Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, 5/5/02
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Gal 5:1, NIV).
Our topic today is Freedom! It's a subject near and dear to the hearts of people everywhere, especially Americans who have bled and died on foreign soil to preserve the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness so precious to all of us. Most of the wars which have plagued mankind have come as a result of one group of people trying to enslave another group with their ideas, doctrines, and world view. Everyone can give you some definition of freedom, even if it is as simple as a kid wanting to stay up and watch TV for another hour. The dictionary defines freedom as: 1. the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint. 2. exemption from external control. 3. the power to determine action without restraint. 4. political or national independence. There are actually 13 definitions given, but these are enough to make the point that freedom is not only desirable but necessary for personal and spiritual growth. It was Patrick Henry who said, "Give me liberty or give me death," a feeling which has been echoed by men and women throughout the ages who put their lives on the line for the sake of freedom.
Christ and His sacrifice on the cross is the bedrock of freedom for everyone. Because of Adam's sin, all men were plunged into death (I Cor. 15:22), into captivity, into a wretched existence where they had to work by the sweat of their brows, fighting the thorns and thistles which threatened to overtake the work of their hands in the fields. In the first chapter of Galations, the Apostle Paul wrote, "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (Gal. 1:3-5, NIV). Christ gave Himself for us "to rescue us from the present evil age." This was God's will for Him and for us as His beneficiaries. Paul's purpose in writing this letter was to address the great conflict which had fallen on the infant church because the Judiazers were saying that Gentile converts should obey the law of Moses and be circumcised. The entire epistle is a treatise on our blessings in Christ which are the result of God's promise to Abraham rather than by keeping the law.
The Jews were very puffed up and proud to be sons of Abraham, counting that as their "ticket to ride" into the kingdom of heaven. As the voice of one crying in the wilderness, John the Baptizer, came among the first century Jews, proclaiming a shocking truth: "do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham" (Luke 3:4-8, RSV). We had a reader trying with zeal and determination to convince us of the validity of his theory that everyone who inherits God's promise to Abraham also shares his physical DNA. (To read, "Seeking the mother lode," See End Note "A"). He believes that the ten lost tribes who migrated far and wide have infiltrated into the bloodlines of the entire world population. He says this is God's way to literally and physically fulfill His promise to Abraham, by which he means that we will all individually and physically inherit the land of Israel. On a practical level, the country of Israel is too small to hold the redeemed of the Lord with not nearly enough hotel rooms to accommodate the kings of the earth, let alone the Saints who will come marching in. After dialoging about it with him for weeks, I e-mailed him what I consider God's last word on the subject, and mine as well: "do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham." Paul dealt with the Judaizers who were trying to ensnare the Gentiles by adding Law to the grace by which they were saved. We do not have people today telling us we must be circumcised to be saved, but we do have religious leaders laying law on us, subtly or otherwise.
Paul makes two important points for us to consider today. 1. Our blessings in Christ are based on God's promise to Abraham (Gal. 3:8), and 2. We are saved by grace through faith, "and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). Regarding Abraham, Paul said, "Thus Abraham "believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith" (Galatians 3:6-9, RSV). In verse 16 of that chapter, Paul makes it clear that Christ is the promised seed. In Christ, the seed of Abraham, shall all nations be blessed.
Last week, we talked about faith, and I mentioned to you that I could find no commandment under law to have faith. Here's the verse which confirms that conclusion: "Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them." .... He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit" (Gal. 3:11-12,14, NIV). Notice here that the Holy Spirit is our down payment on the fulness of God, which comes to us in Christ by faith (Col. 2:9-10). The gift of the Holy Ghost is "God's earnest money deposit," to use a real estate term, by which He promises or commits to us, that EVERYTHING which is in Christ belongs to us. He said to the Ephesians that the Holy Spirit "... is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:14, RSV). In the Galatian letter, Paul goes on to declare in chapter three, that, "if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise" (Gal. 3:18). This is another difference between law and grace. The law depended on performance, upon man's obedience of the commands of God. He gave us the law, I believe, to show us the futility of trying to please Him on our own, to demonstrate once and for all how utterly worthless our efforts really are. On the other hand, His grace to us, in Christ Jesus came as a direct result of God's promise to Abraham, that in his seed would all nations of the earth be blessed. By the way, when I talk about the difference between law and grace, most Christians quickly affirm, "Oh, we don't live by law. We live by grace." Here's a practical litmus test about that. If you regularly feel guilty about something you did or failed to do, you are living by law. Guilt has no place in grace, none at all. When you feel guilty, listen closely with your heart. Don't be surprised if you hear the sound of bleating lambs and goats in the background.
We receive the blessings of God through faith, which to repeat, is itself a gift of God. "Before this faith came," Paul reveals, "we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law" (Gal. 3:23-25, NIV). He goes on to declare that we are sons of God through faith; when we were baptized, we clothed ourselves with Christ. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you ARE Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:26-29, NIV). We have often mentioned that we are heirs of God's promise to Abraham. What glory, what honor, what a privilege to call ourselves the sons of God by faith. We are no longer prisoners of law, any kind of law. Listen to this glorious passage:
"When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ" (Col. 2:13-17). Paul's words are a powerful reminder for anyone who suffers from what I call "religious guilt." Since Christ paid the ultimate price, we are free in Him. He concludes his remarks by saying, "Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence" (Col. 2:20-23, NIV).
This verse is so important for us today because, especially here in the Bible Belt, people are caught up in the rules and regulations which the church has tacked onto grace. What we see in all denominations we have visited, is the addition of rules, to what Paul says is the basis of our salvation, GRACE. Christ died for our sins. It is a free gift of God, preachers admit, but in order to "grow in grace," or "prove yourselves worthy," you MUST do this and this, and you MUST NOT do that or the other thing. "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!" Man's rules are the basis of all religion. Paul points out that rules have an "appearance of wisdom," with what he calls "false humility and harsh treatment of the body," but they are worthless in curbing the appetites of the flesh. The only way to curb the appetites of the flesh is to see that we are DEAD in Christ. Listen to his explanation of this profound truth: "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4, RSV). We were crucified with him and it is not our life which we live now. It is Christ living His life through us (Gal. 2:20-21). This is exactly why the Apostle admonishes us, "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 6:11, RSV). Why do we reckon or consider ourselves dead? Because dead men cannot sin, and as we said last week, dead men cannot have faith either. When we see by the spirit of God that we are dead in Christ, sin is no longer a problem for us, nor is having faith. When I am troubled about something these days, I roll it all over onto the Lord. It is His blood which saved me and His faith which delivers me. My natural faith counts for very little when the storms of life roll through, but His faith? Ah, now that's a different story. He has faith sufficient for all our trials, all our troubles, all our woes, all our concerns, our worries, our fears. His faith has overcome the world, dear ones, and we are IN HIM.
One good thing about getting old is that sin is no longer the problem it once was. I look around me here at the sea of walkers and wheelchairs and think that you probably don't struggle with physical temptation the way you may once have. Can you even remember lust? However, the sins we cannot see are often worse than the ones we do. Many Christians would not think of walking into a liquor store to buy a bottle of wine, even though turning water into wine was Jesus' first miracle. They will not play with a deck of cards lest anyone think they were gambling; and they surely would not miss church because it might hurt their witness. But what about those horrible, unloving and judgmental thoughts they have about their neighbor or family member, or worse, about some Christian who doesn't believe the way they do? God knows how you think, how you judge, and how, or IF you love your brother. I say this not to lay guilt upon you, but to remind all of us, that God lives in us, and He knows the secret sin, the judgments, the envy, the jealousy, the anger, the rage and hatred that sometimes creep in. The antidote for all these unlovely sins is to know that we are dead in Christ. When those fleshly thoughts come, shove them back into the coffin where they belong! He won the victory for us. "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Heb. 2:14,15, NIV). Hallelujah! He freed us from the devil!
Beloved Saints, many have lived their lives in fear of death and hell, but Christ came to deliver us from that. Do not let the doctrines of men, or the tirades of religious leaders throw you back into bondage, as the Judaizers did to those in the early church. Paul sums up his remarks by saying, "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1, RSV). For FREEDOM, liberty, independence, Christ has set us free! The rest of the verse asks us to "Stand fast, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." I am a very literal, cognitive person. I take words at face value. I used to look at that verse and see a command: Stand fast. Fight. Don't submit. Resist. That was OK as far as it went, and served me well in my youth. Now that I am old, and war weary, the Lord has shown me the deeper meaning. Christ has fulfilled all righteousness: He has accomplished all things pertaining to our life and godliness. So, when the verse says "Stand fast," I now see myself resting in Christ as HE stands fast. This is how the law is swallowed up by grace in my life and yours. When we read what looks like a commandment in the New Testament, it is really God's indicative, His promise to us that this, whatever it may be, is what He has done, is doing, and will do for us through Christ. I take my stand on Paul's declaration of liberty for all of us: "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2, RSV) and "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law" (Gal. 5:18). Rejoice, for the law has been fulfilled in Christ who lives in you and me. We are free in Him and no one can take that way. Hallelujah!
I'm going through a hard time. Maybe you've been there too,
when you can't hear the voice of God no matter what you do.
You cannot see His face, or find Him in the gloom.
It feels like death, the inside of your tomb.
Encased in flesh, the body bound, confined by every law,
a frozen block of ice, waiting for the thaw.
Words, like a river, flowing without power,
spoken to the troubled Saints waiting in this hour.
Flames of fire dancing on my head
flooding my heart with what the Lord has said.
I see power from on high, filling every heart,
Resurrection Life, the Father's brand new start.
Freedom from this world, and all the ties which bind,
shackling the body, imprisoning the mind.
For the sake of freedom, Christ has made us free.
Come, Lord Jesus, be yourself in me.
From the throne, through me, let my tongue confess
that you are ready now the entire world to bless.
In Jacob's son; in Ishmael's too, in all the promised land,
magnify yourself, Oh Lord, in every grain of sand,
until love reigns in every place you see
and all have tasted freedom wherein Christ has made us free.
Written 4/28/02 for the Saints of the world.
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
End Note "A", "Seeking the mother lode"
The Glory Road
We're always delighted to hear from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 5/2/02
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/28/08.