Freedom and God’s Law

The concept of freedom seems contradictory to the idea of law. But the two are intrinsically linked so you cannot have true freedom without God’s Law. And to attest to that fact I have a quote from an ancient man of God and a phrase from the Bible which you need to be aware of.

Remember the Galley Slave

In my previous posts about the Galley Slave Analogy I created a fictitious analogy to illustrate how everyone is in fact a slave, but one form of slavery provides freedom, while the other consumes us.

What I am sharing here is another aspect of the same principle, but this time I am being more Biblical in my reference point. Instead of a fictitious illustration that represents a truth, I want you to see what God has said in Holy Writ.

God’s Law Frees People While Man’s Law Enslaves

We think of law as most often applied to deal with the guilty. Laws are put in place to define prescribed behaviour and to provide punishment for those who do not comply with the legal requirement.

Man’s law, then, ascribes guilt and prescribes punishment. Man’s law enslaves. It enslaves because it imposes restrictions. It also enslaves because it imposes punishment, which may well be imprisonment or loss of liberty.

God’s law, on the other hand, actually sets people free. So God’s law must be looked at with fresh eyes. Do not try to understand God’s law by seeing it as just another form of man’s law. There is something supernatural and dynamic about God’s law when it is applied in our lives.

Good Success

God’s Law is so amazing that simply meditating on it causes a person to be successful in their endeavours. That’s what God told Joshua and it proved to be true in his life as a national leader and military commander.

When Joshua took over leadership of the nation of Israel, after Moses’ death, God promised him that meditating on God’s Law would bring him success that was good.

“This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; but you shall meditate therein day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Joshua 1:8

Restored Life

God’s Law has another amazing power. It rebuilds a person’s life, including their internal, unseen dimensions. King David had much to say about the important qualities of the “Law of the Lord“. The longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119, makes frequent reference to God’s Law.

In Psalm 19 David declares that God’s Law actually “restores our soul”. It has the effect of putting people back together again.

“The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.” Psalm 19:7

John Wycliffe and God’s Law

John Wycliffe is regarded as the earliest reformer. In the late 1300’s he gave the English their first Bibles, in their own tongue. He also challenged the unqualified authority of Popes and Bishops, declaring that only God’s Word, the Bible, is the ultimate authority. Men are fallible, even if they have achieved high office. God’s Word is reliable and divinely powerful.

John Wycliffe spoke of God’s Law as something that brings us our ultimate hope. It has a unique role in human affairs. That role is not of setting up the “do’s” and “don’ts” but of freeing people from God’s Judgement.

This is how Wycliffe put it: “God’s law, without which no one could be justified.”

Wycliffe saw God’s Law as the means by which people receive Justification, instead of the sentence of Death.

The Law of Freedom

Imagine a law being described as the “law of freedom”. That’s how the Apostle James described God’s Law that is at work in Christians. In the language of some Bible translations the term is the “law of liberty“.

“Whoever looks into the perfect law of liberty, and continues therein, not being a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” James 1:25

“So speak, and so act, as they that will be judged by the law of liberty.” James 2:12

Biblical Liberty

The Greek word used in the original text for the law of liberty describes the kind of freedom which God’s Law brings to us.

A person who is at liberty is one who is: unrestrained (to go at pleasure), that is, (as a citizen) not a slave (whether freeborn or manumitted [released from slavery]), or (generally) exempt (from obligation or liability).

People who have come under God’s Law enjoy that kind of freedom. It is the freedom of a citizen of heaven, who has access to God’s presence, can come boldly to God’s throne of Grace, is not enslaved to sin, shame, guilt, fear or demonic oppression, and is exempt from the impositions that weigh upon others.

This kind of liberty is described elsewhere in the Bible as “glorious liberty” (Romans 8:21).

God’s Law Sets You Free

Man’s laws are punitive, repressive, spiteful, vengeful and controlling. To be under man’s law is to be in a most unhappy position. Men use human legal systems to oppress, exact punishment, get even, and so on.

But God’s law has power to set men free! Oh to be under God’s law and not man’s!

The Law that is in mind here is not the Old Testament law of “touch not, taste not”, but the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 12:2). When you put your trust in Jesus Christ as your Saviour you are Justified before God, as if you never sinner. Therefore the legal requirement of the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament Laws given through Moses is satisfied. You are then made free from the “law of sin and death”.

Did you see that, the law sets you free!

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:2

Let’s here it for God’s perfect law of liberty, that makes us free, gives us good success and restores our very life! Without God’s Law we have no hope!

Liberty, Equality and Fraternity in the French Revolution

Because of my fascination with the true nature of Freedom (Liberty) I was drawn to the emphasis given to this topic in the French Revolution and the Enlightenment. What I find is that the secular notion of ‘liberty’ as found in the Enlightenment and the Revolution, and also celebrated in America’s Statue of Liberty (given them by the French) is at odds with the Christian notion of True Freedom. This is a topic I will rake over multiple times, so read the various posts on this and related topics and see if you agree with my take on the matter.

The Enlightenment and French Revolution

The Enlightenment gave a new set of principles from which the architects of the French Revolution could justify their course of action and motivate the masses. Much happened in that whole process and any history of the events ends up being a summary at best.

However there was a clear tone to it all. It was decidedly secular and anti-religious. The French reacted to the Roman Catholic faith which had dominated the nation. They also reacted to their monarchy and all expressions of privilege. They wished to cast off traditions. They expected that the rational mind was sufficient to craft a culture and social order suitable for all.

The whole process came to be identified under three banners, as it were. There was the ideal of Freedom – expressed in the French word Liberté. There was the related ideal of Equality – expressed in the French word Egalité. And there was the ideal of Brotherhood – expressed in the French word Fraternité.

Intention

The intention of the Enlightenment was to be free from impositions ascribed to traditional religion (the Catholic church) and inherited rights (the monarchy and positions of privilege). There was a reaction against the constraints being imposed on people by religious tradition. There was also reaction to the idea that some people had privilege over others.

It could be argued that the desire for freedom represented a resentment of two things: personal limitation under external powers; and personal limitation due to limited personal inheritance.

Thus the objective was to do away with personal accountability and the consequences of inheritance. It could thus be seen as an attempt to do away with personal accountability and the consequences of sin.

I suggest that the underlying motivation behind the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the broader applications of that mindset was and is to be free from God. God is the one who holds each person accountable and God is the one who visits the iniquities of the forefathers down the family line.

Application

The motivation to do away with personal accountability, inherited advantage and personal limitation led to the imposition of a tyranny. All those who were benefited by their own actions or who received inherited advantage due to God’s blessing or the outworking of circumstances in previous generations were subject to theft, victimisation and death.

By demanding and legislating equality for all, the citizens expected to be freed from the consequences of their own personal choices and personal limitations. This is a similar pursuit to the socialist and communist conceptions, where all citizens become equal comrades in the society.

Interpreting Liberty, Equality and Fraternity

In the light of my observations consider what the three catch-cry terms of the French Revolution mean.

Liberty represents the rejection of imposed constraints, including those from God.

Equality represents rejection of personal accountability and consequences from actions.

Fraternity (brotherhood) represents the basis on which happy social order is to be expected.

A New Tyranny

Those who subscribed to the ideals of the Enlightenment sought to throw off the constraints of religion, tradition and inherited advantage and disadvantage. They resented this tyranny. Yet in their own actions and dogma they have imposed a whole new tyranny of their own. Their world is not better than the one they overthrew. They have not freed people from anything, but simply changed the clothes of those who are in control.

Note that the new enlightened world, under the power of ‘reason’ and not the tyranny of religious dictates, is presently held to ransom by the ‘religious’ beliefs of the dogma of evolution, with no regard for the ‘reason’ which was appealed to in the establishing of the republic concept. Reason argues against evolution, but it is the imposed dogma and those who exalt reason tyrannise others by their demand that everyone subscribe to the evolutionary doctrinaire.

This is just one example of how Enlightened people have brought nothing that resembles true freedom to the world. They have simply demanded the right to be the tyrants in place of others they resented.

Murder Reveals the True Connection

The wholesale slaughter of people whose crime was their place in traditional institutions or to hold inherited advantage, implicates the Enlightenment’s devotees as servants of Satan. I don’t say that to be sensationalist, but to echo the observation of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ told the religious leaders of His day that they were under the leadership of Satan, and that they had the same murderous ambitions that Satan had. They protested at His claim, but in short time were crying out, “Crucify Him!”

“You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth….” John 8:44

People who are happy to murder others are not in Christ’s team. They are players for the devil. When the French pulled out their guillotine and dispatched thousands of people they set Satan’s royal seal on their endeavours. Tens of thousands (some argue 1 million) people died as a consequence of the French Revolution. Many were simply murdered because of their place of privilege.

This is how the Enlightenment gave us freedom, equality and brotherhood. Hmmmm.

Determined to be Slaves

While we celebrate the abolition of slavery and the work of such men as William Wilberforce we may fail to recognise the level of personal slavery that millions of people live in.

Michael Apted’s recent movie, Amazing Grace, starring Ioan Gruffudd as Wilberforce and Albert Finney as John Newton, celebrates one significant step in removing the scourge of slavery from the western world. Sadly, as the movie reveals, it was not any high moral impetus that won the day but a trick of legal restriction on certain types of shipping. Economic complications were the agency used to stop the English engagement in slavery.

But slaves were still traded by other nations and unscrupulous operators masked their slave trade by implied agreement from those they took captive. Thus Pacific Islanders were taken to Australia’s Queensland cane farms long after slavery was ‘removed’.

Personal Slavery

The point of this posting, however, is not the evils of enslavement of others against their will, but the personal choice to be slaves, by the personal will of those who would be slaves.

It’s an absurd proposition, isn’t it? Why would free people seek out the chance to be slaves? Surely no-one does such things.

Personal Slavery is Endemic

Personal slavery is not only something that happens, it is endemic. It is almost an addiction: a madness which captures the imagination of generations, drawing them into voluntary slavery.

For all I know YOU may be one of those who is drawn into slavery.

What is worse than the initial slavery itself is that people who have been slaves and then been set free are in danger of willingly submitting to slavery all over again.

The Apostle Paul actually wrote about the issue in his famous letter to the church in Galatia. He tells the people to stand firm in their newfound freedom and not to be enslaved again.

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1

Drawn to Slavery

Believe it or not free people are drawn back to slavery. Whether you put that down to foolishness or some kind of addiction to slavery, it is a factor that we all need to recognise. It is a reality that impacts society. People are drawn into slavery.

Paul spoke of this slavery to things in another letter, this time to the believers in Colosse. He challenged their willingness to come under rules and regulations which free people do not need to be under.

“So, if you are dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are you subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?” Colossians 2:20-22

Paul knew that Christians are not slaves to rules and regulations like others in the world and he wanted the church in Colosse to be free from the imposition of such rules upon them.

That church in Colosse, which was full of free people, was in danger of throwing away some of its freedom and coming into slavery to rules and regulations.

Bullied into Slavery

Imagine the scenario where some people wish to bring others under their rules and regulations. A free person resists, but then finds that others are rebuking them and pressuring them to be like everyone else.

It’s just that easy to make slavery into a popular idea.

That is what was happening to the church in Colosse.

God Sets People Free

Jeremiah the prophet struggled to show God’s people that God had set them free from slavery and that they had gone straight back into sin which enslaved them.

“For of old time I have broken your yoke (of slavery), and burst your chains; and you said, I will not transgress; when upon every high hill and under every green tree you wander, playing the harlot (being unfaithful to God).” Jeremiah 2:20

The Israelites worshipped idols on every elevated place and under the groves of trees, committing spiritual unfaithfulness, even though God had broken the yoke of Egyptian slavery off their lives and broken the chains of other things which bound them.

These people were drawn to slavery and were determined to be slaves, despite the fact that they had once been slaves and then been set free.

Iniquity is the Issue

The problem for the Children of Israel is the same problem for us all. It is iniquity which draws us into slavery. See what Jeremiah added to his warning just a few verses later.

“For though you wash yourself with nitre, and use much soap, yet your iniquity is marked before me, says the Lord GOD.” Jeremiah 2:22

Cleaning up your image doesn’t change the condition of your heart. Iniquity in your heart will enslave you and bring you back into bondage. You will have a heart to be a slave unless you deal with the sin that is within you.

So, are you a free man, or a slave? Worse still, are you one of those who heads back into slavery once you have been set free?

George Blaurock Initiates Re-Baptism

This is the day that … George Blaurock was burned to death, in 1529.

Blaurock was born Jörg vom Hause Jakob, in 1492 in Bonaduz, a village in Grisons, Switzerland.

An ex-Roman Catholic priest, he had been converted to Protestantism when he was about 34 years of age.

That same year Conrad Grebel debated Ulrich Zwingli on the issue of infant baptism. Both were Protestant, but Grebel had become convinced that baptism was for believers only. Zwingli held to the belief that children of Christians were to be baptised as infants, on the same basis that the Old Testament required circumcision. Nothing was resolved by the debate.

Blaurock (so named because of a blue coat he wore on one occasion) went to Zurich to consult with Zwingli, but was disappointed in him. He then met with Grebel and Felix Manz and resonated with their commitment to Biblical truth.

Blaurock was already married at this time, so it appears that he had already abandoned the non-biblical practices of the Catholic church.

In a meeting in which the small group discoursed on their commitment to Biblical practice, rather than church tradition, they were deeply moved by this new conviction and Blaurock asked to be baptised as a believer, as the New Testament recorded. Once George was baptised the others asked him to baptize them.

Thus George Blaurock not only became an associate of Grebel but instigated the practice of re-baptism, becoming a vigorous preacher in the newly formed Anabaptist movement. At the time this rebaptism was performed by pouring, rather than total immersion.

There followed “tireless evangelism” around Switzerland, and clashes with the followers of Zwingli. Eventually Blaurock was arrested (on 8 October, 1525), escaped (on 21 March, 1526), re-arrested (in December, 1526) and sentenced to death (on 5 January, 1527). This sentence was, however, altered to a public flogging and exile from Zurich.

He maintained most of his ministry by dodging those who opposed him, preaching in a variety of places and using remote locations. His itinerant preaching ministry continued until he was arrested again in August, 1529. Death came at the age of 38.

A German historian identified Blaurock’s ideals as “freedom of religion, liberty of conscience, (and) the equality of all citizens before the law”. He also composed hymns which have endured in German worship to this day.

Georg Blaurock was one of the noblest martyrs of the Christian Church. For the brotherhood he helped to found he cheerfully sacrificed everything, honor and respect, freedom and comfort, property and goods, wife and child, body and life for the sake of his Lord and Saviour. Under the sign of adult baptism he gave the brotherhood its actual reason for existence in the world.

It was Blaurock’s falling away from the Catholic priesthood and from the Catholic Church, with his repudiation of the Mass, the confessional, and the adoration of Mary that marked him as a criminal worthy of death.

His biographer writes: “George Blaurock was a pioneer evangelist. His methods were sometimes crude and his remarks impolite. But he was sincere, untiring and courageous in spreading the gospel as he understood it. He was the apostle of the Anabaptists to the common people.”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Excessive Liberation is Slavery

We live in an age of liberty. Everyone wants to throw off the shackles – without even thinking too much about what they are there for. The pulse of our culture is beats with the demand to be able to do our own thing, as and when we feel the impulse to do so.

There are many images and messages that support the notion of throwing off other people’s constraints upon us. In Ratatouille we have a rat wanting to escape the cultural abhorrence toward his kind and the disgusting cultural values of his family. Fights against oppression, determination to rise above family limitations, and such sentiments are common fare.

What brought me to this topic, however, was that I was reflecting today on one of the many stories which carry this theme and I saw something I had not noted before. The story is outdated now. It is the Australian made movie, Strictly Ballroom. As I recall the story (and it’s been several years since I last saw it) a particular ballroom dancing competition has become the life focus of a group of young people.

The central character of the story is a young man whose own father was once a successful competitor in the competition but who somehow damaged his career by going outside the limitations set by the competition. Everyone is now quite intent on meeting the strict requirements, except this young man who, like his father, has a penchant for free expression.

The climax involves the boy stepping outside the prescribed rules and creating something that expresses who and what he is. The whole competition shuts down as a consequence, until the boy’s father steps up to support his son’s individualistic expressions. The story ends with a triumphant liberation of the people from the rigidity of the competitions controller.

The sub-text speaks of each person’s need to find who they are and to be brave enough to step out for the liberation which they should be able to claim. Like many other packagings of the same theme, the subtext is to be the individual that we each are.

But here’s the rub. Some constraints are not the product of egocentric control freaks. Not all things that limit us and make performance demands on us are evil, self-serving structures designed by others and which oppress and limit our self-expression.

Liberation from oppression is one thing, but liberation from godly morality, responsibility and the like is a completely different proposition. The current popular cultural theme of self-expression, self-discovery and self-assertion is not anchored in the fear of God as it needs to be. It does not respect our need to be who God has made us and to face the limitations which He has placed on us.

The Bible supports our personal liberty through Christ. We are even told to hold on to our liberty from sin and degradation. We have been called to liberty, Paul tells us (Galatians 5:1). However, Paul also warns us not to use liberty as an excuse for indulging our fleshly desires (Galatians 5:13).

What is being promoted in our culture is a notion of liberty without bounds. Liberty for liberty’s sake has become the value proposition, rather than liberty within the bounds of God’s holy purposes in our lives. We are to stand firm in the liberty which Christ has purchased for us, but not to be brought into slavery by our inappropriate application of liberty. Hence my title “Excessive Liberation is Slavery”.

When people pursue personal freedom as an end in itself they end up applying that freedom to their own self-serving ends. That then brings them into slavery to sin, shame and degradation. They become slaves to the things they indulge in. Their liberty has led them to slavery and they are not free at all.

Stand fast in the liberty in which Christ has made you free – but be not entangled again in slavery.