TEXT: Galatians 5:1, 16-25 -- For freedom Christ has made us free; stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with a yoke of bondage.

This I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

Now the works of the flesh (that is, "the sinful nature") are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, contentions, jealousies, wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (that is, "self-control"). Against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

In the Name of Jesus, who's set us free from sin, death, and the power of the devil; who's set us free, not to use our freedom as a license to sin, but as an empowerment to live our lives in Him and for Him, dear Christian friends,

A man goes to a junkyard one day, and suddenly he spots, in the middle of all the rubble, a 1957 Chevy -- a real classic! Now, the car is in terrible condition, to say the least! There are no tires on it, of course. The windshield is cracked in several places, but even worse, the engine block is cracked! The wheel-wells are rusting out and the paint job is faded. The upholstery is torn, and pieces of the insides of the seats are coming out. The carpeting is full of oil stains. The front-left fender and headlight are crushed-in from an accident.

But my friends, the man wants that car! He wants that car! And we would probably think that what this man does next is utterly crazy, but he pays the owner of the junkyard a high price for that rusting out piece of junk -- far more than what it's worth! He shells out just as much money for that old, beat-up wreck as he would for a new car! It's in such bad condition, of course, that it has to be towed to the man's house, and he pays for that, too! Now fellow-redeemed, in the state that car is in, it's really worthless if you're looking for a functioning, working, whole automobile. But you know what, for reasons known only to the man, he loves that car, not for what it can become -- he simply loves it, period. You see, many years before, it used to belong to him, but it was stolen. And now he's found it again, with the picture of his family, faded terribly, still tucked in above the sun-visor, and he's bought it back, and it's his, and no one's going to snatch it from him again! It belongs to him!

But now that it is his, this man doesn't just let it sit around in his garage in a state of total ruin. He immediately begins to shower his renewing, tender loving care on this vehicle! He drops a new engine into the beast, and replaces or refurbishes the missing, broken, or worn-out parts. He puts new tires on it, replaces the windshield, has the upholstery completely replaced along with the carpeting, finds a healthy front fender and headlamp from another junkyard and has that put on, takes out the rust spots and replaces the missing metal, gets a new paint job, and waxes that baby down! Then one day, he proudly takes his wife and his grown kids out for a spin in his '57 Chevy, restored to mint condition!

Dear Christian friends, we're like that '57 Chevy in a lot of ways, aren't we? Just like the car in our little homespun parable, we were stolen away from our rightful owner, the whole lot of us! Back in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve, who were created as perfect beings, and who enjoyed perfect communion with God, forfeited that perfection by listening to the temptations of Satan and eating the forbidden fruit, they became the possessions of Satan -- snatched away from the loving arms of God. They became total, spiritual wrecks under the ownership of Satan and the sinful nature. Now thankfully the Lord got them back by grace through faith in the coming Savior, but the damage had been done.

You see, all who've ever been born since that one original sin, have been conceived and born as spiritual wrecks, totally enslaved by the devil. Just like the car in our story, you and I were by nature in the hands of someone who should not have rightfully had us, and we were totally wrecked up and corrupted by sin. We are by nature, from the moment of conception, not what we were originally intended to be. And like that car in that earthly junkyard, we would have been doomed to rot and decay in the spiritual junkyard of hell if the original owner hadn't come along! We couldn't save ourselves -- no way!

But praise be to God for ages upon ages that He, the rightful Owner, did come along to buy us back from Satan, the lord of the junkyard, and He made us His own once again! And we have to understand, dear Christian friends, that our Owner didn't just happen to stumble upon us as we and the rest of humanity fell apart in the junkyard. Unlike the man in our parable, God knew right where we were; He had planned from before the world was made to buy us back; and He knew exactly the price He'd have to pay. And when the time was just right, God the Son came down from heaven to live in the junkyard of this sinful world, in the person of Jesus Christ. And from the very first moment of His existence on earth, He started paying the price to set us free from the dump!

As soon as the Holy Spirit conceived our Lord in the womb of the virgin Mary, Jesus started paying the price. He began to pay the price by living a perfect and innocent life. You see, He lived that perfect life of love in our place, for us, as our substitute! He did what we're unable to do. He lived a life that was completely acceptable to the Father, a life that didn't need to be forgiven for its failings because it was a life that had no failings, a life that was absolutely perfect in and of itself! And Jesus presented His earthly life to the Father as part of the payment to buy us back, and the Father put His stamp of approval on it by declaring: "This is my beloved Son with whom I'm well-pleased!"

And then, dear friends, this Jesus, who'd lived every second of His life with a perfect love for the Father, and a perfect love for His fellow human being, who'd done nothing wrong and everything right, whose every Word was truth itself, this perfect God and man in one person was accused of blasphemy, dragged from one illegal trial to another, whipped and beaten as if He were a hardened criminal, and then nailed to a cross of wood as one deserving the death penalty. That's what mankind, whom He loved with an everlasting love, did to Him. That's what God the Father allowed to happen to His beloved Son. But the worst blow of all for Jesus was the one the Father and the Spirit combined to give Him. With a blow heavier than the weight of a falling iron safe, God the Father punished God the Son with the punishment of hell that we deserved!

Of course Jesus had never done anything wrong in His life! But on that cross, two thousand years ago, He took on your sin and my sin and the sin of all the billions of people who will ever have lived on this earth, He took them all on Himself, and He became that sin for us, as the Scriptures say! And at that point, the Father poured out the reservoirs of His anger over sin and at sinners onto the sinless Lamb of God. The Father and the Spirit turned their backs on Him, and He cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Then when that punishment was over, when all was paid for and done, Jesus bowed His head and died, only to rise again in triumph on the third day! His mission was accomplished! He'd bought back the junky heap of humanity to be His very own! He'd redeemed the whole world with His suffering and death! Satan no longer had possession -- humankind belonged to God once again! And yet how does God make that a reality in people's lives?

Let's go back to that '57 Chevy. When the man in our story bought it back, it was his -- he'd redeemed it from the junkyard. But of course, sitting in his garage with a cracked engine block, it was dead -- it couldn't respond to the love and appreciation the owner had for it, and the salvation he'd given it! It might as well have gone back to the junkyard! But the owner dropped a new engine in it, hooked it up to a new battery, and he had a living car once again, able to purr and roar its praises to the owner!

And in a much higher way, that's what our Owner, Jesus Christ, did with us. With His life, and on the cross, and in His resurrection, He bought us back from sin, death, and the devil. He redeemed us and made us His own. But by nature we're conceived and born as spiritually dead people -- spiritual corpses. The engine block of our hearts was cracked, lifeless, and cold. And yet through baptism, or at a later conversion, the Holy Spirit came through the Gospel and dropped a new engine within us! He created a new heart within us! In other words, He created saving faith in Jesus Christ in our hearts, and He Himself, the Holy Spirit, keeps on providing His spiritual power to the engine of our faith through the wires of His Word and Sacraments, so that our eyes of faith keep looking to Jesus for life and salvation!

Still, there's a difference between us and the car in our story. Unlike the car, people can reject that new engine of faith! And if they do that, they make themselves candidates for the junk heap on the Judgment Day. And unlike the car, even we Christians, who have the engine of faith purring inside our hearts, can heave that engine of faith completely out of us if we reject the spiritual truth and power the Spirit gives us in His Word. But if, by God's grace, that engine of faith is kept running, in time we'll start receiving all the makeover work the Owner wants to give us. Just as the earthly car owner replaced the tires, fixed the windshield, fixed the fender, and repainted the car, even so God, as soon as faith is created in a sinner's heart, goes to work through the power of the Holy Spirit to make us as beautiful as He can in our thoughts, and words, and deeds.

And yet here's another set of differences! Unlike the car, which was eventually transformed into mint condition in the here and now, there will always be a part of us on this earth that remains a wreck -- a part called the sinful nature. Unlike the car, we'll never be perfectly beautiful and in perfect running condition while we're on this earth.

Yet the fact of the matter is this: by God's grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, God declares us to be perfect, even though we're not! The blood of God the Son, Jesus Christ, covers over us, and God chooses to see all who believe as being perfectly righteous in the blood of the Savior. You see, eternal life doesn't depend on what we do, or how good or not good we are. It depends on what Christ did on the cross.

And yet in the meantime, while we're waiting for the eternal glory which we know will surely come for us, the Lord is working to improve us, to strengthen the new creation within us by strengthening our faith, to cause good works to flow from us, to make us more Christlike. And in the end, when we get to heaven, the refurbishing which could never be completed on earth, will be complete when we enter into eternal joy! At the moment of our deaths the old sinful part of us will drop away forever, and all that will be left will be the new man or woman that God created in our baptisms!

Now dear friends, all this that we've covered this morning is what Paul was emphasizing to the Galatians in the letter he wrote to them. You see, the Galatians were being bewitched and brainwashed by a false teaching that stated that faith in Christ isn't enough to get you into heaven. In addition to faith in Christ, the false teachers were saying, you've got to follow this Jewish rule and that Jewish regulation -- you've got to do all sorts of extra things in order to qualify for eternal life in heaven! Well, in the first four and a half chapters of Galatians Paul points out to this beloved church the facts we've heard this morning: that all of us are spiritual car wrecks who can't possibly save ourselves from the junk heap by following and keeping the Law. We can't keep the Law, and by nature we don't even want to keep the Law. Only the rightful Owner of mankind could pay the price and set us free from the junkyard. And He did just that in Jesus Christ. Now we're bought back, and we're set free! We're free indeed from the condemnation of the Law; free from having to follow the Law in order to get into heaven. Indeed, if we were to go back to trying to get to heaven by obeying the Law, we'd crack the engine block once more and be destined for the eternal junkyard of hell once again! That's the witness and the warning against legalism that Paul gives to the Galatians.

But then Paul gives them another Word of caution which also applies to us! He says that we haven't been set free from the lords of the junkyard -- Satan and our sinful self -- so we can go back and wallow around in the junkyard! We've been set free so we can serve our Owner, Jesus Christ -- set free so we can be empowered by God the Spirit, steered by the Holy Spirit -- so we can travel the road the Spirit of Jesus wants us to travel, do the things He wants us to do, and bear the fruit He causes us to bear. Paul says, "Live by the Spirit, and you won't gratify the desires of the sinful nature."

Ah yes, the sinful nature. Paul reminds the Galatians, as we've been reminded today, that there's still that wrecked-up part lurking within all Christians that doesn't want anything to do with Christ, and is perfectly willing to rust and decay. The sinful nature comes up with all sorts of shredded tires, broken windshields, and rusted metal such as the sexual immorality we see around us all the time, just as Paul's hearers did in Roman culture; impurity and debauchery (which is wild and evil living); along with the busted-up fenders and smashed headlights of idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

We know what these things are -- so did Paul's hearers -- need we say more? It's ugly. It's hideous. It's a complete and total wreck. And Paul says that if we give ourselves over to these things completely, if we give ourselves over again to the sinful nature, which God is constantly empowering us to overcome, if we yank control of the automobile away from the Holy Spirit in this way, then just like following the path of works righteousness, we'll surely run into a spiritual wall, crack the engine block again, and put ourselves back into the scrapheap our Savior paid so much to get us out of -- destined once again for the white-hot smelter of eternal hell!

But, if we stay in God's Word and make use of His Sacraments, God the Holy Spirit will keep us in step with our Lord and Savior Jesus. He'll make sure the engine of our faith stays intact, in spite of the war our sinful natures constantly fight against us. He'll make sure we're always connected to Jesus, who bought us back and gave us eternal life as a free gift! And lo and behold, if we make use of God's Word and Sacrament, then the Spirit will make that fruit that began to grow in our hearts at our baptism or conversion grow even more!

You know the fruit we're talking about: first of all the forgiving, self-giving, agape' love of Jesus Christ which He has for all of us, and which He works in us, and which we share with one another, even our enemies; the joy that dwells in our hearts, knowing that we're God's children in Christ Jesus, and the ultimate victory is ours; the peace that comes from knowing that because of Jesus, God's no longer angry at us, every sin is forgiven, and heaven is ours as a free gift -- the peace that comes from knowing that God will supply our every need through His riches in Christ Jesus; the patience, the longsuffering that God has towards us sinners, even though our sin and rebellion deserve His instant retribution -- this is the patience the Spirit also puts in our hearts, so that we can be longsuffering with the people who rub us the wrong way; then there's kindness and gentleness -- so conspicuously absent in our world, and even in our churches from time to time -- the fruit of kindness and gentleness which can cause even a necessary rebuke to be taken as an act of love; then there's goodness -- doing the will of God out of thankfulness for His great gift in Jesus Christ; and there's faithfulness -- being faithful to the truth of God's Word, and steadfastly proclaiming His saving Gospel no matter what the odds are against us; and last but not least, there's self-control -- which is really just letting the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, control our thoughts and words and actions so that our lives might reflect the glorious salvation that lives within us!

That's the fruit that God the Spirit is constantly cultivating in the hearts of believers. And just as the car owner used physical tools and material things to refurbish his Chevy, so God uses the spiritual tools of His Word and Sacraments to refurbish our hearts and lives with the fruit of His Spirit.

We'll never bear God's fruit perfectly on this earth. We're still sinners. But because of Jesus, God still owns us. He loves us. He forgives us. He sees us as being absolutely perfect in the blood of Jesus. And He keeps on patiently rebuilding us, even though we keep falling apart here and there. He keeps that engine of faith going -- and someday, either on our last day, or the Last Day, He'll take us to heaven to be with Him forever -- totally refurbished at last, gleaming and new without a ding or a dent on us -- just as we've been declared to be here on earth!

May our God of grace bring us all to that ultimate joy, by His grace alone, through faith alone in our Owner, Jesus Christ! Amen.

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church
3765 McKelvey Road
Bridgeton, Missouri 63044-2002
Copyright 2004, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church