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The Christadelphian | December 2014

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Seeking glory
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning Our liberty in Christ | David Burges
  • Studies in Matthew’s Gospel 12 – The Father and His children | John Benson
  • Tried to the end | Tom McCarthy
  • The Hope of Israel | Andrew Walker
  • Archaeology in focus 12 – Silver shekels | James Andrews
  • The purpose of the Ecclesia 10 – The Ecclesia as the flock part 3 | Peter Anderton & Paul Tovell
  • Bible Companion | John Hingley
  • Enhancing our worship Suggestions for December | John Botten
  • Truth Corps 2014
  • Jamaica – Focus on Youth | Don Luff
  • Book Review Bible Guidelines for a Happy Marriage by Brother John Bilello | Malcolm G. Cross
  • Faith Alive! The last great priest and Levite | David Simpson
  • Signs of the times Anatolia today | John Morris
  • Israel and their Land Tensions in Jerusalem | Roger Long
  • Epilogue Seeds | Rosemary Hardy
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Sunday Morning

Our liberty in Christ

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives … to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”

WE have come once again to partake of bread and wine, to call to mind the suffering and the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ by which our freedom from sin and death and the hope of eternal life has been secured. Freedom or liberty is a state that men value very highly. Many wars and political campaigns have been fought, not always successfully, in the cause of freedom for a country or a group of people. But true freedom is difficult to find: people striving for it often discover that they have merely exchanged one kind of tyranny for another. And this is equally true in spiritual terms.

Liberty in Christ

In the Letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul makes an impassioned appeal to his readers:

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” (chapter 5:1)

Here is an exhortation drawn from the previous chapters in that letter to turn away from the bondage imposed by the Mosaic Law, in particular with regard to circumcision and the food laws. They were to be steadfast in the faith of Jesus Christ, which brings forgiveness and the hope of God’s kingdom.

It must have been especially distressing for the apostle to have to write in this way to the Galatians, many of whom were converts from his missionary visits to such towns as Antioch, Derbe, Lystra and Iconium. It is clear that Judaising brethren were following Paul around and seeking to subvert his Gospel message, by reimposing the statutes of the law. This was causing serious disturbance among these Gentile ecclesias. Paul has already in chapter 1 invoked a solemn, double curse upon these false teachers:

“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach another gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed …” (verses 8,9)

Paul emphasises that his gospel was received directly by revelation from the Lord Jesus (verses 11,12) and is one of justification by faith, not by the rituals of the law.

It is important to notice that Paul’s characteristic message of justification by faith in Jesus Christ, the theme of both the Galatian and Roman letters, is itself derived from the words of Jesus to him on the Damascus Road. It is only in the third account of Paul’s conversion, in Acts 26, that we learn in full of the Lord’s charge to him:

“But rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people as well as from the Gentiles, to whom now I send you, to open their eyes … that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (verses 16-18)

Here the words “sanctified by faith in me” are the very basis of Paul’s gospel of justification by faith. And so we find this doctrine expressed in the key verse of the Galatian letter:

“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” (2:16)

Of course the Mosaic Law, received from God by the mediation of angels, was itself holy and good (Romans 7:12). But it presented two problems which made it inferior to what was to follow in the grace of Christ. Firstly it condemned men to death because they could not keep it. We all recognise the difficulty we have of keeping strictly to the laws under which we live: there is always the temptation to justify minor infringements as of no importance – think of those of us who drive cars and exceed the speed limit! But James explains that to break the law in one point is to break it in all (James 2:10,11) and breaking God’s law brought death. Secondly, it led men to think that they could be justified simply by a mechanical keeping of the rituals of the law, by circumcision, scrupulous washing, offering the correct sacrifices and eating the correct foods, while ignoring the timeless moral and spiritual principles of the law. It is notable that many of the world’s religions today are based upon the same misguided approach.

Freedom from sin and death

But the freedom that Christ brings is not simply limited to escaping the bondage of the Mosaic Law for it truly brings freedom from the bondage facing all mankind, that of sin, leading to death. Jesus himself spoke of this liberty when confronted by the scribes and Pharisees in the temple:

“If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31,32)

God’s great and precious promises, centred in Christ and preserved in scripture, constitute the “truth” that brings salvation. The Pharisees’ response was to claim that their natural descent from Abraham gave them freedom, even claiming that they had never been in bondage to any man, omitting to mention their current subjection to the occupying Romans! But Jesus insists that, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin … therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (verses 34,36).

This work of the Messiah, to bring men and women freedom, is marvellously foretold in the words of Isaiah’s prophecy:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” (Isaiah 61:1)

It is a startling idea that the state of men and women without Christ is actually like being in prison, even though they think they are free. The sort of prison the prophet was alluding to would likely have been very dark, damp, evil smelling and rat-infested. And that makes all the more wondrous the sense of emerging into the light and fresh air which comes from finding the Lord Jesus Christ and his salvation.

Liberty not licence

It is unfortunately the case that men frequently interpret liberty as licence. In modern Western society almost any kind of moral evil can be pursued, there are few limits and anyone who seeks to condemn such practices is accused of restricting ‘freedom’. In fact paradoxically by seeking such things people are actually enslaving themselves to them. The Apostle Peter warns of the influence of false teachers:

“While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.” (2 Peter 2:19)

So Paul warns the Galatians against misusing their liberty in this way:

“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (5:13)

And he goes on to provide a long list of such evils, many of which sound remarkably up to date:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murder, drunkenness, revelries, and the like …” (verses 19-21)

It is notable that the Greek word translated “sorcery” (AV, “witchcraft”) is pharmakeia, from which we derive our word ‘pharmacy’, which finds its equivalent in the modern scourge of drug abuse.

While we may have a degree of confidence that, as disciples of the Lord Jesus, we do not (or should not) engage in such activities, yet perhaps our idea of ‘entertainment’ is to watch films or TV dramas portraying others doing them! And every manner of vice can be viewed via the internet merely at the click of a button. It would be a good policy to place these words of David above our TV sets and computer screens: “I will set nothing wicked before my eyes” (Psalm 101:3). We are encouraged, as servants of Christ, to “abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22), and so we do well to heed the words of Peter:

“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men – as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.” (1 Peter 2:15,16)

Bondservants of God

We then, who have been set free by the sacrifice of Jesus, have become the bondservants of God, committed to serving Him, to living in love, observing His standards and His commandments, manifesting the pattern of behaviour which Paul describes as “the fruit of the Spirit”. Jesus declared: “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63) and so the outcome of living by Jesus’ words is, as Paul expresses it in Galatians 5:22,23: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”. These are the qualities that should be evident in the lives of those who have been set free by Christ. It is likely that each of us would admit to having some way to go in demonstrating them in our own daily pilgrimage.

The supreme living example of each of these virtues, to which we aspire, was our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26). Because we fall short, he was offered as a perfect sacrifice, crucified to give us life, as we now remember in bread and wine. If we truly believe and serve him to the end, we shall, by his grace, together with the whole creation, “be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

David Burges

 

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