political voice at times is both 1) a failure in civic duty and 2) a very significant failure to love our neighbor. You are not loving your unborn neighbor by staying silent. You’re not lovingthe Afghan refugee by staying silent. Sign the petition. Write to your local member. Find your voice because love sometimes demands that we oppose the state.
Point 2: Christians must recognize some laws pervert the Gospel
Show: Gal.5:2-4 (READ)
Explain: This is a very clear statement that obeying some laws can actually JEOPARDIZE your salvation. Now in context Paul is focusing on the Jewish law of circumcision. And we know this is NOT a blanket prohibition because in one context Paul encouraged Timothy to get circumcised for the sake of the gospel. So this is not an outright prohibition.
But what Paul is saying is that when Gentile Christians start to take on laws like circumcision, it reveals they don’t really believe Jesus’ death on the cross is enough. The Bible says we are saved – not by “good works”, but by faith alone in Jesus. So when we start doing certain good “religious” works it kind of shows we don’t really have faith in Jesus. And if a person does not really have faith in Jesus and they are not living by faith in Jesus – they are not really Christian. The gospel has not produced real faith in their life and they are not saved…
(GOSPEL) Gods promise to save us is based on us completely relying on what Jesus has done and not on what we do. The fact is we have all sinned and disobeyed God. As a result, we deserve God’s punishment. But in love for us – God sent Jesus to die for our sins on the cross. Jesus took the punishment for our wrongdoing. So God now says if we trust what Jesus did for us and love Jesus for dying for us – we will be forgiven. God doesn’t forgive us if we do certain religious things. No! God forgives us freely if we just honestly, humbly and thankfully put our trust in Jesus. This is the Christian gospel. And you need to ask yourself – are you trusting in Jesus dying for you or are you trusting in something else to get you to heaven.
Maybe, you’re trusting that you’re a pretty good person. Maybe your hoping everyone goes to heaven. (Or nearly everyone one). But the truth is God only forgives those who come to Jesus. This is the most important truth of all – and this truth trumps all other priorities.
Apply: But sadly, there are many laws that pervert the gospel and frustrate the sharing of the gospel. And Christians should be opposed to any laws that interfere with the gospel. Thomas Aquinas was a great Christian Catholic scholar in the C13th. If Bishop Augustine is (up here in terms of influence on the church), Thomas Aquinas is only just below him. Seriously, after Jesus himself the three biggest influences on the Christian church were 1) the apostle Paul, 2) then Augustine and 3) then probably Thomas Aquinas. Anyway, in a book he wrote CALLED SUMMA THEOLOGICA Thomas Aquinas reflects on a saying that he attributes to Augustine. The saying goes; (Slide 4).
Now that is a profound statement. (Slide 5) If you look again at this diagram Augustine & Aquinas are saying that if the government is truly functioning as a proper government – then(ENTER) all the laws they pass – should align with the orders of creation that God has written into the world. That is governments have no right A) to write laws that deny biblical truth OR B) write laws that upend the natural order that God has written into creation. Now when Augustine & Aquinas talk about these natural laws – they are talking about a basic recognition that marriage and family is a fundamental building block of society (and shouldn’t be messed with). That property rights have a certain shape and that basic concepts of justice are common to all people – everywhere. In other words Governments have no right to supersede natural law. When they try to do (and sometimes governments do try to do this) they are actually outside the scope of authority that God has given them. So Christians can and should expect 1) Governments to pass laws that align with God’s order, and when 2) they pass laws that UPEND God’s good order we should recognize they are not real laws – they are actually perversions of real laws.
Now I point this is out – because western governments started to depart from common sense and God’s natural order of creation some time ago. When governments start changing definitions of marriage, and started calling little girls, little boys they are out of bounds.
When the Government 1) denies justice to the unborn saying they are not really people and 2) restricts freedom of speech – both Augustine and Aquinas would say get nicked these are laws God has established already and the Government has no right to change them. A law that is not just OR a law that tries to upend one of God’s creation laws is not actually a law. Any perversion of God’s natural laws should be rejected.
Now remember this is not just a crazy pastor Matt (who is slightly going insane and losing his marbles in lockdown) this is the two biggest Christian names in church history agreeing that; “A law that is not just, is not really a law”.
But worst yet UNJUST LAWS are actually an assualt on the gospel – because the gospel is about law and justice. The Christian gospel is explained through the natural laws and orders of creation that people know and understand. The gospel is explained as A DIVINE MARRIAGE between Christ the groom and the bride – the church. So, when the state redefines marriage as two men, or even throuples– it is not only “not a true law” – it is also a gross changing of the gospel. The gospel is explained as a good judge condemning a criminal for wrongdoing. But when we so pervert basic concepts of justice or right and wrong the gospel becomes meaningless. When the Government passes laws allowing children to have puberty blockers and change their anatomy they are unjust laws and enslaving laws – because little children are meant to come and find their identity in Jesus – not puberty blockers and not reassignment surgery. Jesus says let the little children come to me. But we now have laws that so pervert the natural truth of biology that they are not real laws. They are perversions of real laws that God has written into creation. Governments upending these lawsis way above their paygrade and outside their jurisdiction. So loving our neighbor demands that we OPPOSE and where necessary IGNORE such laws – because laws that are not just, are not true laws and they upend – not just good sense, but gospel communication.
Point 3: Christians must express their faith in love
Show: Gal.5:5-7 (READ)
Explain: Notice the holy trifecta in these verses yet again? HOPE in verse 5, FAITH and LOVE in verse 6. Our vision as church is to be; A Community overflowing with faith, hope and love in Jesus. Faith, hope and love in Jesus is our DNA and the greatest of these is love. This is a non-negotiable – truth we must obey: LOVE.
So if laws are passed to hand over Jewish people to Nazi’s the loving and right thing to do is 1) to refuse, 2) don’t cooperate, 3) generally work against such regimes and accept the consequences. This is the loving and right things to do. In such circumstances – Romans 13 – is not the right thing to do. But Thomas Aquinas adds (Slide 6) Now as we do that there may be real consequences. But under unjust regimes this is the cost of loving your neighbor.
But I’ll let you in on a secret. In the words of WILLIAM WALLACE in Braveheart – they may take our lives – but they can never take away our faith, hope and love in Jesus. Do you think the apostle Paul lost his faith, hope and love when he was in prison with Silas in Phillipi? What about under house arrest in Rome? What about when Nero ordered Paul’s beheading after the fires in Rome? Was Satan able to steal Paul’s faith, hope and love in Jesus? (No!)
The state might take away our “religious” freedoms. But there is absolutely nothing they can do to take away the true spiritual freedom that comes from faith, hope and love in Jesus. That is true LIBERATION, true PEACE and JOY even if you are locked up in jail or penalised some other way. You may be able to lock up a Christians body, but you cannot chain his soul.
Now of course, we don’t just lay down and die. We are CITIZENS of the state. So we standfor right thinking that aligns with the natural orders of creation.
We elect politicians (as best we can) who have basic decent common sense. And given they are becoming increasingly hard to find – maybe we need some more Christians standing in politics. We have a right to expect politicians to follow the natural orders of creation written into the fabric of every healthy society that has ever existed AND not over-reach beyond the authority God has given them. This is the role of the STATE – to preserve the natural orders of creation necessary for any decent, healthy and just society AND respect the limits of their authority.
What we’ve seen is that there are sometimes good reasons for Christians to defy the state – 1) for the sake of God’s order, 2) for the sake of the oppressed, 3) for the sake of the gospel and 4) for the sake of love. But we should do that remembering our civil disobedience should not itself cause harm to others or lead people into evil.
As I finish I want to offer A FRAMEWORK for evaluating what laws are just and what laws are unjust. Thomas Aquinas had a threefold question to ascertain what laws of the stateChristians should respect and what laws they should challenge? (Slide 8). Now we may explore some of these ideas more next week. But do you know who wrote about the principle of “unjust laws being no law at all” while sitting in prison simply for being a black man? (PAUSE). MARTIN LUTHER KING and in a published letter from Birmingham Jail he clearly appealed to both AUGUSTINE and AQUINAS as he called African-Americans to rise up and fight against the Jim Crow laws that promoted racial segregation because “unjust laws” are no laws at all. Yet, here we stand today reintroducing segregation and discrimination on the basis of vaccination. Mmmm. I wonder what these giants of the Christian faith would say?