Real Freedom….

Psalm 33:12 (NIV)

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose for His inheritance.

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people. ~ Proverbs 14:34

I’m not sure what else could be said that is not embodied in this verse.  Yet, note how King Solomon addresses the matter as a collective issue: A NATION!  Yes, a nation is lifted up by its righteousness … which is inherently composed of the individual righteousness of each citizen.  A nation cannot be righteous if its people live in sin….  And what we have seen so prevalent within the past few decades is a deepening moral decline within our nation.  There has been a discernible shift from the “condemnation” of sin to the “celebration” of sin; and it seems to now pervade our culture with a ravenous appetite.  To be sure, we cannot continue to celebrate and glory in sinful conduct and expect our nation to be upheld by the God who loves righteousness and justice….

King David wrote: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose for His inheritance.” (Psalm 33:12) He, too, affirms that a nation devoted to God Most-High, Creator of heaven and earth,  shall be exalted … shall be blessed.  Indeed, we find both David and Solomon admonishing the nation of Israel to direct their collective hearts to a mindset of reverence for Father God.  Each individual is responsible to self-examine in this regard in order for the larger society to flourish as a people (a nation) under the authority and reign of God.  Perhaps, we should look closer at how David envisioned the relationship of God with His people … a nation whose God is the Lord:

Psalm 33:1-22 (NIV)

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise Him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to Him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. For the Word of the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all He does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of His unfailing love. By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea as into a heap; He puts the deep into storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere Him. For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm. 10 The Lord foils the plans of the nations; He thwarts the purposes of the peoples. 11 But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations. 12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose for His inheritance. 13 From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; 14 from His dwelling place He watches all who live on earth— 15 He who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. 16 No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. 17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. 18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, on those whose hope is in His unfailing love, 19 to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. 20 We wait in hope for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. 21 In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name. 22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.

Wow!  What a beautiful meditation!  It speaks to the communal nature of our praise … our trust … our hope … our life as a people. Indeed, I believe the metaphor that Paul used to describe the interdependent relationships of God’s people as a single body with many members is quite fitting in this context:

Romans 12:4-5 (NIV)

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Ephesians 2:19-22 (NIV)

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”

Ephesians 3:2-6 (NIV)

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

It is through Christ Jesus that all believers become one Body … one Family … one Kingdom. The Apostle Peter affirms this oneness; declaring that we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that we may declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once we were not a people, but now we are the people of God; once we had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy.” (Cf. 1 Peter 2:9-10) Yes, we are heirs together with Israel because we have been chosen for His inheritance in Christ Jesus. In Christ, there is great diversity … yet no division.  As Paul affirmed, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Cf. Galatians 3:28-29) And in another epistle Paul wrote, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. (Cf. Colossians 3:11-15)

So where am I headed with this thought train?  Well, as we celebrate the founding of our nation today, I want to encourage us to remember and celebrate the founding of the holy nation that God ordained for His people to become. “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Behold, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will not panic.” (Cf. Isaiah 28:16) And, “The stone that builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” (Cf. Psalm 118:22) Yes, the “nation” believers form in Christ should celebrate its foundation and coming together and the purpose for which it has been founded. For we are to “give joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of His holy people in the Kingdom of Light. For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Cf. Colossians 1:12-14) Yes, let us give thanks to God for our adoption … for our inheritance … and for the foundations of faith laid before us.

And just as we celebrate the liberty and freedom we enjoy in this country, let us celebrate the liberty and freedom we have obtained through Christ Jesus our Lord. Jesus declared that He was sent by the Father to proclaim freedom for those who are captive or oppressed and to release from darkness those who are blind. (Cf. Luke 4:18; Isaiah 61:1) To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (Cf. John 8:31-32; 34-36) As Paul wrote, “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.” (Cf. Galatians 5:1) And Paul will go on to admonish: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” (Galatians 5:13) Peter will expound on this general point as well:

1 Peter 2:11-17 (NIV)

11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us. 13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

So I hope that everyone will have a wonderful and blessed celebration this weekend!  Our Declaration of Independence is worth celebrating and our Constitution is worth commending because our nation was founded upon the principles of human dignity and liberty. Though as a nation we have not always lived up to the standards ascribed, its guidance has served to form a more perfect union of people.  Likewise, the Body of Christ as a “holy nation” was founded upon the Word of God and His declaration of the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Truth and grace came by Jesus Christ … the light and manifestation of God’s love. So let us celebrate Jesus today for the liberty He has granted us. “For if we have been united with Jesus in a death like His, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.” (Cf. Romans 6:5-7)

Through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit who gives life has set us free from the law of sin and death. ~ Romans 8:2

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The Law of the Spirit

Romans 8:1-2 (NIV)

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

This verse is a great encouragement … and opens an entire chapter of Scripture focused on the immutable love of God for those who believe in the Lord Jesus.  Beginning with the word “therefore” to connect this affirmation of “no condemnation” for those who are in Christ Jesus, we should probably go back to Romans 7 to understand the “conclusion” Paul is bringing to the forefront.  It is Romans 7 where we find a detailed description of the spiritual conflict within us … the struggle to put our sinful nature to death.  Paul shares his insight on how the Law and its commandments work to reveal our sinful nature and to articulate how our sinful behavior and conduct manifest: 

Romans 7:7-13 (NIV)

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. 13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

In dealing with sin, we have to recognize that the Law and the Commandments were spoken by God through Moses to instruct His people … to impart light, wisdom, and knowledge to those He chose to be His people from all the peoples of the earth.  God said, “ Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (Cf. Exodus 19:5-6) And, “You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” (Cf. Leviticus 20:26) Indeed, the will of God has always been for His people to obey Him; and it is our obedience that should set us apart (sanctify us) from all other people:

Deuteronomy 26:16-19 (NIV)

16 The Lord your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. 17 You have declared this day that the Lord is your God and that you will walk in obedience to Him, that you will keep His decrees, commands and laws—that you will listen to Him. 18 And the Lord has declared this day that you are His people, His treasured possession as He promised, and that you are to keep all His commands. 19 He has declared that He will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations He has made and that you will be a people holy to the Lord your God, as He promised.

We need to get this historical understanding and perspective because Paul indicates there is “new covenant” of obedience that will not come through the Law and its commandments; rather, it will take a spiritual form brought forth through the death and resurrection of Christ. Through the wisdom given to him, Paul shares how the Old Covenant administrated through Moses worked to expose the depth of moral corruption within us by giving us the knowledge of it.  And the sacrificial system instituted under Moses was a constant reminder of the need for atonement through the physical death (shed blood) of a “substitute” for the person who sinned … who violated the Law of God.  Paul explains that the commandments let us know when we have transgressed the holiness God expects of us … and through sin we have entered into condemnation and death.  It is this picture of the Law and the condemnation it brings forth that has awakened Paul to the truth of the New Covenant through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Romans 7:14-25 (NIV)

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

I believe what Paul is articulating here is the internal struggle with the sinful nature we experience as humans. The conflict between our spirits and our flesh is ongoing; and we are in need of rescue from this spiritual war (the Law is spiritual).  Though in our spirits we desire to do what is right and good, we are unable to do so within our own power. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Cf. Romans 5:6-8) Yes, it is Jesus Christ who has delivered us from the death brought through sin.  Jesus, the Son of God, became the eternal atonement through His physical death (shed blood) on the cross as our “substitute”. As the Apostle John affirmed: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (Cf. John 3:17)

God declared you and I are forgiven if we believe in His Son and abide in Him. Though as transgressors we are worthy of the condemnation of death, God in His great love and mercy ordained that in Christ Jesus there would no longer be condemnation for our sin. The penalty required for sin has been paid. Restitution has been made on our behalf. But we need to be careful to observe that this liberty from the law of sin and death is for those who are IN Christ Jesus.  Forgiveness and reconciliation and restoration is afforded to those who believe and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Let’s return to the Apostle John on this matter:

John 3:16-21 (NIV)

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. 18 Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Our human rebellion against God did not change with the introduction of the Law and commandments; rather, it only afforded the knowledge of our sinful human nature so that we would know what God desires of those He created in His image. “All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” (Cf. Ephesians 2:3-6) Thus, it is only by the grace of God that we are saved. He sent His Son, Jesus, to not only bring true light into the world but to save the world from the condemnation of sin and spiritual death. As Peter informs us: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (Cf. 2 Peter 1:3)

So what is the application for us?  How do we live in obedience to the Law … and deal with our sinful human nature that draws us into rebellion against it?  Paul explains that we must live in the Spirit in order to accomplish the requirements of the Law.  And it is through believing in Jesus Christ that we receive His Spirit to abide in us forever.  For the Holy Spirit is the seal of our redemption … deposited as a guarantee of what God has promised to those who love Him. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 2 Corinthians 5:4-5; Ephesians 1:13-15) And so we are called to be led by the Holy Spirit and to live in Him:

Galatians 5:13-25 (NIV)

13 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. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! 16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

We cannot change what the Law and commandments bring to our conscience; nor can we resolve the conflict produced in our flesh because of our sinful nature.  We have to see and understand that a spiritual problem requires a spiritual solution.  And the Spirit God gave us affords us power, love, and self-control. (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:7) Through faith in Jesus Christ, we receive His Spirit to indwell us and conform us to His image.  For this is the will of God!  This is the fulfillment of His commandments.  This is the New Covenant we enter through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is why we believe the love God has for us!  The “Law of Love” is put into our minds and it is written on our hearts because He abides in us and we abide in Him. The intimate relationship that God desires with us is perfected in love. This is how we know Him!

1 John 4:7-16 (NKJV)

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

If we walk in the Spirit, we will walk in love. Through His indwelling Spirit, we will love one another as God through Christ Jesus has demonstrated His love for us. As Peter wrote: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  (Cf. 1 Peter 4:8) Love keep no record of debts. (1 Corinthians 13:4-6) This is why God will remember our sins no more. Our debt has been paid. We have been forgiven. We have been redeemed from the law of sin and death. There is now no condemnation! And this is why we praise and worship Jesus! Oh, how I pray these truths will encourage your heart to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Cf. Ephesians 3:18-19) And I pray we will love one another as He has loved us! (Cf. John 15:12) For love is how we will keep the Law of God so that our hearts will not condemn us:

1 John 3:11-24 (NIV)

11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. 16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from Him anything we ask, because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him. 23 And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!