Freedom


For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

2 Peter 1: 16-18

We live in a time in world history where there is a striking absence of truly authoritative leadership. We are surrounded by people that wield power and that hold out their wisdom as if it were of supreme value, but the test of truth calls the lie in all of these claims. The voices that demand our loyalty and that attempt to impose their wills upon our nations are speaking out of the shallow depths of their own human reason as they too frequently make demands that are not in any way related to God’s Word of truth and life. This sort of worldly authority is, in fact, fueled by arrogance, and it draws far too many people into its enticing wasp trap of Spirit quenching death.

Peter was present when the one and the only, the singular, Lord God of the Universe proclaimed that Jesus was truly His Son. So, at that time, God was also proclaiming the conveyance of authority to rule over all of the earth as its sole rightful King. Jesus retains the right to pronounce judgement upon all that transpires in our world, and through His Spirit, He also provides all of the wisdom and counsel that we need in order to live as godly people. That is, the Spirit guides us into thinking and acting in a manner that will please God and that will bring the Kingdom of God into view in our world. When we are following Christ justice, mercy, peacemaking, and love for all people prevail. As people in positions of authority submit to Christ, they can do nothing other than promote these same well-articulated Godly characteristics.

As God’s character and nature are seldom seen in the words and the actions of many of our world’s leaders, one must surely question whether these people are actually submitted to Christ. For the vast majority of us, those who elect leaders and whose voice they should desire to hear, we should be questioning the sorts of opinions that we express to our elected rulers as we should also carefully consider the Christ-likeness of those for whom we vote. For, if Christ was truly proclaimed to be King and was so granted the authority to rule over this world, as attested to by Peter, then it is His heart-felt proclamation of grace and love for our neighbors that must prevail in the outworking of all of our earthly governance. There is no authority on earth that is superior to Jesus, and there is no rule of law that exceeds the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

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Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.

1 Peter 5: 6, 7

There is an almost wildly crazy aspect to the way that God designed us humans, for we have this strong, independent streak that runs throughout our nature and that affects almost everything that we do. As elements of this characteristic existed in Eve and Adam from the first accounts of their existence, it seems that this was something that God designed into them. Yet, it is this same independence that leads to the sort of self-sufficient arrogance that got them and that gets me into many of the situations that cause us so much grief and worry. Then, for me, the worry, concern, and stress drive me deep inside myself. They close me off to engaging in healthy and helpful dialogue with other people, and they cause me to hide out from God. In the end, the situation just gets worse.

So, in trying to resolve this mystery of my Creator’s design for me and my relationship with Him, I have come to this understanding. God wants me and everyone else to desire to be involved in the relationship with Him. The Lord is first and foremost my loving Father. He wants to guide, nurture, counsel, and empower me to live a life that is full and joyous. God delights in the things that we do and in the way that we grow in our understanding of His righteousness. Recognizing my own need for the Lord’s continual guidance and wisdom is the first step toward living in the freedom that God intends for me to enjoy. Then, the next step is the hard one, for I must take my controlling hands off of the outcome and humbly allow God to take charge of the direction that I go in all aspects of my life. 

There is no instantaneous or miraculous cure for a lifetime of practicing the form of self-directed thinking that results in the type of isolation from God that I have experienced with its attendant anxiety and loss of peace and joy. Yet, the Lord provides me and all of us with great hope, for He is gracious with us. He places no restrictions or preconditions on His acceptance of the desire of our hearts to embrace His truth. As I yield myself to Him, God gives back to me and blesses me in ways that are far greater than I could have imagined. As we turn over everything, each and every challenge, worry, concern, struggle, and uncertainty to our loving Father; we can expect the miraculous, for He will provide the answers to it all while allowing that created independence and drive to flourish in ways that are made possible by dwelling in the center of the Lord’s will. 

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

Romans 6: 13

Now make no mistake about this, the work of transformation in our bodies is done by Christ. However, we are willing participants in this process of change. God has never wanted people to enter into a relationship with Him through compulsion or by means of coercion or force. There are beneficial consequences that come about when we do surrender ourselves to Christ, and there are also correspondingly negative ones if we reject or deny Him. Yet, even these earthly and eternal out workings of our relationship with God do not carry with them the idea of force or of compulsion. Just as we will live throughout our days here and on through the expanse of eternity with our decision regarding the person and the nature of Christ, so too we are allowed to freely choose to follow Christ or to not do so.

This is not just a singular or momentary choice, either. We will continually encounter decisions that involve our desires and will and their conformity to or deviation from God’s Word and His will. For, in all honesty, most people want to think, say, and do things that are pleasing to ourselves but not so to God, that are momentarily pleasurable for our bodies but are contrary to God’s law of truth and grace, or that satisfy inner desires and fill voids within our hearts that would be better filled by Christ and by His redemptive love. Some of these choices are small and the outcomes have limited impact upon the conduct of life; yet, they all matter for even these small things accumulate and grow in their aggregate into systematic ways of thinking, and they become wedges that drive us ever farther away from God’s heart and from serving His gospel. Other decisions that we can encounter in our journey are large and impactful at the level of reshaping the course of life, itself. 

As we are in Christ, all of the process of living belongs to Him. We have been purchased away from slavery to death and ownership by Satan and his worldly forces. This transaction was entered into by God, and the price that was bargained and sealed was the death of the historically singular innocent one, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As God’s great love for each of us was poured out in the form of sweat and drops of Christ’s blood that thus formed the medium for our baptism of grace, we are called upon to fully commit our hearts, minds, and bodies to following Christ and to serving His will throughout the moments and the years of our lives. This is a decision that we are given to make continuously along the way; do I surrender my flesh to Christ to be consumed upon the holy altar of service to the Lord or do I hold onto those aspects of it that make me feel safe or that bring personal pleasure and temporary fulfillment? Holy Spirit, inform and guide my choices today so that they will be pleasing to you, Lord, I pray.  

For freedom Christ has set us free, stand firm therefor, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5: 1

Almost all people desire to obtain freedom. It doesn’t really seem to matter what the circumstances of life may be, either, for freedom’s opposite, slavery or possession, is also commonly perceived. We are all owned by something or by someone; so, everyone experiences what it is like to be held against our wills. Most people actually volunteer for some of the tours of duty as indentured workers that play out over the course of life. It is the nature and the character of this world to attempt to control people and to hold us away from the full potential that was given to us in God’s design and plan for our lives. However, slavery is not the true nature of life, and bondage is not the condition that God desires for us to experience.

Jesus left the absolute freedom of heaven in order to live in our enslaved world so that people like you and I could experience the sort of freedom that God intends for us to know. The form of freedom that God desires for us to have does not operate as license to think and to act in any manner that we might choose to do. Instead, it is a form of freedom in which people willingly submit to God’s authority and rule. This freedom is restrained and it is self-sacrificing in that its primary purpose and use is for the benefit of others and for the glory of God’s name. The highest expression of this freedom is found as we yield our wills and subordinate our desires to God’s will as expressed in His Word and to the leading of His Spirit in its implementation.

So, this is the strange freedom that Christ leads us into. He sets us free from earthly bondage in its many forms, but He also asks that we submit to His will with all of our minds and hearts. Yet, this is not the same as being purchased by one oppressive master from another. The Lord does allow for us to make choices in all of this, and we are granted the free will to submit to God’s leading and desire for the conduct of our lives. For turning over control and guidance of life to Christ is the most freeing thing that anyone can do. He knows the gifts, talents, and skills that we were given when we were created, and the Lord directs us onto a path through life that sets all of that potential free for us to use. Thus, Christ provides us with opportunities to have an impact on our world that are such that we can touch the enslaved around us with the breath of true freedom.    

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his son.

1 John 5: 11

Testimony is serious business. When a person is called upon to provide it, the words that come out, either in written form or as an oral statement, need to be carefully considered and be as accurate as the witness is able to recall. The words solemn and formal are found in the definitions of testimony. According to John, God’s own testimony is found in this simple expression about life. God gives life to us, and it comes by and through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. This is the solemn truth that God would have all people know, grasp, and follow. This is the simple summary of all that is contained in God’s Word regarding relationship with Him. Life, in its fullest expression and to its ultimate extent, is a gift that comes to people in Christ, and it is found nowhere else in all of the universe.

This spark, this mysterious yet tangible difference, is often visible in the way that Christ’s followers think, act, and speak. It is even more apparent in the attitude that they carry forth into life wherein the things of this world do not hold them down or burden them to the point of breaking. For the truth is found in the fact that this place has its harsh qualities and its burdensome aspects, and no one escapes their grasp. We encounter these trials, struggles, and times of suffering as a part of the normal course of living. Yet, Christ within us changes things in ways that are real and tangible. Christ provides the perspective of eternity for us to use as the lens through which these earthly struggles can be viewed. Christ grants us a form of strength that is only slightly associated with the capacity to do physical work and that is absolutely related to our capacity to continue on with living with peace in our hearts and with the gospel of love on our lips.

God’s testimony is found in Jesus, and our testimony is the lives that we live in His name and for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This fact makes each of us, in Christ, into daily witnesses to His grace, love, and mercy as it also places us on view as examples or exhibits in the great and grand trial that is life. For we are being looked over and examined so that the lives that we live and the way that Christ influences the conduct of those lives is under the scrutiny of the people of the world around us. The peace, joy, and love that we exude is being observed, and the way that we carry on with life regardless of circumstances and situations is also seen by others. I am not saying that followers of Christ should put up false fronts and pretend to the world that everything is perfect and that there are no challenges and struggles in our lives. Quite the opposite is true, for we can and should be free to be open, transparent, and honest in sharing our lives with others and in seeking the Lord’s engagement with our needs. Yet, in Christ, the lives that we live with their faith, hope, peace, and joy are even more so a testimony to our Lord in the hard days and the challenging times.  

I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.)

Philemon 10, 11

This is a difficult relationship to consider, for it is clear that Onesimus was a slave. His name means either “useful” or “profitable” and was one that was commonly given to slaves. It would seem that he has run away from service to his master Philemon and has come to be among the group of people who had gathered around Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome in around 62 AD. Something has happened during this time with Paul. Elsewhere the apostle describes a hard and a painful process that is much like a woman giving birth to a child. So, too, Paul uses parent-child imagery when he describes Onesimus and their relationship. It is also clear that Paul trusts this former runaway slave with important tasks such as carrying his letters to Colossae and to Ephesus. Now, Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon while he is also appealing to the slave holder to see the transformation that has taken place in Onesimus through eyes and with a heart that have undergone their own transformative work.

This is a fundamental aspect of what it means to follow Christ. In so committing to that relationship, Christ also makes a commitment to each of us. We will not come out of this relationship the same as we were before. That change may not happen quickly; in fact, at times it may seem as if it is progressing at a pace that is too slow to measure. Still, it does come about, for the Spirit of Christ is present in all of us when we embrace faith in Christ, and that Spirit is relentless and powerful in His capacity to bring about the conforming of our hearts and so our minds to that of Christ. Now some people do radically change in a matter of moments, but most of us do this over the course of the remainder of our earthly lives. There will be days when Christ will be very apparent on and in us, and there will be others when the old self seems to raging forth and causing the same sorts of havoc that it did previously. This is the reality of what it means to be a new person in Christ. The work of the Spirit is continuous and on-going, and we need to remain faithful and committed to obedience to God’s Word and to His Spirit in order to fully develop as Christians.

Philemon was asked to be patient and gracious in his reception of Onesimus. Paul implores him to see the new man before he assumes that the old one is present. This is how we are to engage with people who have come to Christ in our world, too. If we believe that Christ works in people to change them, then we must also believe that people can change. So, we are called upon by God to extend grace and understanding to these people, who are new beings in Christ. In the letter to Philemon there is an unstated appeal for the slave owner to extend freedom to the slave upon his voluntary return, for in fact, Onesimus has already been set free by Christ. He is no longer a slave to the greater mastery of sin and its death; so, the freedom that Philemon can extend is relatively minor in its importance or in its impact upon Onesimus. Still, it is important for Philemon’s spiritual growth that he trust Christ enough to release his hold on another human life. We do not know how this aspect of this story concluded, but we can enter into the same form of trust as Philemon was called to do. So, we can seek the Spirit’s guidance as we encounter people who are undergoing the transformative work of the Spirit in their lives so that we, too, can extend the grace that is needful for the day at hand and truly embrace fellow new creatures in Christ with the love and the acceptance that we would desire to receive from them in return.

And falling to his knees he cries out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 7: 60

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful acts that is within the realm of human endeavor. This is especially true when the person or people that are being forgiven are guilty of perpetrating wrong against their benefactor. The wrong that was done to Stephen in this event from the history of the church in Jerusalem during those tumultuous times that came about after Jesus was crucified was as great as it can possibly get. For Stephen had been tried and convicted of blasphemy against God and was then taken outside of the city where he was brutally and violently executed by means of stoning. Stoning is a highly personal device for bringing about the torturous murder of a victim. This follower of the Risen Christ used his final breaths in order to speak out forgiveness for the people whose anger was being poured into his flesh by the impact of every jagged rock that impacted with his body.

This example of forgiveness is extreme. Yet, Stephen is doing nothing more than following His Master in this attitude of the heart, mind, and spirit. Remember, Jesus also forgave His executioners from the cross as He was establishing this same grace for all of us for the rest of time. In Christ, we are forgiven; through Christ’s blood, we are baptized into eternity as our universal separation from God and antagonism with the Lord are reconciled as Christ pronounces upon us the innocence that only He deserves. For Stephen to be able to forgive the people in the mob that was taking his life from him required something that came from a source that was far greater than anything that he naturally possessed. This was an act of both his will and of his heart, and it was one that, coming in this final moment of his earthly agony, required strength of body and of spirit that was beyond anything that people are capable of doing from within their own resources.

These words are those of the Spirit within Stephen, and this act of forgiveness is supernatural in its inspiration and in its execution. God forgives us because we have accepted Christ as Savior and Lord of our lives. Christ retains the role and the right to judge all human hearts and to tender this same grace to all that He deems worthy. Out flawed and frail human capacity to so determine who is righteous and which of us is worthy is no longer in play. Thus, we have no other choice than to follow Stephen’s example and to forgive people in all sorts of circumstances and situations. Forgiveness is complex, and it does not necessarily mean that a person is trusted and accepted fully regardless of what they may have done or the attitudes of their hearts and minds. Yet, forgiveness releases us from being responsible for establishing judgement and tendering eternal sanctions upon others; so, it also allows for us to extend Christ’s call to repentance and enter into restoration of relationship with the ones that have offended against us. Forgiveness enters us into the processes of bringing life after death, and this endeavor is Christ’s ultimate mission and our greatest calling as His people.  

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