Daily Archives: February 9, 2011

Free Indeed!

So Jesus told those Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are really my disciples. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They replied to him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves to anybody. So how can you say, ‘You will be set free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, I tell all of you with certainty that everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the household forever, but the son does remain forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!”

(John 8:31-36, ISV)

The last words of my previous post on the subject of freedom were: “Yes we are free to choose, but we have never, are not, and will never be free from the consequences of the choices that we make.” The problem is that humanity has developed a twisted view of what freedom really is. We think that we have the right to do what we want, when we want, how we want – without suffering any negative consequences. We call that ‘ideal’ freedom. In a nutshell, what we think of as ‘freedom’ is actually rebellion against authority. We don’t want to be held subject to anything – whether it be obvious authorities such as governments, employers or anyone else who tries to physically tell us what to do, or less direct authorities such as the passing of time or the ingestion of too much chocolate. I would like to be able to eat nothing but chocolate without suffering any negative consequences, but common sense tells me that is impossible. Therefore I am unconsciously admitting that chocolate (or more accurately the effects of chocolate on my body) has authority over me. We cannot escape from this! Our human bodies, emotions, and spirits are ALL slaves in one way or another. We are NOT free! We live, pay taxes, and die. What is the answer?

Before we move on to examine the passage from the Bible I quoted above, we need to get to the ultimate root of the human problem. We have touched on it briefly in previous posts, but we are going to look at it more closely today.

The root of the human problem is sin.

Sin is a dirty word in contemporary society. It is intensely disliked, simply because (as we’ve been discussing) it stamps all over the ideal of freedom that we think we should be able to live by. The concept of sin – things we do or say that are somehow wrong or offensive or even evil – is almost universally derided in the western world. Of course, society is still happy enough to point a collectivist finger at the really bad people (murderers, rapists, global-warming deniers, fundamental Christians…) and call them sinful, but the word simply doesn’t apply to anyone else. How DARE anyone say that it is wrong for a man to have sex with another man? How DARE anyone say that it is wrong for those men to marry and enjoy all the benefits that society offers to married couples? Well, I for one dare to say those things because it’s the truth. Of course, my truth is founded solely on the Bible and the teachings it contains, so therefore anyone who rejects the Bible is probably also going to reject much of what it says is right or wrong. For the purpose of this post all I’m going to say to you if you fall into that category is “have you actually read the whole Bible with an open heart and mind?”.

So the Bible tells us that certain things are sinful. Let’s have a look at a few examples:

The LORD told Moses to tell the people of Israel:

I am the LORD your God! So don’t follow the customs of Egypt where you used to live or those of Canaan where I am bringing you. I am the LORD your God, and you must obey my teachings. Obey them and you will live. I am the LORD.

Don’t have sex with any of your close relatives, especially your own mother. This would disgrace your father. And don’t disgrace him by having sex with any of his other wives.

Don’t have sex with your sister or stepsister, whether you grew up together or not.

Don’t disgrace yourself by having sex with your granddaughter or half sister or a sister of your father or mother.

Don’t disgrace your uncle by having sex with his wife.

Don’t have sex with your daughter-in-law or sister-in-law. And don’t have sex with the daughter or granddaughter of any woman that you have earlier had sex with. You may be having sex with a relative, and that would make you unclean.

As long as your wife is alive, don’t cause trouble for her by taking one of her sisters as a second wife.

When a woman is having her monthly period, she is unclean, so don’t have sex with her.

Don’t have sex with another man’s wife–that would make you unclean.

Don’t sacrifice your children on the altar fires to the god Molech. I am the LORD your God, and that would disgrace me.

It is disgusting for a man to have sex with another man.

Anyone who has sex with an animal is unclean.

Don’t make yourselves unclean by any of these disgusting practices of those nations that I am forcing out of the land for you. They made themselves and the land so unclean, that I punished the land because of their sins, and I made it vomit them up. Now don’t do these sickening things that make the land filthy. Instead, obey my laws and teachings. Then the land won’t become sick of you and vomit you up, just as it did them. If any of you do these vulgar, disgusting things, you will be unclean and no longer belong to my people. I am the LORD your God, and I forbid you to follow their sickening way of life.

(Leviticus 18, CEV)

Wow. Sounds like God hates sex, doesn’t it? And let’s be honest here – a vast proportion of the hurt, pain, fear, sadness, loneliness, grief etc. etc. that life dumps on people is the result of sex, or the desire to have sex, be sexy, appear physically or financially attractive to the opposite sex for the purpose of having sex… When it comes to the modern ideal of ‘freedom’, NOTHING shouts louder than sexual freedom. And it appears that God doesn’t like that! Money, power, control…. all the other big cheeses when it comes to personal freedom bow down beneath the altar of sex. Why am I using this example? Because I believe we are ALL guilty of sinful behavior of one sort or another in this area of life. It is universal. The Bible tells us that if we even LOOK lustfully at another person’s spouse – we are guilty of adultery. Thinking about any sort of sex outside of a marriage relationship is sinful. We’ve all been there, done that. So at this very basic, very universal level we are all sinners. We have all broken God’s law and offended Him beyond our ability to understand. So we are back to basics. God gives us all the freedom to choose whether to obey His rules or not, but our actions will have consequences. We are not free. Emotional and physical disease as a result of immorality is almost as universal as the immorality itself. Anyone can see that. Abortion, AIDS, broken families, murders, rapes, hatred… The list is endless. All because we want to be ‘free’.

Well, we can be.

The laws (including those found in Leviticus 18) that God gave to the Israelites were given for one purpose. The law reveals the truth about the heart of each and every human, and that truth is we do not meet God’s standards. God was very clear for generation after generation – if you obey me and do only the things that are good for you (remember – God designed us, and He knows exactly what is good for us and distilled that knowledge into law) then you will be blessed beyond your wildest dreams! I will be your God, and you will be my people! We will have an eternal, perfect relationship because you will be worthy of being in my presence!

The law reveals that we are all law-breakers, and deserve to be punished for breaking it.

Sadly, the punishment would be eternal separation from God, because no matter how hard we try, we can not change ourselves into something acceptable to Him. The imperfect cannot make itself perfect. Never, no how, no way. Religion (including much that calls itself Christianity) is man’s attempt to do something to earn God’s approval. Tithe, pray, go to church regardless of whether it’s a game day or not, feed the poor, go on a missions trip and get an icky disease from the natives….

Filthy rags. That’s what the Bible calls our very, very best most earnest, sincere efforts at pleasing God.

Well, after all that – let’s look at the verses from John’s Gospel that I quoted somewhere up there beyond the top of the page:

So Jesus told those Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are really my disciples. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They replied to him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves to anybody. So how can you say, ‘You will be set free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, I tell all of you with certainty that everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the household forever, but the son does remain forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!”

(John 8:31-36, ISV)

This won’t take long. The truth is so clear. The Jews thought they were free because they knew the law and tried to follow it. They refused to understand that their best efforts were worthless. The One and Only thing that can really set us free is the Truth Himself. Everyone who commits a sin (in other words, everyone) is a slave of sin. Slaves to sin cannot live in God’s presence. Only children of God can do that. And Jesus was, is and always will be the only One who has the power and authority to free us from the eternal consequences of our sin.

And if He does that, we will be free indeed.

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Whom Should We Fear?

For this is what the Lord said to me with great power, to keep me from going the way of this people: Do not call everything an alliance these people say is an alliance. Do not fear what they fear; do not be terrified. You are to regard only the LORD of Hosts as holy. Only He should be feared; only He should be held in awe.

(Isaiah 8:11-13)

It is always essential to at least try to understand the context of a verse of the Bible before blithely applying it in any which way. However even when some verses have a very clear primary historical context, it is often still reasonable to apply some if not all of the concepts in a contemporary way as well. Many Biblical principles are introduced to us through historical narrative, and the fact that they are being applied to a specific situation does not mean that they are not generally applicable as well. So what have we got in these three verses that I read in Isaiah this morning?

We have God talking to His prophet Isaiah about how he should deal with what he sees happening to the people all around him. The Israelite people of the Kingdom of Judah are afraid they are going to get severely thumped by the allied armies of Israel and Syria, and their King Ahaz is stubbornly trusting in his own alliance with the Assyrians to protect them rather than trusting in God. So God tells His faithful prophet Isaiah to keep trusting in God’s wisdom rather than blindly follow the direction that the rest of the people are taking.

The first thing that struck me is that God spoke to Isaiah withe great power. Basically, whenever God whispers – we should listen with all our might. What, then, ought we do when God jumps up and down and roars at us? As a Christian, I know that God is right and that (in comparison) everyone else around me is wrong. I know that – but I still often listen to others more than I listen to God! I must be crazy.

As I look around this country I live in, I see turmoil everywhere. Regardless of political or religious belief, it seems that nearly everyone is looking to a Barack Obama or a Ron Paul or a Rick Warren or a Joel ‘Oprah’ Osteen to tell them what is going on and what to do about it. Christian or not, it sadly seems as if we are all placing our hope in the wisdom of certain leaders within our society. Perhaps Christians think that they are trusting God through certain political or church elite. They have faith that the person they have faith in has faith in God.

Well it’s time for us to cut out the middle (wo)man and return to a direct, abiding, personal faith in God Himself. Great and terrible things are going to be happening closer and closer to home here in America. The world at large is reeling from shock after shock, and America is slowly waking up to the fact that these things that are happening MEAN something. 9/11 was devastating, but compared to the natural disasters that are steadily increasing in impact and strength the loss of life it caused was minimal. The Middle East is in even more upheaval than usual, and don’t expect that to settle down anytime soon. One world leader says one thing, and another says another. Some start agreeing with each other for a while, and we all get excited that problems are going to be solved and the stock markets will continue climbing. And then another brick gets thrown through our worldview window, and we get all scared again.

Stop it. If we are Christians, we need to start thinking, speaking and behaving like Christ. Do not fear what the world fears. Pay no attention to who is allied with who. Do not tremble at what is happening. Gaze at God, and His awesome holiness will fill you with worthwhile fear. And when we Christians start to give God the respect, attention and awe that He deserves and demands, we will suddenly find that we have peace within, even as the world falls apart without.

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