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Foolish Galatians

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Farewell Sermon to the Saints at the Nursing Home

As we grow older, our thoughts often turn towards heaven. No one has ever come back to tell us what it’s like, so we all have questions. Perhaps one of the most common questions that people ask about heaven is this: “Have I been good enough to get into heaven? Have I been a decent person? Have I loved enough, been kind enough, given enough to charity?” When we ask these questions, we become “foolish Galatians.” Paul writes, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? ...Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by the hearing of faith? …Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:1-3). The Galatians knew the truth of the Gospel. They knew that they had been saved by the work of Christ upon the cross. They were baptized Christians. But someone had come along and whispered in their ears: “Yes, we know that Jesus died for your sins. But if you want to go to heaven, you’ll need to do some extra things to get in. The cross is important – but it’s not enough. You’re going to need to help Jesus out. You need to trust in Jesus AND keep these laws. Then it will be enough to get you into heaven.”
So Paul came along and said: “O foolish Galatians! Either you are saved by grace or you are saved by keeping the law.” It’s one or the other. It can’t be both. It’s like oil and water – they don’t mix. Either Christ’s death upon the cross for your sin is enough – or it doesn’t count at all, and everything depends on your good works. Then Paul said, “Do you think that you can get to heaven by being a good person?” If you think keeping the law will get you there you must understand that you have to keep the whole law – every tiniest part of it, for your whole life, without ever messing up once. Jesus said that the whole law comes down to this: Love God, and love your neighbor. How are you doing with this law? Have you kept it perfectly? Have you ever had a selfish thought? If you’ve ever had just one selfish thought, then you’re out. You have broken the law – and if you break it even once, the deal is off. Sometimes we imagine that all our good deeds go in one pile, and our sinful deeds go in another – and at the end of our life if our good deeds outweigh the evil ones, then we can go to heaven. But that’s not how it works. The law demands absolute perfection. God says, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Gal 3:10). So it’s clear, that according to the law, no one is righteous – no not one. Every one of us is a sinner. We have not kept God’s law perfectly, and we do not deserve to go to heaven. In fact, we deserve, as we confessed earlier, only temporal and eternal punishment. In simpler words – a miserable life and an eternity in hell. This is what it means to live under the curse of the law.
This sounds like a bunch of very bad news – and it is. But this is why the Gospel can be such good news. Jesus came to us, who were under the curse of the Law and he took that curse upon himself. Scripture says, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged upon a tree” (Gal 3:13). When Jesus was crucified upon the tree of the cross, he became a curse instead of you. Even though he had never broken the law, he was punished as a law-breaker in your place. He took your unrighteousness and he gave you his righteousness. He took your curse and he gave you his blessing. And now, because you are a Christian, you no longer live under the curse of the law – you live in Christ.
So let’s go back to the first question: Have you been good enough to get into heaven? The answer is no. You haven’t. But Christ has. He lived a perfect life. He never broke the law. And he gave his perfect life to you. It’s like a transfer into your bank account. You didn’t earn the money – but once it’s in your account, it’s yours. The righteousness of Christ is like a robe. When that robe has been wrapped around you, it’s all God can see. When he looks at you he sees Christ’s perfect obedience to the law. But if you take it off, then you are only a filthy and naked sinner. So heaven or hell is not a matter of goodness – instead, it is a matter of trust. Jesus says that he is your goodness. Do you trust his word? Jesus promises everlasting life to all who believe on him. Do you trust his promise? Then you never have to wonder if you are going to heaven, ever again. Heaven is a promise for all who trust in Jesus – and he can never break his promise. When your Lord calls you home and you take your last breath, you may say with all confidence: “I know that I am going to be with my Savior because he kept the law perfectly for me. He was righteous for me. He suffered instead of me. He died in my place. And just as He was raised from the dead, I too will be raised to live with him for eternity.” Amen.
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