Monday, August 26, 2013

Called to Freedom by Martin Wiles

Our has been and is still a time of bondage. We can think of the slavery days as practiced in our country and in other countries. Africans themselves even practiced slavery. It was under the administration of Abraham Lincoln that the slaves of America found freedom, but it would take other amendments to the Constitution and Voting Rights Acts to truly give them freedom from those who continued to oppress them. Women also faced bondage for many years in our country and in other places. It was not until 1920 with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that women received the right to vote in Presidential elections. Many other minority groups have also suffered bondage of one type or another.

Some find themselves in financial bondage. It seems it takes all they earn to make ends meet. Then there are those who are in bondage to alcohol and drugs. Others are bound by addictions to sexual passions and violence. We can imagine the bondage found in our prisons. All around us there are forms and extremities of bondage. 

But there are also cries for liberation from such real and imagined bondage. People demand freedom to do as they please. It is a day of individualization where the rights of the individual become more important than the rights of humanity. Authority is flouted and restrictions are resisted in the name of liberty. Many want to do as the Israelites of old: whatever was right in their own eyes.

As real as the above mentioned forms of bondage are, they in no way compare to a greater bondage the Bible speaks of. It is not a bondage placed upon us by some other form or person but our very selves. It is a bondage that eats at our very souls. We are enslaved by it from the earliest years of life. Jesus said; “Truly, truly, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.” (John 8:34) James writes; “Let no one say when he is tempted, I am tempted by God; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he himself tempt anyone. But each is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” (1:13)

This is a bondage we cannot free ourselves from in our own strength. It takes someone far more powerful than us to help us. Jesus gives the prescription for this freedom; “If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36) How does he free us? He does so through his grace and our appeal for his forgiveness. When we trust him in faith, he unlocks the chains of sin that enslave us and sets us free.

This call to freedom is universal. It is not restricted to a particular group or culture or country. It is available to all who will receive. The primary freedom Paul speaks of in Galatians is freedom from the law as a system of government that regulated one's daily life. This included the Old Testament ceremonies and rabbinical traditions. The Judaizers attempted to drag the Galatians back into such a system from which the grace of Christ had freed them. It was a system that was impossible to keep and one that could never provide true freedom for them. Living by such a system could never free their consciences. Only the grace of Jesus Christ could do that.

Paul had a difficult task in trying to convince the Galatians of how to find true freedom. The tradition of revering Old Testament ceremonies and traditions ran deep in their minds. Such a proclamation was scandalous to the Judaizers and a stumbling block to many sincere Jews. Some considered Paul a lawless libertine. Paul was simply teaching that we did not need such a system anymore because of the work of Christ. We do not need an outward system to restrain us and keep us from doing what is wrong. When we accept Christ, he gives us an inward guide in the person of his Spirit. His internal guidance and restraint keeps us on the right path.

The governmental law of the Old Testament was designed to set the Jews apart as God's distinctive chosen people and to picture the sacrifice in the coming Messiah, but all this was fulfilled in the work of Christ. This does not mean that we throw away God's moral law, for this is still in effect. The Spirit gives us the ability to live according to the internal and external law of God.

How wonderful to have this spiritual freedom. It is available to all, but it places certain responsibilities on us. What does it mean to be called to freedom?

A call to freedom does not mean we can abuse our Christian liberty by involving ourselves in sin. We are not against the moral law of God. We simply heed it because of God's internal guidance through his Spirit. This call to freedom is not a call to self-indulgence. It does not mean we can satisfy the desires of the flesh.

Flesh does not refer to the skin on our body. As it is used in many places in the Bible, it is a reference to sinful desires. It refers to our old patterns of living and thinking that characterized us before Christ. Thus we are not called to fulfill our sinful desires but to live for God. Freedom in Christ does not give us the liberty to carry out a campaign of sin without consequence. Christ gives us freedom not to do what we want but what he desires. Through the faith in him we can for the first time do what he wants.

Peter writes; “Act as free people, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondservants of God.” (I Peter 2:16) Though we are free to do anything we want, we are not free to fulfill sinful desires. It is contradictory for a professing Christian to pursue sins that once enslaved us. When we involve ourselves in those activities or attitudes that Christ delivered us from, we prove that we are not really Christians at all or that we do not have an adequate understanding of how a believer should live. It is not to say that Christians do not fall into sin, but we will not stay there for Christ has freed us from desires that would cause us to want to stay there. The new nature he gives leads us to hate sin and love the righteousness of God.

Paul wrote; “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Romans 13:14) To claim to follow Christ and our fleshly desires is mutually exclusive. We cannot do both. When we receive Christ, we receive his selfless nature.

This service is through love. Our freedom takes us to a higher level than just opposing our selfish desires. He frees us to love and serve others rather than our own selfish desires. We cannot love Christ and not love others. A part of loving others is serving them. We show our love in this way. The Bible says if we claim to love God and hate others we are liars and the love of God is not in us.

Jesus is again the great example of serving others. Jesus admonished his disciples to serve others when they argued over which of them was the greatest. He said we do not measure greatness by how many serve us but in how many we serve. Paul wrote; “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant.” (Philippians 2:5)

When we accept Christ as our Savior, he endows us with this same servant attitude. Not having the desire to serve others is a serious matter that needs examination.

Paul says we fulfill the whole law of God by loving our neighbor as we do ourselves. Christian freedom gives us the freedom to live holy lives for the first time. When sin enslaved us, it was impossible for us to live up to God's demands. Now that he has given us a new nature, we can through the strength of his Spirit living in us. God's standards of right and wrong have never changed. We are still responsible for obeying them. The ethical truths of the Old Testament Law have not changed.

Jesus echoed the greatest commandment of the Old Testament when he taught that we were to love God with all our being and our neighbor as ourselves. If we will do these two things, then we will fulfill God's moral law. Loving God and others fulfills God's moral law. We must do this out of love for God and others. It is the only acceptable motivation for doing it.

In the Old Testament, a Hebrew slave had to be freed after six years of service. If the slave said that he loved his master and did not want to leave, the master would pierce his ear with an awl and he would be his slave forever. Just as the Hebrew slave surrendered his freedom to the master he loved, so we must also to the God we serve. That will fulfill his moral law.

Paul warns them that if they bite and devour one another, they will consume one another. Such a situation comes about when love and service are not present. When we do not love and serve, we tear each other down. When we are busy loving and serving, we do not have time to do this. Bite and devour speak of wild animals engaged in the fury of a deadly struggle.

Such activity can severely damage the reputation of a church, association and convention. I am firmly convinced that the reputation of our convention has been somewhat damaged by the controversies that have engulfed us. We cannot survive if we run roughshod over others to gratify our own whims and selfish ambitions. Our rights must be restricted by the rights of others. Severe individualization leads to anarchy.

The ruling principle of Christian freedom must be love. We must lovingly accept and serve one another despite the fact that we may have different opinions and attitudes about certain matters. Some Christians have a strict conscience and others a more open minded conscience. This leads to different interpretations and attitudes. It should not, however, keep us from loving and serving one another.

The freedom of our great country inspired a young theology student named Samuel Francis Smith. In February of 1832, he was sorting through some music that had been brought over from Europe. He came across a German melody that struck his fancy. He glanced at the words at the bottom of the page and noticed it was a patriotic song. But it was a song about another country. He tapped out the rhythm of the song and wrote his own words to the song. They were: “My Country 'tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, Of thee I sing: Land where my fathers died, Land of the pilgrims' pride, From every mountainside, Let freedom ring.”

As great as the freedom of our country is, it cannot compare with the freedom found in Jesus Christ. Through this freedom, we can successfully oppose the desires of our flesh, serve others, fulfill God's moral law and avoid harming others.

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