Monday, July 5, 2010

At Freedom's Expense

The date was the fourth of July, and there I was doing something I love: sitting in the house of the Lord and listening to His Word being proclaimed. The preacher for the day was not the usual preacher of Sunday mornings past. Instead, he was a substitute for the day (the usual preacher was given time off to enjoy his family for one Sunday). And the message was one that I’m sure many heard something similar to on that day: our freedom in Christ. The parallel was made between our cognizance of national freedom and our cognizance of spiritual freedom (our freedom in the Lord). I enjoyed how, before the sermon, a small powerpoint presentation (no more than five minutes) was played to show quotes of our national forefathers gone by, who argued that the freedom of this country was founded with men who were Christians. John Quincy Adams had a statement that “the birthday of this country [was matched with] the birthday of the Savior.”

And the powerpoint presentation showed me something else I did not know: that the three branches of our government (legislative, executive, and judicial) did not come from the minds of men like Montesquieu in his “Spirit of Laws” (which argued for checks and balances in good government), but rather, from Scripture itself:
“For the Lord is our judge [Judicial]; the Lord is our lawgiver [Legislative]; the Lord is our king, he will save us [Executive]” (Isaiah 33:22, English Standard Version).

That was a novel piece of information to me, something I had never heard before; nevertheless, I was thankful for it. I think the powerpoint itself dispelled of some things I believed about this country from my days in public school. Praise the Lord for enlightenment!

The time of mental meditation began when, during the offering, a woman sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The screens turned to nothing but a flag and what looked like fireworks streaming across them, as the woman had the attention of everyone in the congregation. Her voice was beyond anything I’d ever heard in my life: she had such a vocal range that I was praising God after her singing for the voice He had given her...and while hearing her sing the words of a song dearly cherished, I began to ponder just how blessed of a nation the United States of America really is. What other country has the freedoms of ours? What other nation can truly say that it was founded upon biblical principles? And because of the Lord’s goodness, what does He require we give Him in return? I began to think, sitting in that seat, that this great Lord who blessed each person in that place to live in a free country like ours, to be able to assemble in His Name, desires that we give our all to Him and honor Him with our lives. We have not been given the privileges we have for nought; call it “the little Arminian” in me, but God has graced us with so much, that He desires we press on toward “the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). We have not been so wonderfully graced by God to sit around and “display” our blessings; rather, we have been graced SO THAT we can help others, graced so that we can please the One who has called us to be soldiers.

The sermon was from Romans 6, and the preacher (whom I shall call “Bill”) preached the Word with such clarity that I began to meditate on our freedom in Christ. “We were saved to walk in freedom,” Bill said, “not to resurrect the sin that died in us from the moment of salvation.” I think the following verses impacted me most of all of the ones read:

“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under the law but under grace? BY NO MEANS! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin which leads to death, or of obedience which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:15-16, ESV)

Bill then paused and explained the context behind Paul’s words in verses 15 and 16: Before the time of Paul, there was a Roman law which stated that a free man could not be enslaved; as a result, free Roman citizens would sell themselves into slavery (upon which they would be paid for their slave labor); once they received the money from slave labor, they would gather witnesses who would testify that they were freemen, and the judge would declare them free from slavery. Being enslaved, for them, was a money-racketeering enterprise by which they could make a lot of money. While it was profitable for them to be enslaved, it was unprofitable for the Roman empire (financially draining). Because of the loss of money to the Roman government, the Roman government passed a new rule that came to pass in the time of Paul: according to the new law, any free citizen who enslaved themselves in order to make money could no longer gain their freedom; While many believers today hold to “Once Saved, Always Saved,” those who sold themselves into slavery were, by virtue of the law, “Once Enslaved, Always Enslaved.” Once you sold yourself into someone’s slave labor, there was no way out except for death. Suddenly, one could have all the money in the world and be the most miserable of all.

Now, the question becomes, “How did Bill use this in his sermon?” His response was, “What Paul is trying to say here is that the only way you will be enslaved to sin is if you choose to be.”

But is that ALL Paul was saying? Or did he mean more? In my estimation, according to the text, Paul meant more than just “I can choose to become enslaved again to sin.”

Look at the passage of Scripture itself: first, Paul tells them that they have died to the old man (Rom. 6:7, 11); then, Paul tells them not to let sin reign in their use their physical members (body parts) to work righteousness (v.13); and then, he gives the question, “Are we to sin because we are not under the law but under grace?” and responds with, “By no means!” (v.15). Why do you think Paul warned them about sin? Did he warn them just because he wanted them to not take the grace of God for granted? Did he warn them about yielding to sin because he wanted to stop immorality and make them well-behaved citizens? Or did he warn them about sin because there was a possibility that each and every believer could return to “life without Christ”?

If you ask me, I’d say, “the latter: Paul warns them because they could easily slip back into the old life and abandon their life in Christ.” Simply put, they had been declared free from sin, but were still living as though they were “enslaved” to it; and up until the time of Paul’s words, they had been profiting from sin (getting to cater to their desires while wearing the label “free in Christ”); however, Paul’s words here come as a shock: for, should they sell themselves back into slavery, they will “undo” or “nullify” the freedom in Christ they once possessed. And once they return to the old way of life, they cannot declare their freedom anymore.

The apostle Peter wrote about this same thing in his Second Epistle to the scattered Jews of the Diaspora:

“For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter 2:19b-21, ESV).

A person can come to saving faith and yet, enslave themselves to sin again by their actions; if they choose to do so, however, like the free citizen who becomes a permanent slave, so will they.

When all is said and done, freedom in Christ means nothing if we don’t understand what bondage to sin is all about. I think that’s the biggest dilemma for the eternal securitist: trying to explain how we appreciate our freedom in Christ (and responsibility of godliness) while guaranteeing our eternal outcome, irrespective of our perseverance.

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