1959 was the year of my birth – I am a child of the 60’s! Although I was just a child, there was a great social movement by youth in the 1960’s – a reaction against what they perceived to be the failure of the older generation that had led to two world wars, corruption, oppression and a world that was poised to destroy itself in nuclear holocaust. They wanted to break the chains: the three great watch cries of the 60’s were: [P] Love, Peace and Freedom. Like all young people, they had all the answers; but, a decade down the track, when I was their age; their “love” had left a string of broken relationships; their “freedom” had them in bondage to drug addiction; and their “peace” had set them in rebellion, conflict against society. A song of the time, “Me and Bobby McGee”, proclaiming their misdirected “wisdom” stated: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”. I guess it meant “freedom” was when you no longer were held under obligation to meet standards imposed by others. It didn’t matter anymore, you just did it, you had nothing to lose, no expectations to bind you. Why aren’t we free to do what we want? – because of society’s expectations and restrictions. That’s how the hippies saw it. But, [P] freedom proved elusive. We all know the concept, we know what it means; but, when you actually pursue it; it becomes rather hazy as to what it really is – a mirage you never reach. The “freedom” of the 60’s actually turned out to be bondage – bondage to sin, addictions, habits, destructiveness: misery! I want to take a one-off interlude from Elisha to talk about freedom. Can we turn to [P] [Luke 13:10–17 And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. [P] And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; [P] (she was in spiritual bondage!) and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, [P] “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.” And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God. (how wonderful to be set free from bondage!) [P] But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, [P] began saying to the crowd in response, “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites, [P] does not each of you on the Sabbath untie (the same root as the word “freed” in v.12) his ox or his donkey from the stall (set them free) and lead him away to water him? “And this woman, [P] a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released (same root as the word “freed” in v.12) from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; [P] and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.] This woman was bound, satan had bound her; and Jesus set her free! Hallelujah! Bondage is the opposite of freedom. Being set free is a glorious thing! That is what Jesus came to do [Luke 4:17–21 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. (i.e. Jesus) And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, [P] “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me (that’s what made Him Messiah) to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favourable year of the Lord.” And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”] This was Jesus – He came to set free! Bless His Name! Romans 8:21 speaks of [Romans 8:21 creation itself also will be set free from its servility to decay, into the glorious freedom of the children of God.] Freedom is a wonderful thing, glorious! But, there are multitudes, yes even in the church, who, like this woman, are in bondage! Even, spiritual bondage. One of the things that made the early church stand out was their liberty, their freedom. So much so, that people spied on them to find out about it! [Galatians 2:4 But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty (freedom) which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.] These were Jews, who were not true Christians, who were intent on bring believers back into bondage to the Law; in particular, that they be circumcised. In fact, “freedom” is the major theme of Galatians. I don’t believe in doing Bible study by statistics but it stands out: [P] three books above all others: 1 Corinthians and Romans mention “freedom” quite a bit; but not as much as the book of Galatians. And they have 16 chapters, whereas Galatians only has 6. So, Galatians is the book where “freedom” is by far the most prominent. What was this “freedom” that they were spying on? Freedom from what? In both Romans and Galatians, the “freedom” that Paul is speaking about is “freedom” from the Law – it is quite a specific freedom. The Jewish religion had many, and now has even more, rules that you were required to keep. A Law full of restrictions, about what you must do and what you must not do. Paul summed up the situation in [Romans 10:5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is from the law: “The person who does this will live by it.”] It was based on DOING, on performance. [P] If you did all that Law required then you would be righteous and you would live. The only problem of course, was that this is impossible: only one human has ever done it: Jesus! It was a religion based on DOING. You were bound by all these things that you had to do. It was an impossible yoke, a heavy burden. People were bound to this impossible standard that they could not keep. If only they could be set free from this impossible task! Peter expressed it this way: [Acts 15:10 So now why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?] But it is not Judaism alone. I think that every religion, without exception, requires you to DO something. In utter contrast was the way of FAITH – trusting/relying on what Jesus has done. [Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.] The way of faith is stated in: [Romans 10:9–10 that if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness, (that is how righteousness comes, not by keeping the Law) and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation.] This is what is unique about Christianity: instead of depending on what we DO, it depends on what has already been DONE! [P] Relying on Jesus having DONE it perfectly, trusting in His righteousness, what He has already DONE instead of what I DO. May I make a distinction between the righteousness that is by faith in Christ – let me call it “the Way” because that is what it was called initially – and Christian religion. Because, tragically, Christianity has become a religion! And every religion requires you to do. It can happen subtly, but it happens none the less – that we can add requirements, things that have to be done. In fact, it started very early in the church. People were saying that you had to be circumcised. The matter was discussed; and James wrote a letter setting out requirements: [Acts 15:20 but we should write a letter to them to abstain from the pollution of idols and from sexual immorality and from what has been strangled and from blood.] He let them off circumcision but he set three other stipulations, one of which is not even in the Torah. The church started setting its own rules. Things that you must do and not do. But it may not be written; it can be unspoken. The impression is given that to make the grade you must do various things: pray a certain length of time, read the Bible, fast, tithe, attend certain meetings, not smoke, refrain from alcohol, swearing – all sorts of rules. Now, they may be good practices; but, as soon as they become rules, things that you have to do to make the grade – it has become a religion of doing! The giveaway is: who gets the glory? If you get a warm fuzzy from what you’ve done, it’s a give-away. You feel good about what you have done, what you have attained, it is pride, you are getting the glory. I was speaking to a prisoner out at Rolleston – he said, “I know that there is nothing good in me; it is all what Jesus has done!” He got it! The glory went to Jesus, not to him. Religion brings people into bondage; BUT, hallelujah!, Jesus sets FREE! Paul said to the Galatians: [P] [Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.] – of doing, of servitude! Jesus set us free; BUT, we have to be careful, to stand firm, not be shifted so that we are not brought back into slavery again. What did Paul mean by slavery? – being back under the law – a system of rules of doing whereby you attained some status in righteousness or spirituality. Gnosticism is insidious – it was a heresy that said that there were various levels of spirituality, you sort of moved up the spiritual ladder. And, if we are not careful, we can do the same: there is the clergy, those who have been to Bible school, those who are mighty men of prayer, the super-spiritual, the gifted – without meaning to, we place men on pedestals! We regard them as superior saints, then we try to attain to their level – before we know it, we are back under the bondage of having to perform! Don’t let yourself be subject again to a yoke of slavery! Paul used an extended metaphor: a picture from Sarah, who had a child born purely out of the promise of God, and Hagar, her slave, through whom Abraham had a natural son, by pure fleshly means. Sarah was a picture of: the promise, the work of God, supernatural, of the Spirit; and Hagar was a picture of that done by purely human means, effort, the work of man, natural, fleshly, the Law. [Galatians 4:30–31 But what does the scripture say? “Drive out the female slave and her son, for the son of the female slave will never inherit with the son” of the free woman. Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the female slave but of the free woman.] We are either sons of God who receive an inheritance, it comes to us as heirs; or we are slaves who have to work, but no matter how hard we work we will never get the inheritance. You are either in bondage, having to attain, perform; or you are sons of God. The sons have glorious liberty! Can I appeal to you? DON’T ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE BROUGHT BACK UNDER THE UNBEARABLE BONDAGE OF HAVING TO PERFORM! Jesus Himself made this same contrast between slaves and sons: [John 8:31–36 Then Jesus said to those Jews who had believed him, “If you continue in My word you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They replied to Him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have not been enslaved to anyone at any time. (they thought that they were free, they didn’t realize how they were enslaved to sin) How do You say, ‘You will become free’?” [P] Jesus replied to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, that everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. (you are a slave of the one you obey) And the slave does not remain in the household forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be truly free. – free indeed!] There, you will notice that the slavery is, not to the law, but to sin. But keeping the law is by the flesh, and sinning is the flesh in control. The law causes you to sin, by defining it. Both are the flesh and [Galatians 5:17 the flesh desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, for these are in opposition to one another, so that whatever you want, you may not do these things.] If you are operating in the flesh, you are in bondage. If you are operating in the Spirit you are free: [P] [2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.] Liberty comes from the Holy Spirit! Instead of obeying an external law written on stone, God Himself gives us His Spirit who lives in us, directing our desires; so instead, God’s law is written on our heart – this is the New covenant: [P] [Romans 8:2–6 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what was impossible for the law, (we couldn’t keep the law’s requirements) in that it was weak through the flesh, (the flesh is the problem, that is why we need to be in the Spirit) God did (Hallelujah! Remember John Piper? God acts – we don’t do it, He has already done it! Hallelujah! How?). By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the law would be fulfilled in us, (the requirement of the Law fulfilled in us! Wow! How? By us keeping its rules? No! How then?) who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are living according to the flesh are intent on the things of the flesh, but those who are living according to the Spirit are intent on the things of the Spirit. For the mindset of the flesh is death, but the mindset of the Spirit is life and peace,] Flesh and Spirit are opposed to each other. The flesh brings bondage and ultimately death; the Spirit brings liberty and gives life. That is why the letter to the Galatians is an appeal to walk in the Spirit, to remain, stand fast in the freedom which Jesus gives. So, if Christ has set us free, He has done it and it doesn’t depend on what I do – I am free, I can do anything I like, can’t I? [P] I recall hearing, when I was quite young, about an incident; and it disturbed me greatly. Apparently, there were a couple of Christian girls who would go down to the wharves at Lyttleton on a Friday evening, to have a good time with the sailors who had come into port. When challenged about their behaviour, they said, “All we have to do is confess our sins, and they are forgiven.” Now that bothered me! It still does! Not so much what they did, but the glib attitude to forgiveness and the concept of grace. In fact, Paul was accused of preaching this very thing: [Romans 3:8 And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? (the good being God demonstrating His grace in forgiving) Their condemnation is just.] He was not preaching this at all! Such an attitude proves that a person is still in the flesh and not in the Spirit. Paul said in: [Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.] The freedom only remains while you walk in the Spirit. Paul addressed this issue of continuing to sin in [Romans 6:1–2 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? (what was his response?) May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?] If we are dead to the flesh, we will not sin: [Romans 6:7 for he who has died is freed from sin.] The thing is, if you sin, you are a slave to sin – and a slave is not free! Peter spoke about those who talked about freedom while all the time they were slaves themselves: [2 Peter 2:19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.] People talk a lot about freedom but all the time they cannot escape the grip of sin. They are slaves. Sin is their master – you do what your master tells you to do. [Romans 6:14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.] If we are under grace, we are not under law. We are not living by what our flesh dictates, that is bondage. If grace is our master, what does grace tell us to do? [Titus 2:11–12 For the grace of God has appeared, (that is Jesus) bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.] Does grace mean we do what we like? [Romans 6:15–18 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? (so, do you see? We have to obey: the question is: who? We always have a master! So, in a sense, we are never free – it is a question of: whom do you serve?) But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart (not an external law, but one written on the heart, that you delight in because it’s Author, the Holy Spirit, lives in you) to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.] Yes, we were set free, but we have become slaves again, it is just that it is another master. May I give an illustration: say you lived in Russia in the 1930’s you would be under the oppressive rule of Stalin; then in the 1990s came “glasnost”/openness, freedom. The oppressive regime is gone, you are free! You would rejoice in your freedom. But, you still have to obey the laws of the land. It is a different master. No longer an oppressive one. [Romans 6:20–22 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. (you didn’t have to do what righteousness dictates, in fact you were incapable of serving that master) Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death! But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.] We are free! Hallelujah! We are no longer under the dominion of a tyrant! We have a new Master! One who is good. Our new Master operates in a totally different way. No longer the compulsion, the forcing to do His will, dominating. He operates by His Spirit, the Spirit of liberty. No longer is the motivation by compulsion; rather, His Spirit is in us, His desires become our desires. His will becomes our will. We live to please the One who loved us and gave Himself for us. LOVE become the motivation. We want to please the one we love. We are free! Our arms are not twisted, it is obedience from the heart that has value. Look, I could stipulate to Rhoda that she has to bring me breakfast in bed, bring me lunch at work, bring me a cup of tea when I get home from work. Maybe, if I was harsh I could force her to do it; but if she did it with resentment and grudgingly because I compelled her, it would leave a sour taste in my mouth. But if I laid down no rules and she did it spontaneously, from the heart, as an expression of love – then it would bring delight. You can obey God and it can leave a sour taste: you fulfil the stipulations but your heart is not in it. When the act comes freely from our heart, then it brings delight to our LORD. So, when our obedience stems from freedom, then it is precious. Forced obedience brings no delight. Derek Prince tells the story of a boy in church who jumped on the seat, created a disturbance in the meeting. His Dad told him to sit down, but he got up again. So, his Dad grabbed him and forced him to sit. The little boy said, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but inside I am jumping on the seat.” Reluctant, forced obedience has no value – it is still rebellion. So, we are free! Galatians and Romans talk about freedom from the Law; 1 Corinthians is the other book that mentions freedom – but there the issue was quite different. In Galatia Judaizers were trying to destroy freedom; in Corinth, there was freedom; freedom had run riot! [P] Instead of being in bondage, they were pursuing their freedom, and it was causing problems. The particular issue that raised its head was eating meat. Some of it had been offered to idols. Now, some believers had qualms about eating it – their conscience was pricked. It was a matter of conscience. Paul said: [1 Corinthians 10:29 why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience?] But others, flaunting their freedom, had no such qualms of conscience. Liberty had become license! The problem was: when someone saw them doing it, they were led into doing something against their conscience. The one exercising his liberty, led his brother into sin. Now, that is not acting in love. So, although they had freedom to eat whatever they wanted, the principle of love, concern for another, was to constrain them, curb the expression of their liberty. The principle of LOVE overrides that of exercising your personal liberty. You voluntarily restrain it. [P] [2 Corinthians 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died;] Jesus laid down His life for us, we are to lay down our life too. And abstaining from a bit of T-bone is not a big deal. We read in [Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.] Love and concern for one another overrides the expression of our liberty. We voluntarily restrict our liberty [1 Corinthians 9:19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.] Paul, had the freedom to choose not to exercise his own freedom; and this he did in order to reach people with the Gospel. You see this when he circumcised Timothy. Now Paul was quite clear that circumcision was not required. But this was done voluntarily so that they could reach Jews who might otherwise rejected them and their message. We have freedom, but we are not to flaunt it, not use it as in excuse to sin, to indulge the flesh: [1 Peter 2:16 Act as free men, but do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.] Do you see the contradiction?! Act as free men, we are free; but use that freedom as a slave of God. Free but a slave?! [P] It is a paradox! We are free indeed! But liberty is not license to do as we please, freedom is not to be flaunted, we are constrained by love and slaves to a new master. So, we find freedom only when we the Spirit rules. Freedom is limited. [Psalm 119:96 I have seen a limit to all perfection; Your commandment is exceedingly broad.] There is a limit. In our experience there is but one exception: “your commands are boundless”. This includes more than the well-known paradox: slavery to God is perfect freedom. For a start, freedom must be defined. If our steps are directed to God’s word, there is freedom from sin [Psalm 119:133 Establish my footsteps in Your word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me.] – because that is slavery; observance of God’s “precepts” is tied to walking about in “freedom” [Psalm 119:45 And I will walk at liberty, for I seek Your precepts.] This paradox is expressed in some songs we sing. I recall a hymn a favourite of Graham’s Dad, it goes: “Make me a captive Lord; Then I shall be set free” Or, a more modern expression: [P]
“Jesus all for Jesus
All I am and have and ever hope to be
All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these in to Your hands
For its only in Your will that I am free.”
Freedom to do whatever you want is the worst bondage of all! Because it is so insidious. “Me and Bobby McGee” recorded by Janis Joplin, was released posthumously. She was dead! Here she was singing about freedom, but that philosophy of freedom had led into bondage to drugs which took her life. Is that freedom?! True freedom is can be yours, but it is found only when you are submitted to the One who sets you “free indeed” – “For its only in Your will that I am free”; living by His Spirit dwelling within you. God’s love is shed abroad in our hearts by His Spirit, a love that will constrain us, control us. That is where perfect liberty is found.