Lectionary 13 C

All Galatians, all the time! (At least this week.) Lutherans really are infatuated with Paul's letter to the dysfunctional church in Galatia, which is odd because the dysfunctional church in Corinth was far more entertaining.

Oh, and fair warning: "bound consciences" conversation ahead. (Although it is the original Lutheran version rather than the 2009 ELCA version.)

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Verse 1 is cited either in part or in whole at several places in the Book of Concord. So for reference, here it is:

"For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."

-- Galatians 5:1

Verse 1 is first quoted in The Augsburg Confession, Article 28: Bishops/The Church's Power (AC 28.51) as simple proof "that bondage to the law is not necessary for justification" (AC 28.51). Later in the same article (AC 28.78, n. 224), variations in this text are noted, including the section above, which still quotes verse 1, but with more imagery, drives home the inability of the law to save.

Verse 1 is both cited and quoted in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 15: Human Traditions in the Church (AP 15.31), along with Acts 15:10 to show that we cannot add legal requirements to God's act of justification.

Later on in the Apology, Article 28: Ecclesiastical Power (AP 28.15), verse 1 is quoted again, in parallel with the citations from AC 28 above. Given some conversations that have been happening recently, this section seems worthy of direct a quote.

"Traditions must not be required acts of worship

but a means for preserving order in the church

for the sake of peace.

These must not ensnare consciences,

as though they were commanding required acts of worship."

- Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 28.15

Verse 1 is also quoted in Formula of Concord, Epitome, Article 10: Concerning Ecclesiastical Practices, Affirmative Thesis 4 (Ep 10.6). This is where the "place of confession" or status confessions comes from, which makes all worship practices and ecclesiastical structures important, making the best possible compromise agreeing to disagree. Verse 1 is presented here with several other passages to show why this is the conclusion. As they wrote it, "The truth of the gospel and Christian freedom are at stake. The confirmation of open idolatry, as well as the protection of the weak in faith from offense, is at stake" (Ep 10.6). The next citation of verse 1 helps to unpack this rather than simply use it as a hammer for yelling at other Christians who disagree with you.

Verse 1 is quoted in the parallel section from above in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 10: Ecclesiastical Practices (SD 10.11), but the issue is focused, pointing directly to the issue of salvation. Reflecting on Paul's ministry, the Lutheran reformers noted that "when the false apostles demanded circumcision in order to confirm their false teaching (as if the works of the law were necessary for righteousness and salvation) and thus misused it [some ceremony prescribed by law, in this case circumcision], Paul said that he did not want to give in to them" (SD 10.12). Here we see that finding oneself in a place of confession happens because someone else tries to replace God's work of salvation with some point or work of law or human tradition.

This argument is driven home with the last citation of verse 1, an editorial insert later in the same article (SD 10.15), which also includes a citation to verse 13. The main issue in the tension between Christian freedom and the authority of the institution of the church is not confusing the laws of humans or institutions with God's commands. Service to the structure and order of the church does not save us, and when we forget this, we fall into idolatry.

Verse 17 also comes up quite a few places, so like with verse 1, the passage is below.

For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit,

and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh;

for these are opposed to each other,

to prevent you from doing what you want.

- Galatians 5:17

Verse 17 is first quoted in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4: Justification (AP 4.179, quarto 164, 167-69) as part of the fifth point in an extended argument from Melanchthon about this Spirit-flesh conflict, particularly noting that if the following the law was the path to acceptability before God, then no Christian could ever be assured of salvation.

Verse 17 is cited in Formula of Concord, Epitome, Article 4: Good Works, Affirmative Thesis 8 (Ep 4.13) as a reminder that good works, which are spontaneous, are still "encumbered" by the will of the flesh, which works against the will of God.

Verse 17 is also quoted in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 2: Free Will (SD 2.17) along with several other scriptural passages to show that by nature, with the baptism of the Spirt that is the gift of faith, humans work entirely against God. Later in the same article (SD 2.64), verse 17 is quoted as a reminder of the conflict between the will of the Spirit and the will of the flesh, even in those who have faith. And again, later in the same article (SD 2.84), verse 17 is cited to make this same point.

Finally, verse 17 is quoted later in the Solid Declaration, Article 6: Third Use of the Law (SD 6.8) as a reminder that the old person in us is not completely dead until we are dead, even though God's grace forgives us our sins.

Verses 19 and 20 are cited in a footnote to The Large Catechism, Fifth Part: The Sacrament of the Altar (LC 5.75, n. 234) explaining the difference in translation between what is here and what is in many other versions of these verses.

Verse 21 is quoted in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 4: Good Works (SD 4.32) with several other scriptural citations as a reminder that those who call themselves Christians in this life but work against God's commands will be judged by God as not worthy of the kingdom.

Verse 22 is cited through editorial insert earlier in the same article (SD 4.9) as a reminder that the fruits of the Spirit come from faith, and these faithful works "God wants to reward in this world and the next" (SD 4.9).

Verse 24 also comes up in this article (SD 4.19) quoted with several other passages to drive home the point that good works are not "a matter of freedom for the faithful, in the sense that they have free choice whether they want or which to do them or refrain from doing them or even to act against God's law while nevertheless still retaining faith, God's favor, and grace" (SD 4.20).


The same questions seem to come up for the people of God over and over...

  • Who's laws are we obeying, and why?

  • Where are we following the will if the flesh rather than the will of the Spirit?

  • How are we living our faith?

Don't look for the easy answers. The point is faith and trust in God, which we discover by reflecting on our inability to live up to the law of God, by discovering that if we want to be in right relationship with God, that start with God make the relationship right in Jesus and not with our own work, worship, or traditions.