“The Change that Glorifies”
Pentecost 3 (Proper 5), June 5, 2016 #1196
The Change That Glorifies
Text: Galatians 1:11–24
You’ve changed! You folks have changed! Now you might be wondering how, since I just saw most of you a week ago. Well, I’m betting you have. I don’t see a single pair of pajamas out there.
Today we are going to talk about change. Now usually in a LCMS sermon about change, a pastor has to mention how the most used line in a Missouri Synod church is, “This is the way we have always done it.” And a pastor in a LCMS church preaching about change has to say the joke about “How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?” And the answer is “CHANGE?!?!?” Because a lot of times we don’t like change. Change is not usually welcomed in a church. And a lot of times in the church, changes are made just for the sake of change, which a lot of us don’t think is a very good reason to change. But today our discussion is more about the changes that happen in individuals: in you or in me.
There are folks who think people can’t change. And they probably think that way because they know someone who was addicted to alcohol or something, and they didn’t kick the habit. Or they knew someone who kept cheating on their spouse, and wouldn’t stay faithful.
But I would put it before you today that in substantial ways, I’m betting you’ve changed in the last year or five years or ten years. You’ve learned things, seen new things. Some of you have grown taller, maybe a little thicker or maybe a little thinner.
The Bible is here to remind us that there has been an essential change in you that’s more significant than anything we see— a spiritual change. The Gospel of Jesus Christ Changes Us, and in This Change, God Is Glorified.
We’ve all been in need of change. We are all born in need of a change. I know that may sound weird because when babies are born we think they are cute, and cuddly, and innocent. At least we think that until they start crying as soon as we fall asleep, or “go” while we are changing their diapers. But we are born in need of a real change. We are born as enemies of God.
We are told that in the text for today. These words follow the words of our text which we had last week. After Paul tells the Galatians that they need to follow the only true Gospel and not listen to any conflicting message, he tells them how Jesus and faith in Jesus has changed him. And it’s easy to see that in St. Paul (vv 11–13). He speaks of his “former way of life.” He was making quite a name for himself (v 14). We read that Paul was a Pharisee, a member of that learned group of laymen who were always getting in Jesus’ face complaining that He wasn’t doing anything right. He told the Galatians how as a good Jew he followed all the traditions (and this includes the ones they thought up in addition to what God gave them) and we are told that he was climbing up in the temple hierarchy.
In fact, he was such a good Jew that when the Christian church was born on Pentecost Sunday, he took offense and tried to persecute the members of this church and sought to have its members leave the earth prematurely if you know what I mean. The zeal for the traditions of his fathers led Saul to arrest or have killed those who seemed to abandon the traditions to follow Jesus.
Now why should this interest you, Lutherans in Edmond, OK, half a world away, two millennia later? I’ll tell you why. We were all inclined that very same way—enemies of God—from the moment we were conceived. From the moment we could think our own thoughts, we shared the universal human agenda to be our own gods and to crush anybody who got in our way.
Hard to think of little kids like that, isn’t it? But it’s true. All you have to do is go down this hall when there are two-year-olds in that room down there taking what they want, when they want it, from whomever else has it, and you will see that we are born sinners.
We little babies needed a change! We needed a change man’s ideas cannot bring. Man’s plan of salvation is following some set of rules. The rules we think can get us saved.
That’s the “gospel” Saul had been fighting for. The “traditions of the fathers” had long ago forgotten God’s way of saving Israel—by a Messiah who would graciously fulfill the Law. Instead, Judaism required man to meet the Law’s demands. The Law’s God gave and the laws the Jews added. They taught that to be saved, we have to be good enough! They taught to be saved you had to obey what God said and that was the only way to be saved. That we have to worship only God, and not misuse God’s name, and go to church every Sunday, and always respect our parents and other authorities, and never hurt anyone in any way, and always be sexually pure, and never steal or take anything illegally, and always tell the truth and never gossip. And we don’t do that. That “gospel”—which is no gospel at all—will only bring us guilt, sadness, and despair. We worship ourselves, and we use God’s name to curse and swear falsely, and we skip church sometimes, and we don’t always respect our parents and authorities when we should, and we do hurt people, and we do steal things, and we do lust, and we lie, and we gossip. For all this, we deserve eternal punishment! You know, hell.
But we have been changed. The Gospel of Jesus Christ changes people. Really changes them, in here. The Gospel of Jesus has changed persecutors and enemies. Look at how it turned Saul to Paul—persecutor to preacher (vv 15–16a). Paul summarizes his story right here in the text. God had loved Saul from the womb. And with Saul doing the exact opposite of what God wanted, Jesus appeared to him on the way to Damascus. And Saul heard, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). But then he also heard words of forgiveness and received Baptism through Ananias (9:17–18). Jesus still loved him! That changed everything for Saul! St. Paul became possibly the Christian Church’s greatest missionary.
That’s quite a change, right? That is a life that saw a big turnaround. And the same thing has happened to you and me. The Gospel of Jesus, the Holy Spirit working through the Word and the Sacraments, has changed us from enemies of God to children of God. For many of us who were baptized as babies, we, who in the womb hated God, got to hear the very cool words, “You are now a child of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” with the water of our Baptism. That is, we heard that Jesus’ death on the cross is ours! The forgiveness Jesus earned when He died is ours! The resurrection of Jesus from the tomb is ours!
That changes everything! Because now when we look in here and realize that we worship ourselves, and we use God’s name to curse and swear falsely, and we skip church sometimes, and we don’t always respect our parents and authorities when we should, and we do hurt people, and we do steal things, and we do lust, and we lie, and we gossip, we know we are forgiven! Jesus has taken our sins away! Jesus, what He did, fixed that!
And not only that…there is one more thing. And we are changed to glorify God. People marveled and glorified God because of the change in Paul (vv 15–24). At the end of our text Paul said, “And they glorified God because of me.” That is translated in the commentary you all bought me, “…they were glorifying God in me.” Paul’s change showed God’s glory by revealing the power of His Word to change hearts. Paul’s mission glorified God as he taught countless new souls to receive God’s gifts and worship the Triune God for eternity.
And again, what is true for Paul is true for us. People marvel and glorify God as He changes us. Our change shows God’s glory—His mercy and grace to love those who were enemies through and through, loving us enough to send Jesus to die for us. Now if you are like me and were “changed” as a baby, that doesn’t make this fact any less true. We have been changed by HIM. And our change brings God glory—when we live and walk with Him. When we come here, when we take what we are given here and share it out there, God is glorified.
God changes people. You saw it in Saul. You saw it, if you are old enough, in a guy named Charles Colson who went from a convicted criminal political operative to an evangelist. And maybe there is someone in your circle who has been changed by God; who went from paganism to faith, from the darkness into the light. God changes people. You’ve all changed! From fully developed enemies of God even before you were born to children of God who glorify Him. And it is my prayer that the change we are discussing this morning is change that has continued by the Word you’ve heard—just this morning! To God be the glory.