Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Slavery or Freedom

Tomorrow's message at Faith Christian School's chapel:

In the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln wrote: "That on the 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.” (Restate in 2000’s English.)

Declaring them free was only the beginning of the process, practical action was required. The Union soldiers daily freed thousands of blacks free as they swept across the south in 1865.

Yet, if you walked down many of the southern US roads in 1870, you would still see many slaves working in the fields. They hadn’t heard about their freedom, hadn’t acted upon it, or were still being oppressed by their masters.

Christians in 2008 struggle with their freedom as well.

Jesus said in John 8: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

We read in Galatians 5: “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.”

If you are a believer in Jesus, you have been set free. Yet we often don’t act like it.

Two things threaten us: law, and sin.

The Book of Galatians was primarily written to combat the first problem. Paul had preached in Galatia, many had come to Christ, they were living free lives by faith, but then Paul left. Other teachers snuck in, teaching them that they had to obey Jewish laws, had to follow certain rules to be good Christians. The rules sounded good, made sense, but as they gradually gave into them, they became chained, stopped living by the Spirit, started living by the flesh again with all of its accompanying problems. This legalism led to all sorts of problems, including attacking others who didn’t believe as they did. Love fled.

Paul had some strong words for them (Galatians 5:2-10): “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough." I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.”
There are serious implications to living legalistically, trying to earn our righteousness through rules and regulations. Our relationship with Christ will break down. We will have to obey more and more laws, eventually we’ll break down under the load. And we will judge others who are attempting to live in God’s freedom. What a mess.

However, living in our freedom can lead to another problem. As an old expression stated: “Liberty, without love, becomes licentiousness.” This means that we can use our freedom to sin against God and each other. Paul addressed this in the same chapter of Galatians (5:13-16): “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

Sin also enslaves us, even though we were saved from it. Many of you may know of obvious examples – a former student from here who no longer lives for the Lord – a Christian relative with a drug or alcohol problem – a friend struggling with sexual issues. These are the obvious, but less obvious are “just as addictive sins” as gossip, envy, jealousy, anger and others.

So what’s the answer? I believe there are three embedded in the verses we’ve read:

1) You have been set free. Believe it. Expect to act like it. Expect that this wonderful proclamation – not from Lincoln, but from Jesus – will change your life. We often kill truth simply by not believing it. We believe our experience, believe what others tell us, believe what our ever changing emotions want us to feel – rather than believing Jesus. Learn to reckon – God says it, I believe it, and that settles it.

2) Live in love. Serve one another in love. This is key. If we would just ask ourselves, “is this loving” before acting – if we would just listen to the Holy Spirit’s prompting in our hearts before reacting – we would live in the joy of His freedom. This is even true in structured environments with significant rules like a Christian school. You may think a rule is stupid, and that your freedom is hampered by obeying it – but there is joy in following a rule if it loves a brother or sister in Christ.

3) Finally, live by the Holy Spirit. Train yourself to listen to His promptings in your heart. Slow down often enough – at least once daily – to hear His voice through God’s word, through prayer, through the inner workings of your soul.

My conclusion: you are free - believe it - live like it - experience your freedom by living in love through the Spirit. Prayer.

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