“You are loosed.”
Sermon for November 28, 1999
Our text proclaims that we have been called to liberty. (v.13) Well, what a word with which to begin Advent, a season when we prepare our hearts to celebrate the coming to earth of God’s own Son. The word for liberty here is eleutheria. It means “freedom, generosity and independence” and this liberty is one of the chief benefits of the grace under which we find ourselves placed. Christ’s coming to earth signals a fresh opportunity of grace, a new door of access. God had plainly dealt lovingly and graciously with His people prior to this time but never before had He come towards with such loving abandon. Oh sure there had been hints of God’s pursuing love for us. For instance, in the 23rd Psalm where we are accustomed to say, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life,” the literal meaning is “pursue me” as in hunted down. The picture is that we are God’s quarries whom He hunts down with singularity of purpose. God’s love is active, not passive; it seeks us out assertively, aggressively. More that one soul has exclaimed when finally he, or she has made peace with God, “I thought I was searching for God. Little did I know that He was pursuing me and, thank God, He has caught me.”
We forget that our souls are precious to God. He does not suffer their loss lightly. He is concerned enough about their alienation to come after them. What do I mean by “alienation”? I mean the unfreedom in which many people unfortunately live out their lives. I mean, the unsatisfied quest for significance. And, I mean, the soul’s captivity to the flesh and bondage to sin.
The soul’s captivity to the flesh has to do with human motivations. The motives that rule common man, and all of the unsaved, are gathered around the self and nowness. Self-protective, self-serving, self-centeredness is what drives the lost in their worldliness. That is the nature of lusts. So, those who are subject to the lusts of the flesh live in terms of this world only. They are eagerly accumulating wealth and vainly think that they can find security in their possessions. If this is all there is, or so they think, then they want their piece of the action now. So they are persuaded to sacrifice eternal pleasure on the altar of immediate and present satisfaction. Their world is therefore characterized by flatness, horizontal vision, and sensual reality. And those in thrall to this present world order treat that which is impermanent, and passing away, as if it were permanent, true and lasting. They are pitifully deceived . . . as we say, in darkness.
This is the darkness into which the light has shined! We were never purposed to walk in bondage to the world, the flesh, or the devil. Rather, we were called unto liberty. And if we are free, we are free from all that works towards unfreedom—we are set free from the motivations and the obsessions of the unredeemed man. That is why grace came near. More that we also know why grace came near incarnated . . .dressed, as it were, in the garments of the flesh but in no wise subject to the flesh! The Eternal One put on temporality, and He appeared within time, space and material reality to release us from the things that bind us. Through the transient character of His life, Jesus Christ transcended and transformed all the limitations, all the glass ceilings of the humanistic, secular worldview. We learn, if we are attentive, that this body must undergo a change; it must suffer to be transformed into, as Paul phrases it, a glorified body . . .”the perishable must put on the imperishable.” (1 Cor. 15: 52-54) Death, the enemy of all mankind, has been overcome by the God who comes near and, by His grace, opens the way to eternal life for all who will believe.
“Called unto liberty” also speaks to the purposes of human existence in a profound manner. Life didn’t just happen. God was up to something in the creation of life, and up to something when He placed mankind in the midst of that life. God purposed that we should go beyond responsiveness to the sun, the moon and the stars . . . and beyond the rhythms of the biosphere, of days and of seasons. God purposed the responsiveness of a personal relationship between Creator and the created! So, God imparted His image and shared with us the dominion and rule of the world out of responsiveness to Him. We are to love the world because God loves the world, and because the world has been gifted to us. His act to redeem us in completely consistent with Creation—the redeemed man is as close as one can get to being all that God has purposed for us this side of glory. Dying to one’s self is an integral part of that redemption . . . our “set free-ness.”
Our text continues, “only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” (v. 13) The world has so many things precisely backwards. This is one. Perfect liberty is the liberty of constraint. Constrained by the love of Christ, we step out of self-serving. We escape the lures and bondage of the flesh. Some there are who claim that this is not possible. To them, I would reply, “You are right. It is not possible for those who do not know Jesus Christ as Savior and as Lord." But those who do know Him in that way have within them a wellspring of love that is life giving because it is unpolluted by the demands of the flesh. He dwells within us, remaking us as “new creatures” all the time. We truly are born of the spirit and born of the truth. This being our true situation by grace, and through faith, we boldly proclaim that the flesh and the old world have altogether lost their power to allure, to terrify and to control. Yes, we are called to liberty, and what liberty it is!
Again, because it bears repeating, “Old opinions, views, plans, desires, principles and affections have passed away; new views of truth, new principles, new apprehensions of the destiny of man, new feelings and purposes fill and govern the soul.” -Chas. Hodges
Whatsoever remains of the old things are completely changed in that their influences are irrevocably altered. Same old boss, new dynamics. Same old job, wonderful new opportunities for outreach. All your wealth and all your possessions come into a new availability. Yesterday, they existed solely to serve you. Today, they exist to serve God however He might choose. Can you hear the liberty? Yesterday we lived according to the mere appearance of things, today we live according to the true nature of things—people are restored as spiritual beings, whether we like them or not! Material things become truly “instrumental,” or freely useful . . .and every “disaster” becomes the location of ministry, for wonder, and, yes, even for awe-struck worship. Because Christ freely died for all, we are liberated from our miserly picking and choosing and everyone wonders why you are smiling, why you are peaceful, unhooked, gentle, loving and, well, free . . . really free.
Those who are not free, who can only look at others from the point of view of their own bodily life, with its clamorous multitude of needs, desires and pleasures, are in bondage to flesh and blood. But those who are free know that having said all that we have not yet touched upon what essentially makes us who we are. We must scale the walls of fleshly apprehension and see and think spiritually—we all have a piece of Nicodemus in us, I think—because our conversion touches our hearts and our eyes. God is now appearing in the flesh all around us. Everyone who loves the Lord is, as I put, a living signature of that divine love, even of Jesus Christ. Because He loves, we love. And because we are His we are under grace, rather than under the Law.
The purpose of the Law has never changed. That purpose is to keep the ravages of sin in check, to keep the wickedness of the depraved human heart in bounds. It is stern corrective because the matters the Law addresses are serious ones. Cain proved unable to hold sin in check on his own. The generations leading up to Noah failed in the same manner. Following the Flood God put in effect His plan to raise up a holy nation, a peculiar people, and a royal priesthood. The first phases of that plan include the call of Abraham and the covenant of promise through Isaac. The second phase relates to the God’s deliverance of the nation Israel from bondage in Egypt, a spiritual as well as a geo-political deliverance that took place in real time, with real people. Moses received the Law for God’s people while in the Wilderness. Then came the age of the conquest, of the judges. This was followed by the age of the kings, priests and the prophets during which time God continued to gift His Chosen People with the Law. In the 6th century B. C., Israel was taken away into captivity and we have a time for the pre-exilic, exilic and post-exilic prophets. A long period of prophetic inactivity follows the last of the Old Testament prophets and so the dispensation of the Law stands when John, the Baptizer and cousin of Jesus of Nazareth, comes on the scene. The years immediately preceding the advent of Jesus had been filled with messianic expectations as nationalistic longings for a restored monarchy reached a feverish pitch. There were numerous revolts, and many pretenders arose announcing themselves to be the Christ, the Anointed One of God who was promised in the Scriptures. Jews of that day had access to the temple, rebuilt by King Herod, which, while not as grand as that of Solomon, was impressive enough. There people performed the rituals of atonement, made their sacrifices and attended the religious festivals particular to their faith. It was at this moment that God sovereignly chose to introduce the dispensation of grace, opening another way to fulfill the just demands of the Law to love one another.
What is this other way, this way of grace that God chooses to do? He chose to justify us through the blood of Jesus. So His justice is vindicated and His wrath is satisfied by the perfect sacrifice of a Lamb without blemish—that is, by Jesus’ death on the cross. We are reconciled with God apart from the Law, by grace. Secondly, we are saved and sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit. We are drawn to God, gifted with faith, and powerfully transformed day by day into a likeness of Him. That is the way of love and it is wonderful.
However, the Scripture is also practical and real. So, in apposition to the way of life is the way of death—the consuming of each other through biting and devouring. What we are talking about here are the ubiquitous tongue sins: gossip and tale-bearing which are both false witnessing, as well as coarse jesting, lying and cursing. All these sins lead to death. How unfortunate that we tend to forget that! How disastrous it is that we so easily forget who we are, and who the other person is. Those who cultivate a proper regard for each other will flee from such behavior. Those who walk by the Spirit will not do such things. And it is indicative of trouble if anyone who names the Name of Christ carries on like those who are still craving to fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Those who are in bondage to the flesh treat each other with contempt, oppress, trouble and harm each other—all because they se other people as object created for their needs, and their selfish satisfaction. But do not make the mistake of thinking that there is any neutrality between the Spirit and the flesh. They are at war with each other—and that warfare is extreme. The flesh aims at the total destruction of the spirit, and vice versa. They are mutually exclusive contraries. The flesh will hinder you from acting spiritually, and the Spirit will hinder the flesh from causing you to act carnally. The Law was used to reign in the flesh; the Spirit, however, exists to rule over the flesh. So, we should pay attention to the language Paul uses: “ye cannot do the things that ye would” contains a wonderful promise of deliverance. If you will choose to walk in the Spirit, it becomes impossible for you to act contrary to the Spirit. While the same holds true for walking in the flesh, we who know where walking in the flesh leads will know the path to choose.