Sermon: 7th Sunday of Luke
In today’s epistle reading, we hear the words of the Apostle Paul to the Apostle Peter, who in a sense had made a compromise with a group of Christians who undermined the salvific work of our Lord Jesus Christ by insisting on the observance of the ritual commandments of the Old Testament, such as circumcision or abstinence from certain foods, in order for someone to be a member of the Christian Church. In other words, you first had to become Jewish if you wanted to become Christian.
This controversy also affected the churches in Galatia, which is why the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians explains how the Law of Moses, though given by God to the People of Israel, did not have the power to save us from sin nor the power to grant us eternal life. The Law was given to mankind only in order to show us our sinfulness and our need for a Saviour, and to prepare us for the coming of the Redeemer and Physician of our souls and bodies.
Therefore, if we continue to observe the ritual prescriptions of the Law, if we in other words continue to prepare when Christ has already come, it is as if we are saying that his Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension achieved nothing, it is as if we are still prisoners of the devil, sin and death.
It goes without saying that the Apostle Peter agreed with Paul’s teaching on this matter. They both proclaimed the same Gospel, and when the Apostle Peter was in the company of Christians from a Gentile background, he did not insist on the observance of such ritual prescriptions. However, when a group of these law-observant Christians came from Jerusalem to Antioch, Peter changed his behaviour so as not to scandalise them and to avoid any problems they might have occasioned in the church.
It was at that moment that Paul spoke to Peter with the words of today’s reading: If, while we sought to be justified in Christ, we ourselves also were found sinners, is then Christ a minister of sin? In other words, if we who have been set free by the works of Christ continue to observe the things that point to our captivity, then what kind of Saviour is Christ? Therefore, this was a matter on which no compromise could be permitted, no matter how well intended it may be.
Thus, if it is so utterly unacceptable for us Christians to return, even just temporarily, to the God-inspired rituals and God-given preparatory precepts of the partial and incomplete revelation of the Old Testament, how much more unacceptable it is for us, as baptised members of the Body of Christ, to return to the way of life of this world.
As a contemporary elder of our time once said: In the beginning, the devil tried to empty the church. But now he tries to fill them with secular-minded people, who bear the name of Christ but undermine the power of the Gospel by their worldly way of life.
Beloved brothers and sisters, Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Romans 12:2), so that our life may be an indisputable witness to the power of the Gospel and the truth of the Resurrection. Amen.
Fr Kristian Akselberg