Free to Obey
The Real Meaning of Authority
by Peter Toon
Tyndale House Publishers, 1979
1 Human Slavery
2 Jesus the Free Man
3 Jesus the Liberator
4 Jesus the Lord
5 Freedom and the Law
6 Freedom and the Spirit
7 Freedom, Fellowship, and Authority
8 Freedom, Society, and Authority
The relationship of Christian freedom to both divine and human authority is a topic which many of us often think about. Here I have done my thinking aloud and written it down! I hope that what I have produced will help my fellow Christians, especially young people.
This book is a simplified version of a course of lectures I gave to the whole College on “Christian Freedom” in the months of April, May, and June 1978. For helpful comments from both my teaching colleagues and my students, I am grateful. I must also express my thanks to friends in various American colleges and English churches who made inquiries for me among young people concerning the questions they were asking about freedom and authority. Finally, I must thank Wendell Hawley of Tyndale House Publishers, who initially suggested to me that I should write on this topic.
The.typing was efficiently done by Mrs. Eunice Thorpe, who also showed a lively interest in the topic.
I would like to dedicate this book to my daughter, Deborah, with the prayer that she will enjoy all her life “the liberty of the children of God.”
The Bible I have used is the Good News Bible: Today’s English Version.
Oak Hill College
Freedom is a word often used in our society. And it is used in a variety of ways. There is the freedom experienced when we first leave home to live in an apartment or in a college residence. Some can handle this and mature by it; others cannot, and they require guidelines.
The use of the word “freedom,” and related ones such as “liberty,” often arouse deep emotions in us. I shall never forget seeing a TV film of Martin Luther King as he addressed a large, excited audience not long before his death. In sentences informed by biblical ideas and with deep passion he spoke of “moving to the land of freedom,” that black people might enjoy there the same freedom enjoyed by whites. With a similar passion but without the same outward expressions, many middle-class Americans and Europeans also speak of maintaining their freedom – to vote, to own a home, to run a business, to practice their religion, to say and do what they want as long as it does not harm others. Politicians win our votes by their promises of freedom. In the Assembly of the United Nations, representatives of the so-called “three worlds” debate and give prepared addresses on political and national freedoms.
Recently we have heard much about liberation for women, for lesbians, and for homosexuals. Young people talk of and practice what is called free sex. Examples of so-called freedoms could fill a whole book. In most of these we would find that there is a negative and a positive aspect. There is freedom from some kind of servitude or bondage – e.g., colonialism or racism or male domination; and freedom to exercise rights – e.g., independence or equality.
All these freedoms, whether we regard them as good or bad, have no immediate or direct connection with Christian freedom. This freedom is spoken of by Jesus:
“If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free” (John 8:36).
The apostle Paul wrote: Freedom is what we have – Christ has set us free! (Gal. 5:1).
This Christian freedom, or freedom of faith, is unique. There is nothing like it in any other religion or philosophy. it is the gift of God the Father through Jesus Christ our Savior in the power of the Holy Spirit. To receive this “glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21) is to enjoy an emancipation infinitely more important and precious than all political, social, and economic freedoms.
However, like lesser freedoms, the freedom of faith has negative and positive aspects. Christian liberty is both a release from the power and domination of sin and an enjoyment of the rights of the adopted children of our heavenly Father. So Christian freedom is the basis for a style of living which is unique. Because it is unique it is different from all other styles of living. In the power of the Holy Spirit the Christian is free to say no to sin and yes to Christ and his love – love for the brother and sister in Christ and the love for those in need. The Christian freely confesses that Jesus is Lord and freely obeys him as Lord. It is because the Christian freely chooses in the power of the Spirit to follow the commands and example of Jesus that Christian freedom is always the basis for holiness and wholeness. The liberty of the sons and daughters of God should never be an excuse for thoughts or conduct which do not honor Jesus the Lord.
In this book I have two major themes. First of all I want to explain what exactly is Christian freedom. It is necessary for the Christian to know this in order to enjoy fully his relationship with God and with his sisters and brothers. Not to know what is our freedom through Christ is, in the spiritual realm, to be like the American citizen who does not know what are his rights as a citizen. Second, I want to explain the Christian understanding of authority in order to show how perfectly it harmonizes with true Christian liberty. A lot of us are confused today as to the basis of authority in the many departments of modern society and life. It is my contention that the ground of all liberty is Christ, and the basis of all authority is Christ. In and through Christ Jesus our Lord we shall bring together freedom and authority.
It is my hope that the contents of this book will form the basis for discussions among Christians in homes, colleges, and churches. For this reason I have added to each chapter two discussion questions. Most of these are not easy, but the effort to answer them will help participants in the discussion to work out a Christian attitude and life style for today. As a starter here are two:
1. Make a list of the various ways in which we claim to have freedom in our society. What are the common factors/principles in these freedoms?
2. Is a “free society” (Western democracy) the same as a Christian country?
ONE – Human Slavery
Freedom implies a previous captivity and bondage. The Word of God tells us that human beings are held captive by these powers – sin, the law, and the devil. We examine each of these in turn.
To describe the life of sin lived by all, both Jesus and Paul used the image of slavery. They said:
“Everyone who sins is a slave of sin” (John 8:34).
At one time you were slaves to sin (Rom. 6:17).
We must spend a little time investigating this image of slavery.
In the Roman Empire in which Paul preached and formed churches slavery was a prominent aspect of society. In any city slaves could comprise up to one third of the total population. Slaves worked in households, on plantations and farms, in ships, on public works, and in many small businesses. They could be bought and sold as we buy and sell motor cars. As the Christians were a small minority, we find Paul accepting this regrettable situation and seeking to bring the reality of God’s love into it. To Christian slaves he said:
Slaves belonging to masters who are believers must not despise them because they are their brothers. Instead, they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their work are believers whom they love (1 Tim. 6:2).
To Christian masters he said:
Masters, be fair and just in the way you treat your slaves. Remember that you too have a Master in heaven (Col. 4:1).
And in the fellowship of the church he taught that slaves and freemen were one in Christ (see Gal. 3:28).
Slavery was also found in Palestine in the time of Jesus. Jewish slavery was based on the Law of Moses (see Exod. 21:2, ff., and Deut. 15:12, ff.) and on Roman slavery. Jesus took its existence for granted and made use of it in his parables and teaching. One of his great principles concerning discipleship makes use of the image:
“No pupil is greater than his teacher; no slave is greater than his master. So a pupil should be satisfied to become like his teacher, and a slave like his master” (Matt. 10:24, 25).
In the parables of the tenants in the vineyard (see Matt. 21:33, ff.) and of the king and the wedding feast (see Matt. 22:1, ff.) Jesus spoke of household slaves.
Slaves were sold in special slave markets in the towns. Those who have read about Negro slavery in America will have a good idea of what these were like. It is the slave market which Paul has in mind in Romans 6:15–23. Here he makes use of the image of selling and buying slaves to teach that the Christian is released from one master, sin, in order to serve a new Master, righteousness (God).
What does slavery to sin mean? Slavery was a seven-day-a-week experience; the master had absolute rights over the slave. Sin is also a seven-day-a-week experience and sin completely dominates all human life. Ancient peoples and modem peoples, first-world and third-world peoples, all are under the master, sin. As far as God judges, everyone is ruled by sin, for each human life is directed not to the love of God, but to the love of self or those near to self. Sin has three letters: S I N. In the middle is “I”. Sin is living a life of selfishness. By human standards such a life may be either good or bad. It may be the life of a philanthropist or a thief. Only God-centered lives are not lives of slavery to sin; and only Christ has ever lived all the time, every day and every night, such a life. Even if human actions appear good, these still remains the problem of the human heart. Jesus said that from the heart “‘come the evil ideas which lead him [her] to do immoral things ...’” (Mark 7:21).
The origin of sin is traced in the Bible to the disobedience of the first human couple. In their freedom they chose not to trust, love, and obey God; they acted contrary to his advice and command (see Gen. 3:1–13). From this act, sin entered the world and the experience of the human race. It has now spread to all people of all races and cultures. Because of sin, people have lost the freedom to love, obey, and serve God in the way which pleases him. The proof that sin is universal is the fact of death from which no one can escape (see Rom. 6:23).
Perhaps for some of us the image of slavery is not very helpful, as we have not experienced slavery first-hand. We find it hard to understand just what kind of relationship a slave had to a master, for all we know are the relationships within contemporary western society. Certain Christian writers who are aware of this problem have suggested that a helpful example from contemporary culture is that of alienation. This term is used by sociologists of all kinds and by Marxist writers in particular. Those who have studied a little sociology often find the image helpful, but those who have not are sometimes confused by it.
Alienation refers both to the objective situations in which people work and live and to the subjective feelings associated with these situations. So it is claimed that people in the Western industrial society have a sense of powerlessness in the face of the complexity of modern life and society; they feel that they are but a minute cog in a massive wheel. People also have a sense of the meaninglessness of the events of their lives; they cannot see where human history and the pursuit of affluence is taking us. These people have a sense of being abandoned in a place where thousands of people live, work, or shop; they feel that no one cares. Alienation also communicates a sense that the individual does not matter; indifference for oneself and a lack of self-respect are produced by our anonymous technological society, and this leads to violence.
We are speaking of alienation due to sin. Living in the anonymity of the city and the technological world, we find ourselves unfulfilled as people. At the corporate level we find that we cannot meaningfully relate either to the work we do or to the people around us. From God’s viewpoint, our lives are impure, frustrated, disordered, and unfulfilled because of sin. We are not whole people. And we live among people who also are like us. We are alienated by sin from our true selves and the true selves of our fellow human beings. Thus we are not free.
Paul also spoke of other forms of slavery. To the slavery of sin he added slavery to the Law of Moses. This he explained in Galatians 4:21–5:1. He made use of the story of Abraham’s relationship with both Hagar and Sarah (see Gen. 16, ff.) to illustrate slavery to law and freedom from law. “Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia, and she is a figure of the present city of Jerusalem, a slave with all its people” (Gal. 4:25). Jews who put their hope in the Law of Moses were in fact slaves of this law.
Paul’s teaching here is rather surprising when it is recalled that he regarded the Law as given by God through angels (see Gal. 3:19). He said:
In the Law you have the full content of knowledge and of truth (Rom. 2:20). The Law itself is holy, and the commandment is holy, right, and good (Rom. 7:12).
What Paul had in mind is this: The Law is from God and is to be obeyed in all its parts. But in seeking to keep the Law, Jews or Gentiles found that they became aware of what God forbad. Yet, since they had sinful hearts with evil desires, they found that the Law in fact stimulated the desire for sin in their hearts by telling them what was sin. For example, the Law said that to covet the possessions of a neighbor was a sin. By making a person aware of this, the Law stimulated in his heart a desire for what his neighbor had that he wished to have, and he coveted. So those who are already slaves of sin also become slaves of law when they try to keep the Law. They find that the Law, through sin, has a vice-like grip upon them. They try to do what the Law requires and find in doing so that they are doing what the Law forbids. It becomes a vicious circle and Paul believed that many people were caught in it.
Something similar to the lot of the Jews occurs to the good-living person in Western society. He or she knows about the moral demands of God upon society. So he attempts to do good as far as he is able. But, at least in his heart, he knows that his efforts to do good are plagued with evil thoughts about many people and matters. He helps someone who is poor and finds himself despising the way the poor person speaks. He tries to help the daughter of a colleague or employee, and in helping her he finds himself sexually attracted by her. He wants to do his best for his friends, but he finds himself talking unkindly of them behind their backs. He is a slave both of sin and of the moral law. The more he tries to do good by being moral, the more he recognizes that the moral law is making him desire what is wrong.
Much the same can be said about the young person who aims to harm no one and to help as many people as she can. For example, a girl may give up much of her spare time to working for deprived people; but she finds herself sometimes hating the very people whom she knows she ought to help. She gets angry inside herself with the old, awkward, bad-tempered person who is always complaining and never says a word of thanks; or she finds herself hating the black faces of the kids in the ghetto, who, for all her efforts, do not seem to change their ways. She knows she ought to think good thoughts, but she finds herself unable to control evil thoughts. She is a slave of both sin and law.
Today our minds are so conditioned by the power of technology that we find it hard to believe in the existence of a spiritual being who has an evil influence upon us. Such is the power of electricity, the jet engine, and the rocket motor that we find it difficult to see just where the devil fits in. Yet if the Bible contains truth about God and the world, then we have to take seriously the existence of a being who is invisible, powerful, and opposed to God’s will.
According to Paul there is in fact not only one being, the devil, but there are with him a host or community of spiritual beings, who in some way or another do his will and influence human society. In Colossians 2:15, 20 he speaks of “spiritual rulers and authorities” and of “ruling spirits of the universe.” Then in Ephesians 6:12 he speaks of “wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age.” In both these contexts these spiritual, invisible beings or powers act contrary to God’s will.
In Galatians 4:3, 9, Paul declares that before becoming Christians the Galatian people were “slaves of the ruling spirits of the universe.” Here he has in mind people from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. He works on the assumption that between God and the world in “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4) these are spiritual beings who watch over human affairs. Regrettably these angels are led by the devil to influence human society in the way of evil. They lead people to bind themselves to religious systems instead of to God through Christ. In the case of the Jews this means they give people a misdirected zeal for keeping the Law of Moses; and in the case of Gentiles it means they provide them with a zeal for a particular religion or cult with all the social relationships involved in that commitment. (Religion and work, religion and social/family life were very closely connected at that time.) So, although they did not realize it, the people whom Paul met on the Roman roads or in the villages and towns were slaves of both sin and the “ruling spirits.”
Let us note here that only a small proportion of Western people are committed religious people – Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Religion of one kind or another does not dominate social life as it did in the Roman Empire. However, there are other realities which dominate our social life and determine its nature and character. There are powers which grip us and bind us, and we cannot escape from them. Let us try to be specific. Take economic forces. The value of money changes from day to day as men in New York, Zurich, and London make what seem to be frantic phone calls to one another and abroad. The value of the pound sterling against the dollar, or the dollar against the yen, fluctuates day by day. We all need money: we cannot live without money. We are completely dominated by it and we can do little about its value. It is impossible to escape from modem civilization and do without money; its claws reach out to clasp us wherever we try to hide from it.
Consider also the price of food. A group of ministers of the European Common Market meet in Brussels, and the price of butter and milk changes for millions in Europe as a result. Or there is a bad frost in Brazil and coffee doubles in price and soon coffee mixed with chicory is sold. Or the oil-producing states decide to raise the cost of oil and the price of everything changes as a result. It seems that the market forces are beyond our control; yet in order not to starve and to survive we have to be involved in them. What applies to market forces also applies to environmental and social realities, especially the place of technology in our society. The tentacles of technology wrap themselves around us, squeezing out our individuality; but should they ever be loosed, our civilization would collapse. Think of electricity and our dependence upon it in the home, college, industry; think of our roads, bridges, high-rise buildings, and tunnels; think of our airplanes, trains, buses, and cars; think of our televisions, radios, and electrical equipment; think of our modem hospital and its total dependence upon technology. We are so used to the practical manifestations of technology that we do not realize how totally dependent on these we are and how committed to their continuance we have become.
Then consider social organization in a communist country where the Party is supreme, controlling virtually every aspect of the life of the population. In so-called Western democracy the power of social organization is more subtle but still very powerful. Consider how powerful is the motivation – “I must keep up with the Joneses” – in regard to furniture, garden, dress, car, etc. Consider how difficult or impossible it is for those born in a black ghetto in the U.S.A. or in an inner-city area in England ever to do anything other than a laboring job or to be unemployed.
Modern Europeans and Americans themselves are in bondage to spirits, the spirits of powerful economic, technological, social, and environmental realities. The devil guides the “ruling spirits” so that they make use of the real forces in our civilization. They do not use all of them all the time, but they use some of them all the time and for different ends. Thus, one person or group may be primarily gripped by the economic forces while another may be gripped by the social organization. This seems to me to be the equivalent in modem terms of people in Galatia being in bondage to the beliefs, practices, and social life style connected with the various cults and religions of the area.
To summarize: Human beings are not free people. They are captives of sin, the moral law, and the devil. They may rebel against these masters, but they can never liberate themselves. If they are to be set free, then liberation must come from outside.
TWO QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What is the best way of explaining sin to young people who take for granted our affluent, technological society with all its presuppositions?
2. To what extent may it be said that Western people are slaves of technology? Is life possible today without the products of technology?
TWO – Jesus the Free Man
In the history of mankind there has only been one genuinely free man, Jesus of Nazareth. In freedom he chose to obey the Law of Moses; in freedom he chose to fulfill the calling of Messiah and Savior; and in freedom he chose to die on the cross.
The most obvious form of freedom is choice. For Westerners a free society is one in which there is freedom to choose job, house, car, and so on. However, in the biblical sense of freedom no one is free, for “everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence” (Rom. 3:23). Human beings are not free in the sense that they can totally avoid sin. Even their best actions are tainted with sin. Jesus too was faced with choice, but because he was not a sinner he had genuine freedom to choose. Constantly in his life and ministry he rejected the way of the world and followed the will of God.
We have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin (Heb. 4:15).
In many ways he was tested but he did not submit himself to evil, sin, or the devil.
The whole contents of the Gospels may be used to illustrate the freedom of Jesus, but in one part of them the reality of this freedom is highlighted and explained. This is the description of the temptations of Jesus. After his baptism by John the Baptist, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into a remote region, the wilderness of Judea, in order to prepare for his short but universally important ministry in Palestine. Here he was tempted by the devil as he fasted and prayed. We may claim that the three temptations described in Matthew 4:1–11 and Luke 4:1–13 represent the whole number or totality of temptations which Jesus later encountered in his ministry and which we encounter as Christians in the world. Let us follow Matthew’s description and examine them one by one.
Jesus engaged in a fast of forty days as Moses had done (see Exod. 34:28 and 1 Kgs. 19:8); the fast was a preparation for a spiritual struggle. Toward the end of the forty days Jesus became extremely hungry. His physical desire for food prepared the way for the devil to tempt him, not only as an individual but also as the one who had accepted from God the representative task of Messiah.
FREE TO OBEY
As a spiritual being the devil was able to speak directly to the mind of Jesus. First of all he. tempted the hungry and tired Jesus by saying:
“"If you are God’s Son, order these stones to turn into bread” (Matt. 4:3).
Surrounded by stones, deeply hungry, aware of his special relationship to God the Father, and conscious of the example of Moses, Jesus is tempted both to break his vow of fasting and to use the supernatural power available to him as Messiah to provide food. To a sinful man such a temptation would probably have been impossible to resist. But Jesus, in freedom, answers the devil and resists the temptation by referring to God’s will, revealed in the Hebrew Bible:
Man cannot live on bread alone but needs every word that God speaks (Deut. 8:3).
The passage in which this statement appears teaches that the trials of the people Israel – even their hunger in the desert – were meant to teach them dependence on and obedience to God. Jesus is saying that the ultimate “food” by which the free man maintains his freedom is obeying the will of the Lord.
We may say that this temptation is about the basic necessities of life. Few of us know what real hunger or thirst are. Jesus the free man did not allow even the legitimate, the necessary, basic need for food to make him a slave; if he had, he would have become a slave of sin. To have food was right and proper, and food is a gift of God. But to let food stand between himself and God was to cease to obey God freely and lovingly.
Throughout his ministry Jesus made sure that he maintained his freedom by obeying God’s will for his life. Perhaps the best example of this is provided by the account of his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane as he saw the Cross and his death for the sins of the world looming in front of his eyes. He prayed, and as he prayed he expressed his commitment:
“My Father, if this cup [of suffering] cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matt. 26:42).
The temptation was to avoid the Cross. Freely he chose to submit to God’s will.
FREE TO TRUST
The second temptation was more subtle than the first. Jesus is invited this time to see himself perched on a projecting turret or buttress of the Temple of Jerusalem so that below him is a great drop to the ground. Then the tempter said:
“If you are God’s Son, throw yourself down, for the Scripture says, ‘God will give orders to his angels about you; they will hold you up with their hands, so that not even your feet will be hurt on the stones’” (Matt. 4:6).
The devil is inviting Jesus to test the providence of God in the place which is consecrated by the divine presence. And to add to the attractiveness of the temptation the devil quoted from Psalm 91:11, 12, which teaches that God cares for those who trust him. Many Jews were looking for a Messiah who would liberate them as a people from the Roman armies and give them national independence. Jesus is tempted to think of himself as the Messiah who attracts the attention and the following of the Jewish people by doing spectacular feats.
Again Jesus freely decided that the way offered by the devil was not God’s way. To seek to be the Messiah by doing what the world called great deeds would be to lose his freedom and to become, not the Messiah, but the would-be Messiah who failed. He replied with words which express the will of God:
“Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut. 6:16).
The passage in which this statement is found refers to the Israelites who put the Lord to the test by almost compelling him to provide water from a rock (see Exod. 17:1–7; Num. 20:1–13). But it was wrong for Israel to demand a miracle to confirm that God was with them; and it was wrong for Jesus to seek the proof of God’s guidance and care by jumping down from the Temple to the valley below. While sinful Israel failed, Jesus, the free man, did not.
The use of Scripture by the devil here is very interesting and reveals just how subtle temptation can be. He quoted from Psalm 91, and what he quoted is a truth from God. It is true that God does protect his people. If we read the whole of Psalm 91 we find that while God protects his people, he does expect them to trust wholly in him and to leave him to arrange examples of his supernatural care. Had the devil quoted verses 10–16, he would have had no temptation to offer. It was his quoting out of context which enabled him to use it for temptation. Here is a word of caution to all of us in our use of the Bible.
This type of temptation came again to Jesus as he was hanging on the cross. “‘Come down from the cross and save yourself!’” the people mockingly cried. The Jewish religious leaders jeered and said, “‘He saved others, but he cannot save himself!’” (Mark 15:30, 31):
FREE TO SERVE
The third temptation was not subtle, but it was powerful. Jesus was invited to see himself on a high mountain from which he had a good view of the kingdoms of the world. Moses, it will be recalled, had gone to the top of Mount Nebo to see the Promised Land, the land he was not allowed to enter (Deut. 34:1–4). As God had promised to give all Canaan to Moses and the people of Israel, so here the devil, treating Jesus as a second Moses, promised not merely Palestine, but the whole world to Jesus if he would submit himself to his devilish way of doing things.
“‘All this I will give you ... if you kneel down and worship me’” (Matt. 4:9). Earthly power and glory were being offered here – the kind that Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar enjoyed. Why should not the Jewish Messiah have an earthly splendor which is equal to that of the greatest Gentile kings? The Jews had too long been a despised and persecuted people, and they needed a leader who could stand above the greatest Gentile leaders. The devil invited Jesus to cooperate with him so that together they could achieve great things.
Jesus replies in words which again express the will of God:
“Go away, Satan! The scripture says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!’” (Matt. 4:10).
The quotation is from Deuteronomy 6:13 and in its original context was a demand that Israel should worship God alone; the next verse condemns the recognition and service of other gods. Jesus again succeeded where sinful Israel had failed. Sinful Israel succumbed to idolatry, but Jesus used his freedom from sin to choose the service of God in the way God desired.
The temptation here is to adopt a typically human and acceptable idea and practice of power and authority. Satan or the devil is the “ruler of this world” and will remain so until the end of this evil age (see John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11 ). In offering Jesus a universal power he was realistically offering what was in his power to give, for, by the permission of God, the devil does have real power in the world (see 2 Cor. 4:4). At the end of the age this power will be permanently taken away.
Jesus could not accept the secular ideas and manifestations of power and authority, for already he had chosen another way. As he later said:
“Whoever wants to be first must place himself last of all and be the servant of all” (Mark 9:35).
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people” (Mark 10:45).
“'My food ... is to obey the will of the one who sent me and to finish the work he gave me to do” (John 4:34.
In God’s Kingdom there is rule by love. Christ’s authority is that of service and love.
THE ESSENCE OF FREEDOM
We must now try to pinpoint the nature of the freedom of Jesus. First of all, he is free in that he accepts his relationship to God. Each of us has a different calling from God. The calling of Jesus was to be the Messiah, and this calling he freely and gladly accepted. His commitment to this calling enabled him to reject other possible ways of life.
Second, he is able to reject the perspectives of the devil, which are the perspectives of the world; he looks at life in a radically different way. The devil presented the attraction of the secular world to him in the form by which the world knows and experiences power and glory. Jesus manifested and declared his freedom in that he transferred the discussion to a different plane, the plane of the will of the Lord who made heaven and earth. Jesus was free, as it were, not to play the game by Satan’s rules. Instead he said to Satan, “I will play the game by God’s rules.”
Finally, he is free in that he did not call to his aid those supernatural powers which were available to him. He could have called upon the good angels at any time to be with him, but he freely chose not to do so. He was free, therefore, three years later to refuse to call angels to release him as he hung in agony on the cross.
Perhaps some readers will find themselves at this stage asking the question, “Was Jesus not also God?” Of course he was. In freedom the eternal Son of God became a man, Jesus of Nazareth. And in a way which is very difficult for us to understand, Jesus of Nazareth was at one and the same time perfect man and perfect God in one person. The divine in him did not prevent the development of his humanity and did not prevent the Holy Spirit entering the humanity. The divine nature of Jesus Christ perfectly cooperated with his human nature but did not interfere with it to make it more or less than human. Because of this perfect cooperation, what Jesus Christ did for human beings became, through God’s power, of lasting value for the whole human race.
TWO QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Did the fact that Jesus Christ possessed a divine nature in any way affect the development of his human body, personality, mind, and will?
2. If the temptations of Jesus covered the same kinds of temptations which all Christians face in all cultures and, centuries, give examples of the way in which the devil tempts us today. How do his temptations threaten our Christian freedom?
THREE – Jesus the Liberator
Jesus is not only the genuinely free man. He is also the Liberator. It is he to whom we look to set us free from the slavery of sin, death, the Law, and the devil. But how does he release us from the powerful grip of these forces? How does Jesus set us free?
If we want to be theologically correct we have to say that the work of setting us free is the work of the three Persons of the Godhead. Paul teaches this in Galatians 4:4–7:
But when the right time finally came, God sent his own Son. He came as the son of a human mother, and lived under the Jewish Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might become God’s sons. To show that you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who cries, “Father, my Father.” So then you are no longer a slave, but a son.
Here we see that God the Father sends the Son into the world; in the world the Son redeems those who are slaves of the Law and of sin; and then the Father sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in those who accept the redemption of the Son. However, since the act of liberation was achieved by the Son in human form, Jesus Christ, it is therefore right to speak of him as the Liberator. In a later chapter we shall examine the liberating work of the Spirit in our lives.
FREE OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW
Paul makes it clear that Jesus chose to live as a Jew and to obey the Law. He did not obey it in part or imperfectly; he obeyed it totally. This meant keeping both the moral demands, summarized as loving God and one’s neighbor, and the religious demands in terms of attending the synagogue and Temple. However, he did not obey the Law in the same spirit as did the Pharisees. They were so keen to keep the minutest regulation that they lost out on the spirit of the Law. In the Sermon on the Mount (see Matt. 5–7) Jesus emphasized that the Law required holiness both of heart and life, of will and actions, of heart and relationships. Being free from sin, Jesus did keep the Law both in his internal life and in his relationship with others.
Further, as will become more meaningful after the next sections, Jesus obeyed the Law in a representative capacity. He certainly kept the Law for himself, Jesus of Nazareth; but, because he was also, in Paul’s words, the Second Adam and head of a new humanity (Rom. 5:12, ff.), he kept the Law for this people. And apart from keeping the Law, he also showed the people what God’s moral commands really meant and required. In Matthew 5 he “fills out” or “fills up” the meaning of the Law as it relates to murder (anger), adultery (lust), and other areas of conduct and thought.
FREE TO ACCEPT THE ROLE OF MESSIAH
Sometimes we think of Jesus in such a way that we diminish his humanity. We think of him as a kind of robot who obeys God’s will without question and without careful thought. Luke tells us that:
The child [Jesus] grew and became strong; he was full of wisdom, and God’s blessings were upon him (2:40).
And Jesus grew both in body and in wisdom, gaining favor with God and men (2:52).
Here I want to maintain that Jesus became conscious of his calling to be the Jewish Messiah over a period of time and that, even when he was sure of this, he still had to decide how God wanted him to accomplish this calling. At the age of twelve in the Temple he was aware of a special calling from God. At the age of about thirty he responded to God’s call to associate with John the Baptist and, when he was being baptized, he received God’s confirmation of his role as Messiah (see Mark 1:9–11). Then the period in the wilderness of Judea in which the devil tempted him was a period of working out the way to be God’s Messiah in Israel. He was not forced or coerced by the Holy Spirit to be the Messiah; rather, the Holy Spirit enabled him as a man to do God’s will.
Obviously to find out God’s will for him as Messiah he turned to the Word of God written in the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament. He found there several ways in which the work of the Messiah was described. In the first book of the Bible there is the promise that the arrival of sin in the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve will not be the final reality. One day there will be born a man who will reverse this (see Gen. 3:15). In the teaching of the great prophets there is the expression of a hope that this man will be a descendant of king David; see such passages as Isaiah 9:6, 7 and 11:1–10 (which are often read at Christmas); and Jeremiah 33:5, ff. From Isaiah there also comes a famous passage (which we read on Good Friday) in which God’s Servant achieves God’s purposes through suffering and death; see Isaiah 52:13–53:12. In the book of Daniel there is a description of “what looked like a human being” (“Son of Man” in some versions) and to him was given “authority, honor, and royal power, so that the people of all nations, races, and languages would serve him” (Dan. 7:13, 14). It is also in the book of Daniel that the term “Messiah” is actually used (9:25, 26) and it was meant to be a general term to cover the variety of names for the coming Savior.
Because most of his contemporaries used the title “Messiah” in terms of a political liberator, freeing the people from Roman rule, Jesus chose to use the little-used expression, “Son of Man.” This could mean merely “a man,” or in the sense of Daniel 7 and Psalm 2, a man to whom is given divine worship. So often we find him using “the Son of Man” as the equivalent of “I” (e.g., Mark 2:10).
It was by what we may call creative genius inspired by the Holy Spirit that Jesus united the various strands of teaching in the Bible concerning the Messiah. He interpreted these against the background of the work of kings, priests, and prophets and against the important background of the sacrificial system in the Temple. So from the whole of the Old Testament he was taught by the Spirit to deduce the will of God for him as the Messiah.
When Jesus took part in the synagogue service in his own town of Nazareth he read from Isaiah 61:1, 2:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has chosen me to preach the
Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and recovery of sight to the blind;
To set free the oppressed,
and announce that the time has come
when the Lord will save his people” (Luke 4:18, 19).
Then he told the people that this prophecy was being fulfilled in front of them. He was the Liberator promised by God.
Part of his work as Liberator, which the Gospels make clear, was his work as teacher, healer, comforter, and guide. He spoke with an authority like that of the great prophets of the Old Testament and he displayed a compassion for people which was greater than the love which Hosea showed to his erring wife. In love he healed people suffering from both physical and mental diseases and in compassion he miraculously fed the multitudes who had left the villages to hear his remarkable teaching. He spoke much of the Kingdom of God – the present rule of God in obedient disciples of the Kingdom and the future rule of God in a universe from which all sin has been removed.
Jesus recognized that his task was more than that of a leader of the Jews. He was called to be the Savior of the world, to save people from the slavery of sin. In the words of Isaiah’s prophecy he learned that only by suffering and death could he actually finally fulfill his ministry:
But because of our sins he was wounded,
beaten because of the evil we did.
We are healed by the punishment he suffered,
made whole by the blows he received.
All of us were like sheep that were lost,
each of us going his own way.
But the Lord made the punishment fall on him,
the punishment all of us deserved (Isa. 53:5, 6).
The idea that the Messiah would suffer and die was something that the disciples of Jesus found difficult to understand even though he often insisted that it was God’s will that he should suffer, die, and then be raised from the dead (see Mark 8:31; 9:12; 9:31; 10:33; 10:45).
Each human being deserves punishment from God for his sins. As the Second Adam, the new representative of humanity, Jesus died in the place of his sinful fellow creatures. In their place he suffered the punishment of God for sin. In the Old Testament a spotless animal sacrifice was offered to God for the sins of the people on the annual Day of Atonement (see Lev. 16:11–15). In his death on the cross at Calvary Jesus was offered (rather, he offered himself) as a spotless Lamb and as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. His death on our behalf made an atonement for the sins of the world (see Heb. 1:3; 1 Pet. 2:24). Freely Jesus gave his pure, sinless life to the world (represented in A.D. 33 by the Roman Empire) and to death (the common lot of everyone). God accepted this self-giving by Jesus as the means by which he could forgive the sins of those who believe in Jesus as their Savior.
In order to describe and explain what Jesus achieved in his sacrificial death and glorious resurrection from the dead, the writers of the New Testament use various images or models. Here we shall look at three, those of redemption, victory, and atonement.
In the Roman Empire redemption referred to the paying of ransoms within definite, legal structures. When a Roman citizen was captured by an enemy in war and became a prisoner of war it was the obligation of the captured man’s family or friends to release him from his bondage. This usually meant paying a ransom to those in the foreign land for whom the man was working as a slave. Once released from captivity, the Roman became the slave of the person who had paid the ransom. Then two options were available to him. Either he could pay to his new master the money the master paid for him; or the master could cancel the debt and set him free. Then he resumed his status as a free man and a full citizen; his period as a slave was forgotten, for he was a redeemed man. It is important to note that this kind of release from slavery is not the same as the release of a household or plantation slave. In the latter case, though free, the slave still had certain obligations to his former master.
This model of redemption helps us to see that once we are set free by Christ we have no obligations to our former masters, sin, law, and the devil. The price paid for our redemption was an incalculable one:
For you know what was paid to set you free from the worthless manner of life handed down by your ancestors. It was not something that can be destroyed, such as silver or gold; it was the costly sacrifice of Christ, who was like a lamb without defect or flaw (1 Pet. 7:18, 19).
As the sacrifice of clean animals under the Old Covenant had been God’s appointed way of removing sin, so in the New Covenant Jesus redeems us by the sacrifice of his pure life.
People sometimes ask: to whom was the ransom paid? If we are logical we have to say that it was paid either to the devil or to sin, for we were captives of these forces. In fact this image or model is not meant to be pressed so far. Rather it is used by Jesus (see Mark 10:45), by Paul (see Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13, 14), and by Peter (see 1 Pet. 1:18, 19) to highlight the fact that it took a costly action by the Son of God, as Man, to bring mankind back from the domination of evil.
In Romans 3:23–25 Paul links the model of redemption with the ideas of expiation (cleansing from sin) and propitiation (removing the anger of God against our sin). He writes:
Everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence. But by the free gift of God’s grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free. God offered him, so that by his death he should become the means by which people’s sins are forgiven through their faith in him.
Because in Jesus Christ the divine nature was united with the full and complete humanity, what Jesus did could be made available to the whole world. His work in redemption was given an eternal and universal reference because it was not merely the work of the sinless Man, but the work of the One who is God made Man. This is difficult to understand, but it lies at the heart of Christianity. Through the will of the Father, what Jesus achieved sufficed for people of all times and places, and what he achieved lasts for eternity.
We have noted the Roman background to redemption; this is important, for Paul wrote to people living in the Roman Empire. The Hebrew background is also important. In the Old Testament the image of redemption is used to describe the mighty deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt (see Exod. 6:6, 7; 15:13; Deut. 7:8; 9:26). In the book of Isaiah “Redeemer” is a favorite name for God (see Isa. 44:24; 47:4). What God, the Lord, was to the people of Israel, Jesus, the Christ, is to the new people of God.
This is a familiar image or model for victory in war and has been a part of human history for as long as there have been tribes and nations. We have seen how hostile forces – evil angels, sin, the devil – hold human beings as captives. With these very forces Jesus Christ did battle. During his life he won a series of engagements and remained free of their influence. Then in his death, followed by resurrection and ascension, he won a dramatic and important victory. Paul taught that on the cross,
Christ freed himself from the power of the spiritual rulers and authorities; he made a public spectacle of them by leading them as captives in his victory procession (Col. 2:15).
In rising from the dead Jesus was, so to speak, dragging behind him as captives those forces which had sought to keep him in the grave.
In terms of his own relationship with these powers, Jesus has completely overcome them. Yet they still remain in the universe and they still cause trouble for human beings. Therefore there is yet to be the actual conquering of them as far as their relationship with the human race is concerned. This will happen at the end of the age. Paul taught that after the resurrection of the dead:
the end will come; Christ will overcome all spiritual rulers, authorities, and powers, and will hand over the Kingdom to God the Father. For Christ must rule until God defeats all enemies and puts them under his feet. The last enemy to be defeated will be death (1 Cor. 15:24–26).
So we are to view the victory of the Cross and resurrection as the strategic victory of a war; by this victory the final victory is assured. Perhaps an example of this is the Battle of Hastings in 1066 which insured for the victor, William the Conqueror, the throne of England. Christians live in the knowledge that Christ himself has conquered every hostile spiritual power in the universe and that he will remove all these powers from the universe at the end of the age. Thus in this present evil age they can have victory over sin and Satan as they are led by Christ the victorious one (see Rom. 8:31, ff.).
Earlier, reference was made to the annual Day of Atonement in the religion of Israel. After the death of Jesus there is no longer any need for such a day and for such an offering for, as John says, he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (see John 1:29). The word “atonement” is used in the New Testament to describe what Jesus achieved in his suffering and death. However, though the word is used in the King James Version of Romans 5:11 (“By whom [Christ] we have now received the atonement”), we find that the modern versions prefer the word “reconciliation” in Romans 5:11 and other places (e.g., 2 Cor. 5:18–21; Col. 1:21, 22). What is involved in “at-one-ment” or “reconciliation” may be compared to an ancient king or modern president proclaiming an amnesty for rebellious citizens and urging them to accept it. God in Christ has taken the initiative about our sins and has proclaimed in the gospel that we now may be at one with him. We may enter into harmonious relationships with him and do not need to hide ourselves in fear from him.
Perhaps at this stage we may recall the image of alienation which was introduced in the first chapter to provide a way of understanding the universal power of sin. “At-one-ment” or “reconciliation” provides the answers to the problem of the alienation by sin. By Christ the barrier of sin is removed, and so meaningful relationships are possible both between God and man and between man and man. Those who trust in Jesus become the children and the friends of God; they also become brothers and sisters of others who trust in God. In union with Jesus Christ they are in union with God and with one another (see Gal. 3:28). The possibility is therefore open for deep, loving relationships between people, such as existed between Jesus and the inner circle of his disciples.
If we are using the model of alienation, then there is yet a further level at which Christ’s “at-one-ment” takes place. This is in ourselves as unfulfilled and disoriented sinners. He gives us fulfillment; he makes us whole; he gives a meaning and purpose to our existence in this age, whether we live in the inner city, the suburbs, or the country.
The freedom which Jesus the Liberator won for us in his death and resurrection is an objective reality which he holds for us. In him, by the will of the Father, we are redeemed, set free from the guilt and power of sin, and made God’s friends. Objectively in Christ we are forgiven, justified, and adopted as children – that is, when we accept the gospel by repenting of sin and believing in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Through union in faith with Christ we are members of a new humanity and fellow heirs with Christ of the Father’s eternal Kingdom.
This full freedom will be experienced in the life of the age to come, after the judgment of the nations. It will be the basis for the life of the “new heavens and the new earth” which God will create.
In this present evil age in which we live it is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring to us the freedom which Christ has won and now holds for us. Because of our sinfulness, and because of the sinfulness of the world in which we live, we cannot receive the whole of our freedom at the moment of our conversion to God. As we grow in love of God and learn to obey Christ, the Holy Spirit makes real within us the freedom Christ, our Savior, is holding for us. So we grow in this life in grace and freedom and we look forward to the full experience of freedom after the great resurrection of the dead, when in bodies like Christ’s glorious resurrection body, we will live to the praise of God.
TWO QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What Jesus did occurred nearly 2,000 years ago. How can this reach and affect us today?
2. What is the most helpful model/image for explaining to young people today the work of Jesus in taking away sin?
FOUR – Jesus the Lord
Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. By this great act of God the disciples were given new hope. Their fears were turned into joy through their encounters with the risen Master. Then, at the Feast of Pentecost, they were given the gift of the Holy Spirit, the presence and power of God in and with them (see Acts 2). The Spirit came to represent Jesus and to help the disciples to continue the liberating work of Jesus in the world. The arrival of the Spirit made such an impact on the disciples, gathered in a hall in Jerusalem, that they had to express their joy and praise visibly and emotionally. They went out into the streets and there spoke of the saving deeds of God in Jesus by the power of the Spirit.
Peter, the natural leader, took this great opportunity to preach the good news of the resurrection of Jesus and that in him was the hope for the Jews. Part of his address went as follows:
“God has raised this very Jesus from death, and we are all witnesses to this fact. He has been raised to the right side of God, his Father, and has received from him the Holy Spirit, as he had promised. What you now see and hear is his gift that he has poured out on us. For it was not David who went up into heaven; rather he said,
‘The Lord said to my Lord:
Sit here at my right side, until I put your enemies as a footstool under your feet’ [Psa. 110:1].
All the people of Israel, then, are to know for sure that this Jesus, whom you crucified, is the one that God has made Lord and Messiah!” (Acts 2:31–36).
Here we have the declaration of the exaltation of Jesus to the glory of heaven, the giving of the gift of the Holy Spirit through him to the disciples, and the claim that Jesus is both Messiah and Lord.
The theme of the exaltation of Jesus to the right-hand side of God, that is to the highest place of honor in the universe, is found in a short poem which Paul uses in Philippians 2:6–11. It contains reference first to the act of the Son of God becoming man; second to his humble life and sacrificial death; and third to his exaltation into heaven to be the Lord.
He always had the nature of God,
but he did not think that by force
he should try to become equal with God.
Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had,
and took the nature of a servant.
He became like man
and appeared in human likeness.
He was humble and walked the path
of obedience all the way to death –
his death on the cross.
For this reason God raised him to the highest place above
and gave him the name that is greater than any other name.
And so, in honor of the name of Jesus
all beings in heaven, on earth, and
in the world below
will fall on their knees,
and all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
The great new name for Jesus is the name of “Lord.” To see why this is such an important title we must now make a short study of its meaning.
The Greek word is kyrios and it occurs over seven hundred times in the New Testament. Luke uses it 210 times and Paul 275 times. As both these men were writing to Gentiles we can rightly assume that the word was meaningful to people living in the Roman Empire, whose major language was Greek.
In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, kyrios occurs over 9,000 times. It is used of the Lord, the God of Israel, and also of human rulers. In the Greek New Testament kyrios is used for the God of Israel (see Luke 1:32 and Rom. 4:8). It is also used for rich landowners or slaveholders (see Luke 16:3, 5; and Eph. 6:5, 9). But it is also used of Jesus of Nazareth.
On several occasions Jesus is called “Lord” and this has the meaning of “respected Rabbi” (compare Matt. 17:4; Mark 9:5; Luke 9:33). In Matthew 7:21–23 Jesus has no commendation for those who call him “Lord” but do not obey his words. After the exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of the Father in heaven we find that “Lord” takes on a greater meaning. The first creed or confession of faith of the Christian community was “Jesus is Lord” or “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Rom. 10:9; 2 Cor. 4:5). This was a way of saying that Jesus of Nazareth was divine: he was the Son of God with human flesh.
In the Roman Empire such gods as Isis, Osiris, and Serapis were called “Lord”; in the Greek Bible the God of Israel was called “Lord” and when the Roman Emperor wanted to be thought of as a god he called himself “Lord.” So to call Jesus of Nazareth “the Lord Jesus Christ” was to give him divine honors and to confess that he was both God and man. Thus each Sunday was “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10) and the Christian meal was “the Lord’s Supper” (1 Cor. 11:20).
Having been exalted to heaven and given the title of “Lord,” Jesus Christ possessed all power in heaven and in the universe. So the early Christians confessed him not only as Lord of the Church but also Lord of all history. To use an old English word, Jesus is God’s “vicegerent,” who possesses and exercises the delegated authority and power given by the Father.
LORD OF THE CHURCH
The ruler of the people of the old covenant was God himself. In the worship of the Tabernacle and Temple they confessed him as Lord and King of Israel. By his redemption of the tribes from Egypt he had made them into his people. This basic theme is fundamental to the whole of the Old Testament. We read of the “assembly” or “congregation” of Israel (see Deut. 18:16; Judg. 20:2; 1 Kgs. 8:14; Lev. 10:17; Num. 1:16). Another possible translation is “Church.”
Turning from the Old to the New Testament we find that what God, the Lord Jehovah, was to ancient Israel, Jesus Christ is to the new Israel, the people of the new covenant. As the One possessing all authority, Jesus sent his disciples to all nations to make converts and to form churches (see Matt. 28:19, 20).
In describing the local church, over which Jesus Christ is the ruler, Paul compares it with the human body:
We have many parts in the one body, and all these parts have different functions. In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body (Rom. 12:4, 5).
As our human body is made of different parts but is nevertheless one unity, so the local church and the universal Church are made up of different types of people who form one unit. Paul also uses this image of the human body in 1 Corinthians 12 where he is sorting out the problems caused by improper use of spiritual gifts in the congregation.
Having described the local church and the universal Church as a body, Paul goes on to insist that the head of the body (in the sense of ruler) is Jesus Christ (see Col. 2:19). God the Father “has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body” (Eph. 1:22, 23, RSV).
Like the king of a kingdom or the head of a family, Jesus Christ has at his disposal all the gifts needed for the well-being and expansion of the Church. In Ephesians 4:7–16 Paul describes how the exalted Lord Jesus gives gifts to his Church – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, etc. – so that the Church may do his will. In chapter 5:22, 23 he also says that Christ has authority over the Church as the husband has authority over his wife. Paul also emphasizes that while God the Father has given the headship of the Church to Jesus, Jesus, himself, has earned it. For “Christ loved the church and gave his life for it” (Eph. 5:25).
Christ rules the Church by his Word (recorded in Scripture) interpreted by his ministers (the gifts he gives to the Church) in the power of the Holy Spirit. His rule extends to every aspect of the life of the Church-worship, fellowship, evangelism, business, money-raising, etc. There should be no area in which he is not present to cleanse and to rule. The Church is to exhibit to the world what being ruled by Christ actually means in practice.
LORD OF HISTORY
From the beginning to the end of the Bible it is made very clear that God is the ultimate ruler of the universe and of human history. The evidence brought to our notice by historians of ancient and modern history does not prove that God rules, although we may interpret it in this way. In fact the task of the modern historian is to deal only with the evidence of the senses, especially written documents. Those who believe that God rules do so in faith, for they confess God as the Creator of the universe and the judge of the nations. They believe that human history will cease when he decides to stop it and that the great events of history happen because God either causes them to be or else allows them to be.
Here are a few statements of faith from the Old Testament about the rule of God over the world:
The Lord is king,
the people tremble.
He sits on his throne above the winged creatures,
and the earth shakes.
The Lord is mighty in Zion;
he is supreme over all the nations (Psa. 99:1, 2).
For the Lord is a mighty God,
a mighty king over all the gods.
He rules over the whole earth,
from deepest caves to the highest hills.
He rules over the sea, which he made;
the land also, which he himself formed (Psa. 95:3–5).
Let all people everywhere know that the
Supreme God has power over human
kingdoms and he can give them to anyone he
chooses (Dan. 4:17).
The true Israelite lived by this faith, believing that behind all events and all life was the Sovereign God.
In the New Testament we find similar statements concerning the rule of God over human affairs:
No authority exists without God’s
permission, and the existing authorities have
been put there by God (Rom. 13:1).
Praise God! For the Lord, our Almighty God,
is King! (Rev. 19:6).
What we also find in the New Testament is that Jesus Christ, the vicegerent, is the One through whom God rules. The Son of God with his humanity rules the universe from his throne in heaven. The Lamb of God who gave his life is,
King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16)
Christ must rule until God defeats all enemies
and puts them under his feet (1 Cor. 15:25).
The rule of Christ as God’s vicegerent is now a matter of faith, but at the end of this age it will be a matter of reality. It will then become hard fact, as far as history is concerned. All will confess that Jesus is Lord – some out of grateful. thanks and some out of rational acknowledgment.
In the book of Revelation Jesus Christ is portrayed as the mighty Conqueror. Those whom he defeats by his resurrection, ascension, rule in heaven, and second coming are death, Hades (the abyss), the dragon (Satan), the beast (earthly empires), and the false prophet (false religious systems). Jesus told the persecuted churches of Asia:
I am the living one! I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I have authority over death and the world of the dead (Rev. 1:18).
At the end of the age, when all the hostile forces make their last attempt to destroy the Church, they will be completely overcome by Christ.
They will fight against the Lamb; but the Lamb, together with his called, chosen, and faithful followers, will defeat them, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings (Rev. 17:14).
Jesus is Lord of all spiritual lords – evil angels and the devil – and he is King of all earthly kings and emperors.
In his letter to the Ephesian Christians Paul provides a summary of the rule of Christ. He teaches that God, the Father,
raised Christ from death and seated him at his right side in the heavenly world. Christ rules there above all heavenly rulers, authorities, powers, and lords; he has a title superior to all titles of authority in this world and in the next. God put all things under Christ’s feet and gave him to the church as supreme Lord over all things (1:20–22).
There is also a fine summary statement at the opening of the Letter to the Hebrews:
In the past God spoke to our ancestors many times and in many ways through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son. He is the one through whom God created the universe, the one whom God has chosen to possess all things at the end. He reflects the brightness of God’s glory and is the exact likeness of God’s own being, sustaining the universe with his powerful word. After achieving forgiveness for the sins of mankind, he sat down in heaven at the right side of God, the Supreme Power.
In this last passage we are taught that the Son of God, before he took a human nature, shared with the Father in the creation of the world (and now shares with him in its preservation). This is a topic our present subject does not require us to look into but it is nevertheless an important part of our confession of faith.
Therefore, we see that Jesus the Liberator is also Jesus the Lord. The One who sets us free does not release us in order for us to go wherever, and to do whatever, we like; he releases us so that we may follow him. What this means in practice will be discussed in later chapters.
THE LORDSHIP OF CHRIST AND THE OLD TESTAMENT
A question often asked by young people is “What authority does the Old Testament possess for Christians?” They mention such things as the complex regulations concerning sacrifices, food, and health in Leviticus. “If we follow the Lord Jesus,” they say, “what need do we have for the Old Testament?”
The first point of importance is that we accept the Old Testament as God’s Word because our Lord did so. He used Scripture when he was tempted by the devil and for his knowledge of God’s will for his life. We recognize that Christ did fulfill the Law and the Prophets (see Matt. 5:17). He acted out all the passages which referred to the Messiah and with his sacrificial death on the cross he made obsolete the sacrificial system of the Temple (see Heb. 7–10). In his moral teaching he brought out the full meaning of God’s righteous demands upon his people, demands first revealed in the Law of Moses.
However, this important fulfillment does not make the Old Testament redundant. Before the New Testament books were written and collected the only Bible which the early churches possessed was the Old Testament. If we reread the Old Testament we find important aspects of God’s revelation only briefly mentioned in the New which are more fully explained in the Old. Two examples would be the teaching that God is the Creator of the world and that God made human beings perfect – Genesis 1–3.
Then at the center of the Old Testament is the history of Abraham and his descendants, the Israelites; this history is often taken for granted in the teaching of Jesus and his apostles, and thus to understand them we need to know this history. Also in this history are many illustrations of the way God has spoken and had a relationship with human beings. As God does not change, the Church has always believed that much can be learned from these illustrations.
Even the laws of Moses on sacrifice, health, crime and punishment, civil order, and slavery have something to teach us. Underlying them are solid principles for the good ordering of human society, from which our society has much to learn. The teaching of the prophets reinforces these principles. Finally, in the Psalms Christians have always found an authoritative guide to their own prayer and devotional lives.
TWO QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Paul teaches that no person can say that Jesus is Lord but by the inspiration and help of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor. 12:3). What does he mean?
2. How does Jesus, the Lord, rule the Church and the individual Christian? Be as practical as possible in your answers.
FIVE – Freedom and the Law
Jesus our Liberator and Lord chose to obey the Law of Moses. As we have already noticed, he did this as the Head of the new Israel. He obeyed God’s Law not only as a free individual but also as the representative of others, those who trust in him. Also, as the Head of this new people, he set a certain standard and gave various commandments to the community. Our task in this chapter is to see how our freedom from the Law can be harmonized with our duty to obey the commandments of Christ our Lord.
THE NEW LAW
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told a Jewish audience that he was not attempting to destroy the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) or the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures:
Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. I have not come to do away with them, but to make their teachings come true (Matt. 5:17).
In his perfect life of love to God and man Jesus was making the Bible a living truth; in his work as the Messiah he was fulfilling the prophecies in both the Torah and the Prophets; and, in his teaching about God’s Kingdom he was bringing out the full meaning and implication of the commandments God gave to Israel through Moses. By everything that he was, said, and did, Jesus made the new covenant between God and man a reality.
In the rest of Matthew 5 Jesus shows how he understands the commandments of God concerning such matters as murder and adultery. He insists that his interpretation is what God intends. For Jesus the command that there be no murder refers not only to the act of murder but to thoughts in the heart which look on another human being with hate. The same principle applies to adultery. In Matthew 6 Jesus deals with the type of worship which disciples should offer to God. He examines three important parts of Jewish worship: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Finally in Matthew 7 he shows how disciples should relate to one another and to people in general. Here he makes use of the Golden Rule:
“Do for others what you want them to do for you: this is the meaning of the Law of Moses and of the teachings of the prophets” (Matt. 7:12).
The sermon closes with the story of the two men who built houses, one on sand and one on rock. The first house could not withstand the storms and fell down, but the second stood firm. So those who build their lives on the word of Jesus will build on a lasting and firm foundation. The person who follows Jesus the Lord is called by his Master to a life which always aims at perfection.
You must be perfect – just as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48).
He is called to follow Jesus, who was perfect to the fullest extent that a person living in a human body, and in time and space, can be morally and spiritually perfect. In his love for God and man, in his faith and trust in God, and in his total devotion to the will of the Father, Jesus was perfect. This perfection is not exactly the same as the perfection of the infinite God who abides in eternity, but it is the only form of perfection possible in a created, temporal universe.
Jesus told us that he is the way, the truth, and the life and that only through him can we come to the Father (see John 14:6). We come to the Father through Jesus because he is both our Liberator, opening up the way and giving us new life; and our Lord, teaching us the truth in which we are to live. All God’s gifts and words to us come through Jesus and all our knowledge of God and approach to the Father come through Jesus. So he is a complete Savior, Master, and Mediator.
In Mark 12:28–34 there is an account of the reply of Jesus to a question put to him by a Jewish expert in the Law of Moses. He wanted to know “which commandment is the most important of all?”
Jesus replied, “The most important one is this: ‘Listen, Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second most important commandment is this: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment more important than these two.”
Jesus is here stating that the whole of the Law may be summed up in the two commands to love God and one’s neighbor. With this the scribe who asked the question agreed.
When I ask myself, “How do I love myself,” the answer must be “selfishly.” So to love my neighbor as myself may not be in practice to love him truly or deeply. Because Jesus knew that our hearts hold sin, he made clear the meaning of loving others. After he had taken the role of a slave and washed the sweaty and dusty feet of his disciples, Jesus told them of his forthcoming death and then said:
“And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
Later that day Jesus described himself as the “real Vine” to whom the disciples as branches are united. Then he said to them:
“My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you. The greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them” (John 15:12, 13).
The washing of the disciples’ feet and his death on the cross are the examples to bear in mind in interpreting these words of Jesus:
“I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you” (John 13:15).
Genuine love for the neighbor is the love which finds its example in the pure, self-giving compassion of Jesus, demonstrated in the foot washing and in the death at Calvary.
The example of Jesus lifts the Christian life above the mere keeping of rules for life. It sets it upon a plane in which, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the disciple like his Master begins to exemplify in action what “love” for others means. Love is such a tremendous relationship to others that words can never wholly explain it. That is why Jesus called his disciples to follow his example, and this is one reason why he kept the apostles with him constantly for there years. To them he said:
“Take my yoke and put it on you, and team from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit” (Matt. 11:29).
So, instructed by the words and example of Jesus – the One who fulfills the Law of the Old Testament – we are to live as he lived, loving our fellow human beings with his love.
This emphasis on love is beautifully expressed by John, the beloved disciple, in the first of his three letters:
Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. And God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven (1 John 4:7–10).
This is the love, given us by God, which “drives out all fear” (v. 18).
FREEDOM FROM LAW
Paul makes it absolutely clear that through the Law of Moses, or through the moral law as part of it, there can be no salvation. The fault is not in the Law itself but in the sinful hearts of those who seek to obey it.
The Law itself is holy, and the commandment is holy, right, and good (Rom. 7:12).
No man is put right in God’s sight by doing what the Law requires; what the Law does is to make man know that he has sinned (Rom. 3:20).
In Christ a new way of gaining salvation has come and it is the gift of God to needy sinners.
In Romans 7:1–6 Paul makes use of a simple illustration taken from marriage (at a time when divorce was not as common!). He says that as long as one’s partner is alive she is not free to marry another person. However, when either the wife or husband dies the legal bond between them ceases to exist and the other is free to remarry. So, says Paul, a person is born under God’s Law and God requires him to keep that Law. He is married, as it were, to the Law. Yet when he is united in faith to Christ he finds that the Law is dead as far as he is concerned. The Law has died in that Jesus Christ has satisfied its demands at two levels: first, he has kept it perfectly and, second, he has taken the punishment due from God for the breaking of it by human beings. So the believer is set free from the Law and is married to Christ. And this is a perfect second marriage.
In Galatians 4:21–31 Paul uses an allegory to explain the freedom from law enjoyed by Christians. Abraham had two wives, one a slave woman called Hagar, and one a free woman called Sarah. Hagar’s child was born to a slave and thus into slavery: Sarah’s child was born into freedom. Hagar represents the people whose religion is centered on the Temple in Jerusalem, who look for salvation through the Law; they are slaves to the Law. Sarah represents those whose religion is centered on the heavenly Temple, wherein Christ rules; they are free from the Law.
Paul gives a summary of his teaching in Romans 10:4:
For Christ has brought the Law to an end, so that everyone who believes (in Jesus) is put right with God.
With the appearance of God’s Son in human flesh on earth the way to the Father becomes only through him. There can be no other access for sinners. Theologians speak of Christ’s active and passive righteousness. His active righteousness is the perfection of his obedience to God’s Law, exemplified for us in his holy life. His passive righteousness is the sacrifice for sin he offered when he became our substitute on the cross. Because of the passive righteousness we are forgiven, and because of the active righteousness we are reckoned as righteous and therefore justified. This theme of justification by faith was the great message of Martin Luther in the sixteenth century and of other reformers after him. It is a liberating message to all who feel the guilt of their sins, who know they are slaves of sin.
Paul, the former strict Jew, is so sure that “Christ is the end of the law” that he can write in very forceful terms against those who deny this truth. Where he found Christians teaching that apart from faith in Christ it was also necessary to keep all or part of the Mosaic Law, he acted quickly and firmly. This problem arose in the churches of Galatia. Some Jewish Christians were insisting that to be true Christians it was necessary to keep the dietary laws of Judaism and for men to be circumcised. To combat this error that Christ plus the Law equals salvation, Paul wrote:
Listen! I, Paul, tell you that if you allow yourselves to be circumcised, it means that Christ is of no use to you at all. Once more I warn any man who allows himself to be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the whole Law. Those of you who try to be put right with God by obeying the Law have cut yourselves off from Christ (Gal. 5:2–4).
To revert to the principles of the Law of Moses was to revert to slavery and to lose freedom. As a way, or as part of the way of salvation, the Law is at an end and it cannot be revived. Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and so the Law can never again be a means of salvation.
FREEDOM TO LOVE
Some people always draw the wrong conclusions from what they hear or read. All of us have met such people. Paul had to face the problem – and so did James, by the evidence of his Epistle – of some Christians who thought that since Christ was the Savior and the Law was at an end, there was no reason why they should not think and do what they liked. There were members of the Corinthian church who said, “I am allowed to do anything” (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23) and Paul had to supply good reasons why freedom in Christ means a freedom to live for the glory of God and not for sin.
Also in the Roman church people were making similar comments and so Paul asked the question:
What, then? Shall we sin, because we are not under law but under God’s grace? (Rom. 6:15).
In reply he made use of the analogy of the slave market, where slaves are sold and thus lose one master and gain another. He emphasized that freedom from the Law (the old master) does not mean freedom to do anything, for in being set free the Christian gains a new Master.
Now you have been set free from sin and are the slaves of God (6:22).
The Lord Jesus Christ is the Master we gain when at our conversion to God we are set free from the power of sin and Satan. This Master has totally different standards from our old master and he expects us to take his standards seriously.
It is at this point that Paul’s teaching dovetails with that of his Master and Lord. We examined earlier the moral teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and in John 13 and 15. Paul’s teaching is clear: those who are Christ’s disciples are to live by Christ’s commandments. Set free from the power of sin they are to love God and man. Paul wrote:
Be under obligation to no one – the only obligation you have is to love one another. Whoever does this has obeyed the Law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not desire what belongs to someone else” – all these, and any others besides, are summed up in the one command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you love someone, you will never do him wrong; to love, then, is to obey the whole Law (Rom. 13:8–10).
By loving the neighbor as Christ loved people, Christians will not earn their salvation. Rather, by loving the neighbor through the love of God which has been poured into their hearts (see Rom. 5:5), Christians prove that they are both recipients and channels of the love of God. If their love for others fulfills the moral law, then they know that it is not their own love, it is the gift of God within them which fulfills the law.
Because Christians are not slaves of the Law they are set free to love God and men with a pure intention. In this act of loving they do what God intended his people to do even in the old covenant; they are able to do it in the new covenant because of the gracious presence of the Spirit in their hearts (see Jer. 31:33). From the Spirit come the virtues which are pleasing to God, and the chief of these is love (see Gal. 5:22). Of love Paul wrote:
Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up: and its faith, hope, and patience never fail (1 Cor. 13:4–7).
This is Paul’s way of saying what Jesus said when he told his disciples to love as he loved them, and what Jeremiah said about the law being written on our hearts (see Jer. 31:31–34).
From what has been said it is obvious that the Christian idea of love is far removed from the common idea of love as only sexual attraction, or such relationships as are expressed in many modern songs, plays, and films. When Christian love is seen in the life of a believer it is a beautiful reality to behold.
That great Christian leader, St. Augustine of Hippo, is reported to have said that Christians may love God and do what they want. Such a statement is good advice to people who know the New Testament well and are experienced Christians. Such people will only do what they know God approves! Most of us, however, need help in order to understand how love operates in different situations. This help is found in the Sermon on the Mount and in other places in the Gospels. It is also found either scattered through various letters of the New Testament (e.g., 1 Cor. 6–7; 1 John 2; 1 Pet. 3) or at the end of letters (e.g. Rom. 12–16; Eph. 5–6). The apostles explained how love to God and love for man actually operated in specific areas of life and human relationships – for example, between husbands and wives. James called it “the perfect law that sets men free” (James 1:25).
In explaining how love operates the apostles were not bringing back the Law of Moses; neither were they putting the moral law between Christ, the Lord, and his disciples. They were teaching that the free service of Christ involves loving as he loves; such love is not merely an emotion or an attitude; it is also a practical service. Thus in obeying Christ and following his example they were fulfilling the moral law; their motivation, however, was not the desire to obey the law but the desire to serve Jesus their Savior and Master and do true good for people.
Paul makes this point clear in two places in 1 Corinthians. The first is in 6:12–14 where he teaches that in freedom we are to live for God’s glory.
Someone will say, “I am allowed to do anything.” Yes; but not everything is good for you. I could say that I am allowed to do anything, but I am not going to let anything make me its slave.
Freedom in Christ is an absolute freedom, for he is a total Savior. However, his freedom is a freedom to glorify God, and not all activities or pleasures glorify God. For example, overeating or consorting with a prostitute do not bring glory to God.
The second point is in 10:23–25 where he says:
“We are allowed to do anything,” so they say. That is true, but not everything is good. “We are allowed to do anything” – but not everything is helpful. No one should be looking out for his own interests, but for the interests of others.
This time the emphasis is on exercising freedom for the good of others, a rule which proceeds from loving our neighbor with Christ’s love.
The question, “How do I know how to behave as a Christian?” is a good one. An answer can only be given here in general terms, for each of us has to give an account to God for his thoughts and actions. Here are seven points.
1. My basic commitment to God is always to imply that I freely desire to obey my Lord who loved me and gave his life for me (see Gal. 2:20). This is only possible by the help of God’s grace.
2. I am always to pray that my attitude may be the same as that of the Lord Jesus (see Phil. 2:5). My mind needs to work like his mind did.
3. I am to learn from his general life style (see Matt. 11:29) and from his specific examples of love (see John 13:15). This means careful study of his life.
4. I am to learn from his teaching about the way disciples of the Kingdom should live. This means careful reading of his teaching.
5. I am to team from the apostles how they applied the principle of love to practical situations. This means careful study of the Epistles.
6. I am to seek the advice of those who are older and more experienced than I am, for we are all members of the body of Christ (see Rom. 12).
7. In the last analysis, I am to be true to my conscience. Each of us should firmly make up his own mind (see Rom. 14:5) and remember that whatsoever is not of faith is sin (see Rom. 14:23). I must live not as a sinner conscious of guilt, but as a sinner pardoned by grace and serving the Lord with joy.
This guidance takes into account the fact that Christians are temples of the Holy Spirit, a topic to which we turn in the next chapter. It also takes into account that we live in a complex society where decisions are not always between what is evil and what is good, but between different levels of evil.
SOCIETY AND THE MORAL LAW
When Paul teaches that Christians are free from the Law he means Christians, and Christians only. For in Christ, as we have seen, we have a more gracious and a more demanding Master than the law could ever be.
However, God is a righteous Lord and his moral demands upon men summarized in the Ten Commandments (see Exod. 20) remain as the standards upon which human society should be built. The freedom of the Christian can never become the freedom of the pagan, the atheist, the agnostic, or the do-gooder (unless they are converted). Therefore Christians who enjoy the liberty of being God’s children are to do their part in the places where they live to insure that God’s law is the basis of legislation and community affairs. For a few of us this will mean entering politics at the local or national level, and there seeking to change or make laws. For others it will mean joining a campaign against the legalizing of euthanasia or abortion. For some young people it will mean taking a full part in student affairs and politics in the university. And for yet others it will mean acting in one of a variety of ways, as their Christian reason and conscience direct.
Each Christian will freely choose the way in which he believes God is calling him to serve society. Already Christ has told him that he is to be the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” (Matt. 5:13, 14); he will see his attempts to flavor society with the wholesome standards of God’s law as part of his function as salt. He will also see his attempts to commend the gospel by word and life as part of his function as light. In this attempt to promote civil righteousness he will not think that he is bringing people nearer to the Kingdom of God. Rather he will see his work as a response to God’s demand upon the human race to live in justice and mercy.
TWO QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. How can we best explain to church members how loving others as Christ loved us applies today?
2. In what ways can Christians help to keep God’s moral standards before society without appearing to be too “Puritanical” or “Pharisaical”?
SIX – Freedom and the Spirit
One thing is certain. We cannot freely love others as Christ loves us without his help. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, this help comes to us in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said:
“As bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).
In this chapter we examine the way in which the Holy Spirit, given to us by the Father through his Son, our Savior, makes us free. For, as Paul taught, “where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17).
THE NEW BIRTH
Jesus had a conversation with Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. The topic was how to enter the Kingdom of God or how God may rule in our lives. Jesus told him that it was necessary for a person to be born into the Kingdom through a second birth. To Nicodemus it seemed that Jesus was teaching about some kind of second physical birth. So to make the matter clear Jesus said to him:
“No one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. A person is born physically of human parents, but he is born spiritually of the Spirit. Do not be surprised because I tell you that you must all be born again. The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5–8).
The Holy Spirit is invisible and we know that he is present through what he does. He changes human lives. Secretly he works in human hearts; not even the people in whom he works are always conscious of his work. He makes individuals recognize that they are slaves of sin; he gives individuals a desire to turn to Jesus, the only Savior, and to obey Jesus as Lord (see John 16:8–10). It is only after we have become Christians that we can look back and recognize the preparatory work of the Spirit in our lives leading us to Christ (see 1 Pet. 1:2).
When a person responds to the gospel then the Holy Spirit enters his life as a permanent possession (see Eph. 1:14). The wind of God, having blown around and through him, now comes to exercise his power in the heart and soul. The work of the Spirit is God’s part in conversion; our part is to repent and to believe. Thus, unless the Spirit is in us we are not Christians. We may be religious; we may be good and we may be kind, but only the possession of the Spirit makes us Christians. In fact, as Paul says,
Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him (Rom. 8:9).
No one can confess “Jesus is Lord,” unless he is guided by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3).
The work of the Spirit in us leading to conversion is called regeneration, the placing of a new principle of life in our souls. This principle is eternal life, and because we have it we are in God’s Kingdom. With the life of God within us we can gladly and freely submit to God’s rule, and thus we are part of his Kingdom. Others are also born into the Kingdom, and so when the Spirit enters our hearts he also joins us to our brothers and sisters in Christ, for in their hearts is also the same Spirit. Regeneration joins us spiritually to Christ and to other human beings who believe in Christ. A local church is meant to be the visible fellowship of those in that locality who are joined to Christ and to one another.
Paul speaks both of Christ living in us and the Spirit being in us.
It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me (Gal. 2:20).
If the Spirit of God ... lives in you ... (Rom. 8:11).
This is not meant to confuse us. One of the tasks of the Holy Spirit is to make Christ real to us and within us. So if the Spirit dwells within us, then the Lord Christ also may be said to live within us. Christ dwells in our hearts by faith and the Spirit dwells there in reality.
THE JOY OF LIBERATION
One of the great nouns of the Christian vocabulary is “joy” and one of the great verbs is “to rejoice.” Peter wrote:
You rejoice with a great and glorious joy which words cannot express, because you are receiving the salvation of your souls, which is the purpose of your faith in him (1 Pet. 1:8, 9).
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete (John 15:11).
The greatest joy and privilege in the gospel is to be called and to know that I am a child of God. Think of it. By habit, I am a slave of sin, and now by the grace of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I am free to be a child of God, a son or daughter of my heavenly Father and a fellow-heir with Jesus my Savior (see Rom. 8:16). And in me lives the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote:
For the Spirit that God has given you does not make you slaves and cause you to be afraid; instead, the Spirit makes you God’s children, and by the Spirit’s power we cry out to God, “Father! my Father!” God’s Spirit joins himself to our spirits to declare that we are God’s children. Since we are his children, we will possess the blessings he keeps for his people, and we will also possess with Christ what God has kept for him; for if we share Christ’s suffering, we will also share his glory (Rom. 8:15–17).
We are sure that we live in union with God and he lives in union with us, because he has given us his Spirit (1 John 4:13).
Therefore, with our brothers and sisters in Christ we are able to pray from the depths of our beings, “Our Father in heaven: May your holy name be honored” (Matt. 6:9). Theologians describe this sense of belonging to God our Father through Jesus our Savior in the power of the Spirit as “the assurance of salvation.” There is no reason why Christians should not daily have this sense of the joy of being God’s child as they pray and work.
We may note four biblical words used to describe different aspects of the assurance of God’s love for us. First of all there is “adoption.” The practice of adoption – making a member of one family a member of another family – was fairly common in the Roman Empire. Paul took over the idea in order to show that sinners, who are members of the devil’s family, are made members of God’s family by his grace. They become God’s adopted children and so join Christ who is the true, eternal Son of the Father (see Eph. 1:5; Gal. 4:5, 6). Second, there is a “seal.” A seal on an article, often in wax, was used to identify the owner. So we are sealed with the Holy Spirit to indicate that we belong to God the Father through Jesus our Lord (see Eph. 1:13). Third, there is an “earnest” (“pledge” or “first-installment”). In buying something we are all familiar with the idea of an initial down payment. So the presence of the Holy Spirit in us is God’s pledge to us that he will take us to glory and give us the full life of joy in his presence. Finally, there is the “firstfruits.” The farmer picked the first ripe fruit before the whole crop was ready. The presence of the Spirit with us is God’s initial fruit, and in the life of the age to come we shall experience the full blessing of the harvest (see Eph. 1:14). The words seal, earnest, and firstfruits remind us of what was stated at the end of chapter there. The total freedom which we have in Christ will only be fully realized and experienced in the life of the age to come. Yet the freedom we have now is a genuine freedom, for it is brought to us by the Spirit.
FREEDOM FROM SIN AND DEATH
In the age to come we shall be free from sin. This is certainly promised by God’s Word! But is it possible that a dedicated Christian can be wholly released from the Power of sin in this mortal life and in this sinful world? This is an important question which must be answered.
To set the matter in context, let us affirm that through Christ we have the forgiveness of sins and thus we can claim daily:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves; and there is no truth in us. But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing (1 John 1:8, 9).
Thus, as far as the guilt of sins are concerned we have full and free forgiveness in Jesus our Savior. We are justified by faith and have peace with God.
Next, let us recognize that sin manifests itself in Christian lives in terms of such realities as pride, selfishness, vanity, arrogance, bad temper, unfaithfulness, telling of half-truths, exaggeration in speech, and so on. Christians both fail to do what they know they ought to do and do imperfectly what, they attempt – at least this is what they admit when they are speaking honestly. Sin is a very pervasive force and pushes its ugly features through different aspects of our personalities and characters. Like poison in the blood stream, it is unpredictable as to where it will surface to reveal its hideous qualities.
So we are forced back to our question: Can the presence of the Holy Spirit in the soul so affect our whole beings that the power of sin in us is not allowed to make itself known? Or, put another way, is it possible to live under the guidance of the Spirit and in his power so that the power of sin in us is nullified? The reader will observe that these considerations are different from the question: Can sin be removed from our bodies and souls this side of death and heaven? Although some groups have maintained that the “root of sin” can be totally removed from us and that we can be “entirely sanctified,” this teaching has never been held by the larger body of Christians through the centuries. Rather it has always been maintained that the removal of sin from our souls and bodies belongs to the further work of God in us after our death and before the great resurrection. Then we shall have glorious bodies like that of the resurrected Lord Christ.
So we must accept the fact that sin does remain in the believer until death. However, we can emphasize that, according to Scripture, it is possible to live a life in which the power of sin is more and more diminished in our lives, as we grow in the grace of God and in obedience to the Lord Jesus. The Christian life is meant to be a victorious life in which, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are released gradually but increasingly from the power of sin.
In Galatians 5 Paul clearly assumes that as long as we have human minds and bodies we have within us the principle of sin. As the soul is united to the body, so the principle of sin is united to our total humanity in this evil age. At the same time, Paul believes that, guided by the Holy Spirit, who is also united to our humanity, we can live in a way which pleases God.
What I say is this: let the Spirit direct your lives, and you will not satisfy the desires of the human nature. For what our human nature wants is opposed to what the Spirit wants, and what the Spirit wants is opposed to what our human nature wants.... But the Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control.... And those who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death their human nature with all its passions and desires. The Spirit has given us life; he must also control our lives (Gal. 5:16, 17, 22–25).
Obviously the Spirit controls our lives as we devote ourselves to the Lord Jesus, trust in our heavenly Father, and use all the means of grace available to us to receive God’s help.
In Romans 6 Paul gives some advice concerning the way in which sin can be prevented from affecting our lives. He says:
You are to think of yourselves as dead, so far as sin is concerned, but living in fellowship with God through Christ Jesus (v. 11).
Christ, our Lord and Representative, died on the cross and then gloriously rose from death. For us he has conquered sin and death and gained new life. It is a great help to daily see ourselves as dead to the power of sin and alive to serve God. Thus we allow the Spirit to lead us in the will of God and the way of Christ’s love. Christians are to give themselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life (in Christ), and they are to surrender their whole being to him to be used for righteous purposes (see Rom. 6:12–14). As this happens they will know the experience of being filled with the Spirit (see Eph. 5:18).
In 1 John there is also clear teaching about the need to live not as sinners but as those who are being led by the Spirit to love people.
Let no one deceive you, my children! Whoever does what is right is righteous, just as Christ is righteous. Whoever continues to sin belongs to the Devil, because the Devil has sinned from the very beginning. The Son of God appeared for this very reason, to destroy what the Devil had done. Whoever is a child of God does not continue to sin, for God’s very nature is in him; and because God is his Father, he cannot continue to sin. Here is the clear difference between God’s children and the Devil’s children: anyone who does not do what is right or does not love his brother is not God’s child (3:7–10).
Here John is emphasizing that the Christian who loves God also loves what God loves. This means that he cannot live a life of sin as he did before his conversion. Though the Christian does fail on many occasions to love God and man, the dominant theme and content of his life should be loving others as Christ loves us. John recognizes that failure to do God’s perfect will is a reality and so he teaches that “if we confess our sins ... God will forgive us our sins” (1:9). However, he insists in several places that if we are led by the Spirit we shall keep the commandments of the Lord Christ (e.g., 2:7–11).
All the New Testament writers speak of a victorious freedom in dying because they have a sure hope of the resurrection of the dead and eternal life. Paul wrote:
For what is life? To me, it is Christ. Death, then, will bring more (Phil. 1:21).
If we live, it is for the Lord that we live, and if we die, it is for the Lord that we die. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Rom. 14:8).
So the Christian faces death calmly and joyfully and when a brother or sister dies the church waves goodbye, knowing there will certainly be a reunion.
FREEDOM AND THE DEVIL
With the Spirit in our lives we are free to resist temptation from the devil. In this resistance we look to Jesus as our example, for as we noticed in chapter two, he demonstrated his freedom in the way he responded to powerful temptation.
A classic passage which explains how we can maintain our freedom in temptation is Ephesians 6:10–20. Here are verses 10–13:
Finally, build up your strength in union with the Lord and by means of his mighty power. Put on all the armor that God gives you, so that you will be able to stand up against the Devil’s evil tricks. For we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age. So put on God’s armor now! Then when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist the enemy’s attacks; and after fighting to the end, you will still hold your ground.
The armor of God is then described as truth (the belt of truth), integrity (the coat of mail), the gospel of peace (the shoes), faith (the shield), salvation (the helmet), and the Word of God (the sword). As this armor is worn the soldier of Christ is to “pray on every occasion.”
One major problem we face in fighting the devil is that he is invisible and so are his generals (evil angels). He and they make sin attractive and they tempt us in so many ways. Of course, some temptations occur virtually daily: to stay in bed and miss a time for prayer and meditation; to eat too much; to do less work than we ought to do; to do second-rate or slipshod work; to speak dishonestly by half-truths or exaggeration and to put our own interests before those of our family and friends. Each of us must seek to be aware of temptation and resist it in the power of the Spirit, making use of all God’s armor.
Reference was made in chapter one to the power which technology and money have over us in the West. Temptation comes to us through the common, everyday and generally accepted aspects of civilization. Recently we have seen a minor revolt against growing mechanization and affluence as some people have sought to escape by going to live in remote places on simple diets. Obviously this is not the way out for most of us. Somehow we have to live in our culture as obedient disciples of Jesus, displaying freedom from sin and the devil. Our life styles have to be different from those of our neighbors, colleagues, and competitors; they have to reflect the freedom of the Holy Spirit.
All Christians need to think carefully about their life styles. In particular they need to ask whether they are slaves of the technological society or slaves of money. Jesus made it clear that we cannot serve both God and money (see Matt. 6:24). He did not say that we cannot use money, but rather that we should not make it our master (see Luke 16:9–13). We have to use our money as those who are serving Christ, in ways which please him. This is more than mere tithing, which for some can be a helpful principle. It is using all our money for his glory in the way we spend it on ourselves, our families, our churches, and in outreach and mission.
Concerning technology, which is becoming an increasingly powerful and permanent feature of modern life, we ought to ask ourselves such questions as: Do I need a car? Do I need two cars? Do I need every new electrical gadget for the home, office, and car? Do I need a telephone in every room? If all these technological products were removed, would my life collapse around me? Further questions ought to be asked about how we use those products of technology which we judge we need. Am I so dependent on the car that I have lost the desire or ability to walk even short distances? Am I so dependent on the typewriter that I cannot write clearly and legibly? Am I so dependent on gadgets in the kitchen that without them I could not prepare a decent meal? Do I spend too much time on the phone with local calls instead of actually walking to talk to people face to face?
Such questions could be multiplied! I fear that too many of us are not resisting temptation in these areas of life because we are not aware of being tempted. We are rocked to sleep by the sweet music of technology and so the devil has us, in this area of life, in his grasp. We forget that our Christian life is a warfare in which we have been set free by Christ and the Spirit to fight the good fight of faith. This warfare takes place in the real world, which for most of us is the world of technology, affluence, and money. Our freedom to follow the Lord must operate in this context and be seen to be different in quality to that of others who do not serve the Lord Jesus. The products of technology are to be used to glorify God and serve Christ: in this way they cannot become our masters.
THE SPIRIT AND THE WORD
Sometimes Christians misunderstand the freedom which the Spirit gives. A frequent occasion of misunderstanding which occurs in all age groups is the belief that because the Spirit is in us, then whatever bright ideas we get must be by his inspiration. Thus our plans are in fact God’s plans!
It is possible, by removing verses from their context, to find some justification for this approach in the New Testament. For example, John records that the Holy Spirit “teaches you about everything, and what he teaches is true, not false” (1 John 2:27). This can be taken to mean that the Spirit is to be our sole source of guidance and that to know his guidance the Christian merely accepts the thoughts which enter his mind after he has prayed. Such an understanding is dangerous for the simple reason that in us are two principles – that of sin and that of the Spirit – and we have to discover from which source comes the bright idea!
The context in which we are to understand 1 John 2:20–27 is this: There were some members of the churches who were claiming to have special knowledge from Christ by the Holy Spirit. They formed an inner circle and made others outside it feel that they lacked something. To reassure those who see themselves outside the circle, John says: “You no less than they are among the enlightened; you have the gift of the Spirit and from him comes the true knowledge of God.” John is certainly not encouraging anyone to do without the Bible or the teaching ministry of the church leaders. Rather he is emphasizing that all Christians have the Spirit and thus there are not different levels of being a Christian.
God the Holy Spirit is the one who inspired men to write the books of Holy Scripture. The Holy Spirit is the One who helps preachers and teachers to make its meaning plain today, and he is the One who lives in our hearts. So we always find that the guidance of the Spirit is never against the teaching of the Bible and that the teaching of the Bible is never contrary to the true guidance of the Spirit. The Spirit and the Word speak with a common voice. We are free when we are guided by them.
TWO QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What is Christian joy and what does it mean to rejoice in the Lord?
2. In what practical ways would you expect the freedom of the Spirit to display itself in the lives of the following: a single student, a young couple with a child, and a retired couple with married children?
SEVEN – Freedom, Fellowship, and Authority
If the individual Christian is to enjoy freedom in the Spirit under Christ the Lord, so also is the local church. To use an illustration employed by Jesus, the local church should be displaying the light of Christian freedom just as a city built on the top of a hill makes its presence known to the surrounding area (see Matt. 5:14).
Let us begin by noting how human society functions in terms of friendship and cooperation. Surely here we find that a dominant principle is like attracting like, people of similar persuasion joining together. You choose friends whom you can get along with and trust. You choose friends who are usually in your income or social bracket and who have similar or complimentary interests. Clubs and societies (e.g., sports clubs, social clubs, political clubs, and ethnic associations), exist in order to bring people of like interests together. Often people fear to make attempts to get to know people who are different in race or social standing.
Now I do not want to claim that all manifestations of like attracting like are wrong. However, one of the effects of sin in human society is that it makes us value some people above others and it even makes us despise some. Sin makes it very difficult for the poor to be friendly with the rich; for the person in the ghetto to be friendly with the person in suburbia; for the intellectual to be friendly with the unlettered man. Our society operates in such a way that nothing more than a superficial meeting is usually possible between people of different interests, backgrounds, cultures, politics, and races.
It is of course true that sometimes, in particular circumstances, relationships of a deeper kind do exist between people who normally would not be friends. For example in a hospital ward, where people’s defenses are shattered by the fact of illness, these is often, for the duration people are in the hospital, a deep sharing of experiences. Regrettably this usually ceases the moment these people return to their normal experience of daily life. Then, also, there is the tie of blood. Often members of a family dislike or hate each other, but for reasons of economics, pride, or biological ties, stick together for good and ill.
Even in universities, where reason is supposed to guide, the same features of society are to be found (although usually less marked). In fact there are no constant examples of associations of human beings in which the barriers of money, class, education, age, race, and culture do not obviously exist. Human society is so organized as to take account of these barriers and differences among people. Sometimes this organization is meant to minimize certain barriers (e.g., legislation against racial discrimination), while at other times it is intended to solidify distinctions (e.g., legislation to preserve minority rights).
FREEDOM AND FELLOWSHIP
The church should be the one group in a society in which human differences do not occasion division. This is implicit in the various images used for the church: body (see Rom. 12:4, 5); temple (see 1 Cor. 3:16); and household or family (Gal. 6:10). By the power of the Spirit in the love of God, human differences should combine to make a rich and attractive example of united humanity. Feelings of alienation should disappear. The healing of personalities should take place.
As a Christian I am set free to follow Christ’s standards and to accept whom he accepts. One feature of his ministry in Galilee and Judea was his desire to meet all kinds of people and to welcome them. The Gospel of Luke, in particular, emphasizes how Jesus befriended the outcasts and nobodies of Jewish society. In his name and by his power I am free to accept, love, and serve people with whom I would normally never have a close relationship. Fellow Christians accept and love me for Christ’s sake and I accept and love them for his sake. In each of us is the one Spirit who sets us free from our pride, fear, and selfishness in order to accept each other. In order for some of us to get to this stage of Christian commitment, we must struggle with the pride of our human nature or the fear of the unknown. However, we must fight off temptation and win the victory in the power of the Spirit.
The apostles were conscious that our human nature is often our stumbling block, for by years of training it has learned bad habits and accumulated numerous fears and prejudices. So, frequently in their letters they gave encouragement and exhortation. For example, Paul wrote to Timothy:
Do not rebuke an older man, but appeal to him as if he were your father. Treat the younger men as your brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, with all purity (1 Tim. 5:1, 2).
And James told the churches:
Remember this, my dear brothers! Everyone must be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to become angry. Man’s anger does not achieve God’s righteous purpose. So get rid of every filthy habit and all wicked conduct. Submit to God and accept the word that he plants in your hearts, which is able to save you (Jas. 1:19–21).
This is certainly the kind of practical advice we all need. In the fellowship we are to bear one another’s burdens, to weep with those who weep, and to rejoice with those who rejoice. We are to learn from each person and also learn to love each other.
It is regrettable that so few churches are attempting in the power of the Spirit to create fellowship of this kind. So many of us seem satisfied with a standard less than that set down by the Lord Jesus. We can usually give good reasons – deep-rooted traditions, dominant personalities, denominational connections, difficult inner-city problems, etc. However, even if others refuse or are obstinate, each of us must use his freedom to follow Christ’s example to begin to create this kind of fellowship. Humanly speaking, it is an impossible task, but with the power of God all things are possible!
If by the grace of God we do enjoy true Christian fellowship in which there is great love for our sisters and brothers, then we must exercise our freedom in a further important way. A temptation always facing the church as a human society is to function as other human organizations do in their relation to the rest of society. We have to work out how, as a body of Christians, we are to relate to the world so that the standards of the world do not affect the integrity of the church. One area where problems often arise and become acute is in such matters as the use of the media: advertising services, evangelistic efforts, producing radio and TV services, and making appeals for funds. It is so easy to adopt contemporary methods of advertising or communication without first submitting them to a careful examination. Are we to advertise Christ as the world advertises cars, refrigerators, or soap powder? In Christ by the Spirit we are released from bondage to the world, and in this freedom we are to choose to conduct our corporate outreach and business in ways which glorify the Lord Jesus.
Words of Paul on our relationship to the world always pose a challenge to us:.
So then, my brothers, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God – what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect (Rom. 12:1–3).
The spirit of the age can so easily become the ethos of the local church. Constantly we have to beware of this possibility and pray as Paul did that our lives will be conformed to God’s will.
An attractive feature of contemporary Christianity is the attempt by some groups to live in communities where material possessions are shared and the popular standards of our society are rejected. If pursued in the light of New Testament teaching, this attempt can make a tremendous contribution to our understanding of what is Christian fellowship. However, it is not the only way to exercise freedom in fellowship. We also need local churches where, even though these is no community living, these is genuine love for each other displayed in other active forms of fellowship. For example, it is often helpful in a large congregation to form a series of small fellowship groups in which people can truly get to know each other. The membership of these can rotate so that gradually all the people can become acquainted.
This freedom of fellowship will be apparent when the church meets for worship. Instead of being merely a congregation led by a preacher or following a set liturgy, it will be genuine community worship in which all give themselves to God in worship and praise and receive from him his blessings. Also, as a free people, they will meet around the Lord’s Table to remember with grateful hearts his atoning death and to receive that spiritual food which builds up both the individual and the body in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. An amazing fact is that this fellowship is possible in any church, whatever denomination.
FREEDOM AND AUTHORITY
The local church is under Christ the Lord. As King he rules over the people by his Word and Spirit. As King he sends royal gifts to his people, and these gifts are brought to us by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:11). Because he has a gift for all, it is right to speak of every-member ministry and good to avoid speaking of one person as “the minister.” To speak of “Reverend Smith’s church” is bad practice! There are many gifts of ministry, and among these gifts are those which enable a person to function as a leader of the church. Paul wrote:
So we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us. If our gift is to speak God’s message, we should do it according to the faith that we have; if it is to serve, we should serve; if it is to teach, we should teach; if it is to encourage others, we should do so. Whoever shares with others should do it generously; whoever has authority should work hard; whoever shows kindness to others should do it cheerfully (Rom. 12:6–8).
In Ephesians 4 Paul referred to the specific gifts of God to the whole Church: of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers whose primary calling was to build up the body of Christ. Obviously such people were to be in a position of leadership. In the power of the Spirit pastors and teachers will lead God’s people as they teach God’s Word. They will also seek to arrange the fellowship of the church so that all the gifts are used. Such an arrangement is extremely important.
By releasing us from the power of sin – which means we begin to lose our pride, prejudices, and selfishness – the Spirit enables us to accept that God has given various gifts to others and has called various people into certain positions and offices. In grateful thanks to God we are to accept these gifts as from heaven and to do all we can to encourage the right use of them.
Submit yourselves to one another, because of your reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21).
All of you must put on the apron of humility, to serve one another (1 Pet. 5:5).
Also we are to submit to the leaders who have been appointed to guide us and direct us. Those who are called to teach, preach, and rule are to do so as the servants of Christ; the rest of the fellowship is to receive the leadership as from Christ, the Lord of the church and Lord of the leaders.
Wise leaders will rule with the consent of the fellowship. They will seek to imitate the Lord Jesus whose rule was that of humility and service. They will not say, “I am set over you by Christ and you must obey.” Rather they will set an example and lovingly persuade people to think and act in a way which is pleasing to God. To submit to those above us in the Lord is a sound principle and freely, by grace, we can gladly submit without any ill or hard feelings.
So pastors and elders are to rule as Christ would rule, whether the people respond positively or negatively. Church members are lovingly to submit to their leaders even when they suspect that the leaders are not leading as Christ would lead. In both cases the freedom of the Spirit enables us to do what is right even if we know that the other partners) are not doing all they could.
Spiritual freedom is the climate in which Christian lives are to be lived. It is the air which the local church should breathe. It is the condition of divine life in the individual and the fellowship. In this freedom the authority of Christ operates perfectly for the good of all. In Christ, the Lord and Liberator, authority and freedom harmoniously combine. In his churches this combination should be exhibited.
FREEDOM AND AUTHORITY IN THE CHRISTIAN COLLEGE
A Christian college is not a church. It is a society of (mostly) Christians who come together for a specific purpose in a particular place. They come to pursue education. They gain this education in the context of worship, opportunities for mission, and moral standards of behavior. So a college community involves teachers and students as well as administrators, clerical and domestic staff, and maintenance people. In order to be accepted by the secular society in which it is placed, the college is usually accredited by some recognized state authority. The requirements imposed by this secular dimension are not always easily married to what the educators believe to be Christian principles; but ways are found to alleviate problems. The difficulties in the relationship between what is often called Jerusalem (the city of God) and Athens (the city of human learning) is an old one and has rarely been fully solved.
Obviously if a Christian college is not a church and has a secular dimension, then its patterns of leadership cannot be the same as those of a church. Indeed, the way a Christian college is organized is not often very different from the way any other liberal arts college is organized. Usually there is a governing body who has ultimate authority. Its members appoint a president and lay down guidelines for the institution. As Christians they are free to do what they think best as long as they work within the framework of both God’s and the country’s laws.
The president is also free, within the limits allowed him by the governing body, to appoint staff and make rules for the good and efficient running of the college. A wise person will exercise his rule and leadership in such a way as to gain the cooperation of both staff and students. He will look to Christ as his example and guide. In these days when there is so much change in society his task is not easy and he needs the support and prayers of the whole college. In such matters as money-raising and advertising, in which the college is relating to the world as a Christian institution, the president is to use his freedom from bondage to the world to allow only those methods which he believes honor Christ.
To be a Christian student in a Christian college should be a rewarding experience; but it also can be frustrating if life seems to be a never-ending series of obeying minor regulations. An important question which students face may be phrased as follows: How does my Christian freedom lead me to relate to those in authority? The reply can be given simply and briefly. The Spirit within me enables me to obey readily and without fuss the authority which God in his providence has placed over me. I obey even when I do not agree that what I am being asked to do is right, I obey because this is what Christ, my Master, and the Spirit, my internal guide, lead me to do. However, if the system allows, I must also make my contribution to the well-being of the community. Thus when I think that the president or another in authority has wrongly discerned the will of God, I will use the appropriate student channels to make my suggestions and requests known. If the president is wise he will listen carefully to my words. For Christ’s sake I will not be rebellious and I will not be a libertine. My freedom will be used responsibly to glorify God through submission to those in authority. The situation in a secular university is often more complicated, but in general the same advice applies. In the next chapter we shall be looking at the role we have in society.
The role of the teaching staff is to help the president to exercise his authority and the students to submit to that authority. As such they can often be the means of explaining the decisions of authority to students and also making known the fears, requests, and suggestions of the students. Their Christian freedom should help them to execute this task for the well-being of all.
TWO QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What practical steps can we take to encourage Christians to exercise their Christian freedom in order to receive, love, and serve those fellow Christians whom they find it hard to like?
2. In what ways can the leadership of a church or Christian college gain the full cooperation of the members?
EIGHT – Freedom, Society, and Authority
As we begin to think about our relationships in society – in the family, in college, at work, as citizens – we must always keep Jesus Christ prominent in our thinking. He is the Lord, the Father’s vicegerent, who is the ruler of the world. Also he is the Savior, who, by the will of the Father, became the Liberator of the world from the dominion of sin and the devil. To attempt to be true Christians in society without thinking first of Jesus Christ is to set off in a course which must fail. Regrettably, too many of us do fail, because we do not allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to use our freedom to follow Christ and to reflect his light in the world.
Why do young people marry? The usual answer is that “they are in love.” They feel a deep attraction for each other and look for physical gratification from each other. They are led by biological forces and they do not always consider seriously what is involved in the relationship. After some time together, when the initial attraction has subsided, either they have to find a solid basis for their life together or they resort to separation, divorce, or prolonged misery. It seems to be the case that not all married couples take seriously the fact that marriage is an institution made by God, Creator of all, for our good. The tremendous increase in divorces in Western society is a sad reflection upon us and demonstrates our slavery to sin (see chapter one).
For Christians, marriage is a relationship or ordinance instituted by God at the creation of the world and given a new dimension in our relationship to Jesus Christ. Christ is Lord of marriage and Liberator of the couple involved. The Christian marriage partners are to demonstrate in their relationship their freedom to love God and each other in the way God requires. As the local church is to be a center from which radiates the love of God and freedom from sin, so also is the Christian marriage. This means that it is to be entered into only after careful thought and preparation. While human love for each other is important, it is not the only factor to bear in mind.
Perhaps the clearest teaching on Christian marriage is given in Ephesians 5. Here we find that the duties of both wives and husbands are stated in the context of Christ’s love for his Church and his rule over it. This context adds what may be called the special Christian dimension to marriage.
First, we examine Paul’s teaching on the position of wives and then we look at his teaching on the duty of husbands.
Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband has authority over his wife just as Christ has authority over the church; and Christ is himself the Savior of the church, his body. And so wives must submit themselves completely to their husbands just as the church submits itself to Christ (Eph. 5:22–24).
Here Paul is saying: Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands because it is part of your duty to the Lord himself; it is an expression of your total submission to the Lord. The idea of doing everything for the Lord is clearly stated by Paul elsewhere:
Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all for God’s. glory (1 Cor. 10:31).
The Christian wife submits as the disciple of Jesus whose will it is that she should submit. This design is part of God’s revelation to us and is set forth and explained in Genesis 2. The headship of the man through God’s creation is further discussed by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11–15 and by Peter in 1 Peter 3:7. But what does headship or having authority over someone really mean? Let me give an example from an Oxford College. The senior members of the college, those who do the teaching and make the decisions, are called the fellows. Among them are many able and brilliant men. But they have to choose just one of their number to be the leader, whom they call in different colleges by different names: Dean, Warden, President, Master, Principal, etc. When one of their number becomes the head, he is given power to make decisions and is given respect by all. He is not necessarily a better man than his colleagues, but he is in the position of headship. In the same way the husband is head and as such he is the one who has the final word and authority for the family.
All of us know of cases in which a married woman seems to have more natural gifts than her husband. She is better at most things – driving the car, doing the household accounts, answering the questions of children, etc. – than he is. Why should she submit to an “inferior” person? The quick answer is that it is the will of her Lord and the way God the Father has ordained. We need to remember that she freely married her man knowing his abilities and probably realizing her superiority. In the marriage she is able to use her gifts creatively in the power of the Spirit to help her husband so that he can actually function as head of the home. When an able woman acts in this manner she will not only be cooperating with God in the purifying of her own character, she will also be developing her husband’s personality. In her submissiveness can be her true creativity.
Paul also supplies another reason for the submission of the wife, based on the relationship of the Lord Christ to his people. Christ is the Savior of the Church and as such he nourishes his people with the Word in the power of the Spirit. So likewise the husband is to cherish and protect his wife, and because of this the wife is to be submissive, as the Church is to be submissive to Christ. Paul explains this principle in verses 28 to 31, where he teaches that because man and wife are one flesh the man is to look after his wife as he looks after his own body.
Let us be clear at this point that the submission is one of love and respect and is given a new dimension by the love of Christ. The submission of the wife will never be an absolute submission, for we live in an imperfect world and both she and her husband are sinners who are being made perfect. In certain obvious circumstances the wife will not be able to submit. If her husband is mentally ill she will have to act independently. If her husband is not a Christian and seeks to interfere with the very basic relationship she has with her Lord, then she will reluctantly have to disobey him as graciously as she is able. Also, when she deeply believes something to be right or wrong, she will have to refuse to obey her husband if he asks her to go against her conscience. Whatever is not based on faith is sin (see Rom. 14:23). For example, if her husband asked her to sign an income tax form on which were definite false statements, she would be right to refuse to obey him. The same principle applies to any inaccurate or illegal proposal.
Finally, the wife may regard herself as released from submission to her husband if her husband commits adultery, for adultery breaks the relationship of being one flesh (see Matt. 19:1–9). However, in her Christian freedom, the wronged wife has two choices. She can seek a divorce, or she can forgive him if he will repent, and then attempt to make the marriage work. In cases such as this, which are becoming increasingly common, she will be wise to seek the prayerful help of the leadership of her church.
So, despite the climate of opinion in the Western world today, Christian women, who are slaves of Christ, have a noble ideal of marriage placed before them by Paul. In the freedom of the Spirit they are free to submit and to pursue this ideal. When they do this they find, sometimes to their surprise, that married life is happier than they believed it ever could be.
While the wife is liberated by Christ to submit to her husband, the husband is liberated by Christ to love his wife.
Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it. He did this to dedicate the church to God, by his word, after making it clean by washing it in water, in order to present the church to himself in all its beauty – pure and faultless, without spot or wrinkle or any other imperfection. Men ought to love their wives just as they love their own bodies (Eph. 5:25–28).
At the center of sin is selfishness in its many forms. In loving submission to her husband the wife avoids selfishness, and in genuine love for his wife (that love described in 1 Corinthians 13), the husband also avoids it. Such mutual love is not irrational, for such love requires that the couple talk and share together as one flesh.
What does love for the wife mean? A phrase not used much these days is “my better half.” This helps to convey Paul’s teaching. The wife is not a mere partner as if it were a business arrangement. She is one flesh with her husband, and in loving her the husband regards her as the better half. He should never think as a single man thinks, but rather as one who is responsible for two halves. By marrying, the husband has voluntarily restricted his freedom; but within marriage he is to use his new freedom in the Spirit to think and act as a married man, to love as Christ loves. In fact he is to love his wife as he loves his own body.
Consider how we treat our bodies. I can abuse my body through lack of sleep, by eating too much, by lack of exercise, and so on. If I abuse it I run the risk of a heart attack or ulcers. So the husband is not to abuse his wife, for if he does both partners will suffer. If he does not treat her properly and she becomes depressed, then there will be problems in the home. I can also neglect my body by refusing to get medical aid when it is needed or by not keeping myself fit. Consider how many wives are neglected because their husbands are off on business trips or are too involved in the affairs of their church or Christian organization to have much time at home! We could draw other lessons from the analogy of the body, but enough has been written to make the essential point.
So we return to where we began. Understood in the light of Paul’s teaching, Christian marriage is a wonderful manifestation of the true freedom of the Christian from the power of sin and of the world’s standards; it is an entry into the fulfillment of love.
Of course, Christians today live in a different society from that in which Paul lived, and so new problems arise. Such a question as “Should the contraceptive pill be used by the wife?” is a new question and problem. If a Christian couple decide to use it they must seriously ask themselves whether they can lose their freedom and become slaves of it. Released from the fear of pregnancy, it is possible to enter a new bondage of enslavement to the pill in which self-control has been forgotten. Christians should never reach this stage, for part of their freedom is to continue to exercise self-control.
Another question is “Should the wife go to work?” Here again the standards of the world in regard to working wives should be seriously examined and priority in thinking given to the marriage and the home as centers of God’s love. The Christian wife is free to work or not to work, but in her decision she has to take into account both her husband’s wishes and welfare, and also that of her children. So many wives work merely for economic advantage; while this is not always wrong it is often, at root, selfishness.
Now a few concluding comments. From what has been written it is perhaps obvious that single people should not enter marriage in a hurry. Divorced people likewise should not remarry in a hurry. Jesus has words about this matter which are well worth pondering in Matthew 19:12. So also does Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. God calls some people to the celibate life and asks some divorced or widowed people to remain in their single state. In the freedom which the Spirit gives, such devoted single lives can be lives of fulfillment through the serving of others. The world in which we live needs examples of Christian freedom in both married and celibate lives.
Some young Christian people are tempted to sleep with a member of the opposite sex because this is “the thing to do.” Those who practice it justify it on the basis that they feel deeply for each other. This is a justification which the Lord just does not accept. Sexual intercourse belongs to married life, not to life before marriage. Sexual relations before marriage are called fornication and immorality in the Bible (Eph. 5:3).
CHILDREN AND PARENTS
The relationship between children and parents has become increasingly difficult and sometimes explosive in Western society in recent decades. Too often we hear of the generation gap, the lack of understanding between members of a family, no discipline among youth, and no firmness by parents. This situation provides the context in which a Christian family can be a shining example for Christ. Paul wrote:
Children, it is your Christian duty to obey your parents, for this is the right thing to do. “Respect your father and mother” is the first commandment that has a promise added: “so that all may go well with you, and you may live a long time in the land” (Eph. 6:1–3).
Here we find the apostle giving three reasons why children should obey their parents.
The three reasons for submission are based on common sense, the Law of Moses, and the Lordship of Christ. “It is the right thing to do” for it makes good sense. Parents bring children into the world, care for them, educate them, and do a host of things for them. For these reasons children should normally obey their parents.
Second, to obey parents is the content of the fifth commandment given by God to Moses for the people of Israel (Exod. 20:12; Deut. 5:16). It is the first of those commandments, usually called the second table, which relate to personal relationships. For Israel, to preserve the honor of family life was to fulfill one aspect of the covenant with God and so with this commandment is God’s promise of a wholesome life in the Promised Land.
The third reason why children should obey is a particularly Christian reason and adds a tremendous inducement to the two others. It pleases the Lord Jesus that his disciples obey their parents. Children express their obedience to Jesus by obeying their parents. Think of the example Jesus himself set here. Part of his humility as God made Man was to obey Mary and Joseph. After his visit to the Temple in Jerusalem at the age of twelve, we read that he returned to Nazareth “where he was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51).
It needs perhaps to be made clear that this applies to committed Christian, nominal Christian, and non-Christian parents, as well as adoptive and stepparents. And “children” means all those who still live at home or are dependent on their parents – young people up to the age of twenty-one or so. Often a young person from a non-Christian home finds this command hard to accept, and he attempts to forget it or finds ways of excusing himself from keeping it. His parents are not sympathetic to his new faith and new interests, and they do their best to discourage him. Even with all this seeming provocation he is still to obey them in all things. The only possible exception is if they seek to make him do something which is very obviously a denial of Christ; such exceptions are normally very rare. By an example of humble, loving submission the young person may show to his parents what being a Christian does for people – it changes their characters for the good. Children can only display the love of God in their lives if they are “being filled with the Spirit” (see Gal. 5:22, 23).
The same spiritual truth applies to parents. To be truly Christian parents is far from easy today. At times the task seems impossible, but in the power of the Spirit it is possible. Paul taught:
Parents, do not treat your children in such a way as to make them angry. Instead, raise them with Christian discipline and instruction (Eph. 6:4).
This advice is based on the general approach to education and discipline provided in the Old Testament (see Deut. 6:20, ff., 11:18, ff.). Paul works on the assumption that young people are not perfect and are inherently, without the Holy Spirit, selfish. Also he assumes that they will follow the behavior patterns of other children unless they are deliberately and effectively taught a better and different way.
So the first rule for parents is that they should not provoke their children to be angry. So many well-intentioned parents irritate or exasperate their children How do they do this? By exercising discipline without self-control – by shouting, losing their temper, and so on; by never allowing the child to state his case but acting in a high-handed and selfish manner; by flowing hot or cold – sometimes being severe and sometimes lax; by not recognizing that a child grows up and cannot be treated in the same way at different ages; by forcing opinions and views upon children instead of providing a reasonable explanation for such views; and by giving the impression that children are a nuisance. Parents need to pray for grace and for control of self so that their attitude and behavior will not provoke their children to anger.
The second rule is positive and involves the total relationship of parents and children. Children are a gift of God to parents, but they always remain God’s property. Because they are God’s they are to be taught from the earliest age, by example and by word, of their heavenly Father and their Savior Jesus Christ. There is general agreement that the home is the major influence on a child as he grows up, and Christian homes should be places where children learn what it is to love God and serve the Lord Jesus. In these days parents need to be aware of following the latest psychological or educational theories about child development or self-expression. Not all educational theories are contrary to Christian principles, though some are. Christian parents have to bear in mind that their children are sinners and need the right kind of discipline and encouragement.
At the moment there is a danger that the pendulum will swing too far in some Christian circles toward what may be termed Victorian ideas of discipline. For several decades there has been a general lack of discipline and now parents are reacting. Parents need to be conscious here of the forces at work in the world and in contemporary Christianity and seek to follow the good advice of Paul. Discussion with other parents in the fellowship of the local church should help them to work out the best practical ways of implementing the general rules of the apostle. They will only do this in the power of the Spirit, “for the Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid; instead, his Spirit fills us with power, love, and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7).
I am very conscious that the position of both parent and child in the one-parent family raises particular problems. Here the Christian parent and/or Christian child will be the more in need of the Spirit of God who gives us power, love, and self-control. He or she will also be much in need of the help and prayers of fellow Christians.
CITIZENS IN SOCIETY
The principles by which Christians are to exercise their spiritual freedom in contemporary society are fundamentally the same now as they were in A.D. 60. The big difference relates to the way society is now organized, in particular to the absence of slavery and the dominating presence of technology. Paul’s teaching applied the basic Christian principles to Christians in a society in which up to one third of the people were slaves:
Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling; and do it with a sincere heart, as though you were serving Christ. Do this not only when they are watching you, because you want to gain their approval; but with all your heart do what God wants, as slaves of Christ. Do your work as slaves cheerfully, as though you served the Lord, and not merely men. Remember that the Lord will reward everyone, whether slave or free, for the good work he does. Masters, behave in the same way toward your slaves and stop using threats. Remember that you and your slaves belong to the same Master in heaven, who judges everyone by the same standard (Eph. 6:5–9).
Neither here nor elsewhere does Paul either condemn or condone slavery as a social and economic fact. Rather he adds a dimension to it which, if applied in a sufficient number of cases, would change its nature. Both slaves and masters are to be cheerful, sincere disciples of Jesus Christ as they maintain their respective places in society.
The first calling and task of a Christian is to be a good disciple of Jesus Christ and to live in the freedom of the Spirit. This means that he will reflect the love and the attitudes which please his Master and Lord. He will remember that the main thrust of the revelation of God in the Bible is how we are to be reconciled to God and how we are then to live. At our conversion we gain entry into the Kingdom of God and into the Church of Christ, but we are to retain our place in human society unless our job or position denies the gospel (e.g., a prostitute would not remain in her job). This is what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 7:20–23, where his theme is that each one should remain in fellowship with God in the same condition as he was when he was called by God. We are to live in such a way in our normal callings that people recognize that there is another dimension to our living: the rule of the Lord Jesus in the freedom of the Spirit. Later, if God so guides, we may change jobs.
This means that as Christians we are to be second to none in terms of our efficiency, thoroughness, and reliability at work, even if in natural ability we are not the first. Good examples to follow from the Old Testament are those of Joseph and Daniel, who both worked hard and were faithful to God. I recognize that such an approach to work is easier for some than for others. The self-employed farmer is in a better position than the man who works on the production line of a massive automobile plant. For the latter there is the drudgery of the same work in the same position day by day, while for the former there is the incentive of working for himself and being able to do varied tasks. Whatever our job, we need to show how our freedom to accept the Lordship of Christ makes us more reliable and attractive people.
In the secular university Christian students and professors have a splendid opportunity to demonstrate what we may call “Christian maturity.” They can give an example of respect for authority, application to work, harmonious relationships with colleagues, and willingness to discuss reasonable suggestions for change and improvement. They will not be opinionated or bigoted, but humble and teachable if they are living for their Lord in the freedom of his Spirit.
The Christian recognizes that ultimately all authority in a country is from God (see Rom. 13). This remains true whether that country be a communist, socialist, or capitalist country. As the prophets of the Old Testament made clear, God’s sovereignty is not limited to a part of the world, but is universal. This authority of the one God is delegated to the Second Person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus, who rules as Lord of lords and King of kings. All authority in heaven and on earth now belongs to him. For Christians this must always be held as a sure fact. They will not, however, forget the reality of sin and the influence of the devil in human society and in human governments. Therefore they will expect God’s authority as it is mediated through the state and the institutions of the state to be far from perfect. They recognize that only at the end of the age will Jesus Christ truly rule in complete righteousness!
With this in mind we can take to heart the words of Peter written to people in Asia Minor in the Roman Empire:
For the sake of the Lord submit yourselves to every human authority: to the Emperor, who is the supreme authority, and to the governors, who have been appointed by him to punish the evildoers and to praise those who do good. For God wants you to silence the ignorant talk of foolish people by the good things you do. Live as free people; do not, however, use your freedom to cover up any evil, but live as God’s slaves. Respect everyone, love your fellow believers, have reverence for God, and respect the Emperor (1 Pet. 2:13–17).
We notice again that we please the Lord Jesus when we submit to human authority. In modern terms this means that we obey God when we pay our taxes, maintain our vehicles and drive them according to the state laws, and run our businesses according to current legislation. We obey the state whether or not we like its domestic and foreign policies, and whether or not we like the personalities involved.
In real terms many of us find it hard to obey an authority if that authority is not a person or persons we see and know. When we work for an international company or a very large operation, or study in a massive state university, we often feel alienated from the anonymous men who make the decisions which govern our work. We are severely tempted to feel that it is all right to refuse to keep the rules imposed by such an authority. Here we are mistaken, for we are to submit to all authority for the Lord’s sake. For example, if my work is in a factory and the manager forbids me to hand out Christian literature, I must submit, for he is not preventing me from being a Christian. Rather he is obeying a directive from head office.
Within Western democracy citizens are permitted a wide variety of legal ways of changing their society and its laws. As a private citizen with a Christian conscience I am free to do whatever I legally and morally can to change laws, attitudes, social organization, and national policies. I am free to join a labor union and work in it. I am free to enter politics at the local or national level. It is by such involvement that Christians, whose first allegiance is to the Kingdom of God, are able to improve their society.
In a communist country I am not free to change society, and so in my Christian freedom I submit for Christ’s sake to all laws and regulations. Only if I am called upon to renounce my Savior will I refuse to be obedient. I will not join the Communist party if that means subscribing to atheism, and I will think twice before becoming an agitator for religious freedom.
A difficult question often asked today is “Should a Christian take part in a revolution or actively oppose with arms a tyrannical government?” The positions of Christians in Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s is referred to, but from this example it is possible to argue both negatively and positively, so complex is historical evidence. Usually the question is tied down specifically to Southern Africa. What often leaves young people confused is the attitude of their parents and Christian leaders who seem to speak with a confused voice. During the Vietnam War (which from one side was a war of liberation!) Christian young men who refused to fight or to support the South Vietnamese were regarded as traitors. However, in 1977 the people of the U.S.A., including its Christian leadership, rejoiced in the 200th anniversary of another war of liberation. Are Americans always right and the Vietnamese always wrong?
Whether a revolution or a war of independence are justified is difficult to answer, for there is never a time when right is completely on one side and wrong wholly on the other. In these situations Christians have to make difficult decisions. The view of a majority of Christians over the centuries has been that if, after carefully examining your motivation, you believe that the greater good will come to the whole community through a radical change, then you are justified in supporting the moves to bring about that change (if they are led by what you regard as responsible people). But it is difficult in these situations ever to be wholly sure that one has made the right decision.
It is now time to provide a summary of the basic argument in this chapter. We have seen that there are excellent reasons based on the revelation of God to Israel for the submission of wives to husbands, children to parents, and citizens to governments. We have also seen that for Christians who have been set free by Christ and the Spirit there is an added, special reason. They are to submit for the Lord’s sake as his loving disciples. For this very same reason husbands are to love and cherish their wives and parents are to love and discipline their children.
We may now sum up the argument of the whole book in the following way: Human beings are slaves of sin and are not free to serve God as he desires. Jesus of Nazareth is our supreme example of freely serving God. Jesus Christ is also our Liberator and Lord who sets us free from the slavery to sin and the devil. This freedom becomes a reality in our lives through the gift of the Spirit, who enables us joyfully to serve God and his Kingdom. We serve God and his Kingdom by our life style in the home, at work, and as citizens. For Christ’s sake we submit to authority and we work, where possible, for improvement and change in society. By the power of the same Spirit the church is enabled to display its freedom in its fellowship between different types of people and in its refusal to follow the standards of the world.
Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, is both the source of the freedom in which we serve God and the source of the authority to which we submit. In him alone freedom and authority combine.
TWO QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Is the role of women in modem Western society so different from that of earlier times that submission of wives to husbands is no longer a reasonable possibility?
2. In what circumstances in a Western democracy would a Christian citizen be justified in refusing to obey the state?
1. The famous treatise of Martin Luther on “The Freedom of a Christian Man” is well worth reading. It may be found in John Dillenberger, Ed., Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings (New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc.).
2. For help in understanding the Epistle to the Galatians, in which freedom is a major theme, the following commentaries are a great help: Donald Guthrie, Galatians (Greenwood, S.C.: Attic Press, 1969); and H. Ridderbos, Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975).
3. For the doctrine of Christ as Lord, see Peter Toon, Jesus Christ Is Lord (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1979), and for Christ as Liberator see I. Howard Marshall, The Work of Christ (Exeter, England: Paternoster, 1968).
4. For the teaching of the apostle Paul in general, see H. Ridderbos, Paul, An outline of His Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977). Though heavy, this is a brilliant book.
5. For the application of freedom to ethics, the most stimulating book is Jacques Ellul, The Ethics of Freedom (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977). This is a big book and not easy to read, but it is nevertheless stimulating.
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