147 Disciple Up
Let Freedom Ring!
By Louie Marsh, 2-19-2020
1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 (ESV)
It’s amazing to see how often a desire for freedom appears in history. You see it over and over again. Some times it’s a misunderstanding of what freedom is, but it’s there. From the recent Arab Spring (which certainly is not about freedom the way we in the West understand it) to the Tea Party to the young people and old hippies currently “occupying” places all over America.
In the words of that old song, “people just gotta be free.” But why? Why is it that people almost everywhere seem to have a soul deep desire to be free?
To answer that question from a Biblical perspective we’ll have to begin at the beginning. In the book of Genesis we see that God created Adam and Eve and placed them in what can only be described as a paradise.
They were innocent in a way that no one today can lay claim too. But what about when our children are babies, aren’t they innocent? Compared to me they are! But not when they are compared to Adam and Eve. Because as fallen creatures being born into a fallen world, they carry the seeds of that fall within their very genes. This isn’t a philosophy or a theology of “original sin.” It’s a fact! A fact everyone knows even though we don’t like to admit it.
When God placed this innocent couple into their earthly paradise, He gave them freedom like none we’ve ever seen. In fact He only gave them one limitation. “The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'” Genesis 3:2-3 (NIV)
Imagine that! Adam and Eve had one and only one limitation on their freedom! The proof that we are fallen creatures can be found in the fact that this set up would never work today. No society, family or individual could possibly function with only one limitation on freedom. It’s just not possible for fallen creatures in a fallen world to live that way.
But it was possible for Adam and Eve. They lived quite well (for how long no one knows) until the fateful day Eve was tempted and both she and Adam used their freedom badly and violated the single limitation God had placed on them. This act plunged not just them, but the entire world into the prison of sin. A prison in whose dark and twisting labyrinth mankind has struggled to find true freedom in ever since.
There are a couple of things to note about our original parent’s experience that we need to note to understand God’s perspective on freedom.
1) God created them free – and men and women ever since have had a longing to return to that perfect kind of freedom. Of course we’ll never find it in this life, but our desire for it drives us to be as free as we can in this life.
2) God gave limits on freedom. Even in a finitely perfect environment God had to create boundaries for human beings. There is no such thing as absolute freedom. If that was true then it’s even truer for fallen people in a fallen world.
Without limits – there is no freedom – only anarchy. As we’ll see in this series the Bible often speaks of freedom as something to be devoutly sought after. But it condemns anarchy as destructive as it surely is.
3) When our First Parents turned away from God they lost their freedom and entered into slavery to fear. Do I need to point out how true this has been of all of Western Civilization in the last 50 to 60 years?
4) When given freedom under the best possible of circumstances, Adam and Eve blew it and lost their freedom. Our fallen nature always makes us want what we cannot have, and we cannot have absolute freedom. We can’t even keep the freedom we have without God’s grace, help and a lot of hard work to protect our freedoms.
Freedom is a most perishable fruit of the Spirit’s work in our lives.
A classic study of freedom in the Old Testament is Moses and the Children of Israel in Exodus. I’m sure we all know the story. Israel has spent about 430 years in slavery in Egypt and things are worse than ever. Trapped in a truly heathen culture, the people of God wonder if they will ever be delivered.
From out of the desert their deliverer comes. Perhaps he’s not what they were expecting however. He’s around 80 years old, can’t speak well, and only has Aaron by his side. They confront Pharaoh with God’s demand to let His people go, and things only get worse!
Throughout this epic supernatural battle of good and evil the people waver. They are unsure what to make of all this because in spite of Moses’ claim to be God’s appointed deliverer, things just keep getting worse.
But after a final showdown, Pharaoh relents, and for a short time, things look good! Free at last, the Israelites plunder the Egyptians on their way to freedom. Marching towards Israel they find themselves boxed in, all at God’s command.
In this moment of crises, when their freedom is at greatest risk along with their lives, we can see just what value most of the Israelites put on their freedom – not much! They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Exodus 14:11-12 (NIV)
This becomes a familiar refrain through out the rest of Moses’ life. It seems that whenever things got tough, and freedom called upon them to pay a price, most of the Israelites were either afraid or unwilling to make that sacrifice. So we see them swinging back and forth between exclaiming their willingness to follow the commands of God, and whining that they want to go back to Egypt where it was safe and comfortable.
Their struggle with freedom came to a head when Joshua reported back on his intelligence gathering patrol into Canaan. He and Caleb said it was a wonderful land, flowing with milk and honey, and they ought attack and conquer it right now!
The other 12 spies said it was hopeless and all Israel would die if they dared attempt to enter this land of giants. What did the people do? I’ll bet you know!
All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” Numbers 14:2-4 (NIV)
That’s right, even after all this time and everything they had gone through, they wanted to go back into slavery rather risk their lives for the freedom God held out before them. Their fear drove them to reject God’s man and God’s plan, so in turn God rejected them.
As the writer of Hebrews put it; For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.'” And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. Hebrews 4:2-3 (NIV)
If all of this sounds familiar it should! We are having much the same argument today as we struggle to fight a war on terror. How many times have you heard it said the price is too high, the pain to great, the risk too large to stay the course? Pull out of Iraq; come home where it’s safe and sound.
I believe that history will vindicate those who want to stand tall for freedom, as it almost always does. Those, like Senator Kennedy and many others, who want to run and hide and not pay the price for freedom, will be looked at much the same way we look at the generation of Israelites who died in the desert.
This episode from the Old Testament shows us a few new things about people and freedom.
1) While mankind has an inborn desire for freedom, it is often overridden by fear and selfishness. If the choice is sacrifice for freedom or live comfortably in bondage, our fallen nature will often drive us to choose the latter, which is after all the easier choice.
Limited freedom, or almost no freedom at all, in exchange for comfort and security has seduced millions and continue to lure us today. But as Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)
The path of least resistance is never the path God calls us to walk, fear and faith don’t mix and God always calls us to faithfully combat our fears and live in freedom!
2) The allure of the past will rob us of our future freedom if we let it. When faced with an unknown future, and the very uncertain idea of freedom, most of the Israelites rejected it.
And why not? They had never known freedom, nor had their parents, grandparents or great, great grandparents! Remember they had spent 430 years as slaves! The only past they had was one of being cared for from cradle to grave by their masters.
Not much care being given by the Egyptians you say? I agree, but it was more certain and sure than a trip into a waterless desert and an attack on fortified towns by ex-slaves with no military training!
So they let their past pull them away from the freedom God had waiting for them. For all of us, living in the past robs of us our future freedom.
In Samuel chapter 8 we find the greatest of all the Judges of Israel coming to the end of his life. It was to be a hard ending for old Samuel. First of all he appointed his sons to take his place. But unlike their father they were dishonest and not really following God. The people were unhappy about this and the Elders complained to Samuel. But they didn’t just want new Judges, what they wanted was something far different.
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” 1 Samuel 8:4-5 (NIV)
You can see right away what’s happening here can’t you? It’s so much like modern life that it’s scary! The Elders, and we assume their people as well, wanted a King. Why? Not because they thought it would be a better form of government, or a more efficient way to oversee the nation. Nope – they wanted to be just like everyone else!
Who says peer pressure is limited to teenagers? Here’s a group of grown men, leaders even, who are more concerned with pleasing people and “fitting in” than with doing the right thing before God!
Samuel’s response is classic! But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 1 Samuel 8:6-7 (NIV)
Funny how we spiritual leaders can be so sensitive to rejection isn’t it? As a former Pastor (I was out of the ministry when I wrote this) let me tell you that I can completely understand his reaction here The Lord’s response informs us that Samuel was feeling hurt and rejected, even though he shouldn’t have felt that way because they were really rejecting God!
There’s a parallel here that we don’t want to miss. When we seek to needlessly conform to the culture we find around us, to “fit in” at any and all price, we not only reject God, but we start down a road that leads to a loss of our freedom. The Lord tries to warn Israel about this:
As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.” 1 Samuel 8:8-9 (NIV)
Notice how personal God makes this – He points out that this is another in a long line of bad decisions Israel is making, a huge dysfunctional and sinful behavior pattern the nation is continuing wallow in.
How good is the Lord! First of all He allows Israel to choose, even when He knows their choice is wrong! That’s freedom! God respects our freedom of choice, as He had in the garden and does all the way down to today. If we are intent on doing something wrong or stupid, God stands aside and allows us to go our way.
But not without a warning!
Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day.” 1 Samuel 8:10-18 (NIV)
What a stern warning, about the only thing left out is for them to look out for an income tax!! Seriously though, God clearly sets out the future for them, and at the end of His warning tells them He won’t enable their sinful behavior by bailing them out and rescuing them from the consequences of their choices.
How did they react to this chilling warning? But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.” Then Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Everyone go back to his town.” 1 Samuel 8:19-22 (NIV)
They ignored it and stubbornly demanded their own way. You can see what they really wanted, to be just like all the other nations, as if that meant anything! You can also see the power of our sinful nature to blind us to the facts when they say they want a King who can “fight our battles.” Soon they would find out that the King goes out in front alright, and then sends them and their sons into battle while he stayed safely behind if he wanted too.
As always in God’s economy once they had been warned and insisted on continuing anyway, He allows them to have what they want. With one of the results being a loss of freedom for everyone.
So there you have it, another example of our fears, insecurities and stupidity causing us to sell out our freedom, reject God, all in a vain attempt to look good and be just like everyone else!
The message is clear, if you want to be free in Christ, you aren’t going to be just like everyone else! That includes being just like whatever your church tradition considers “a good little Christian” to be too.
Real Spiritual Freedom sets us down the road less traveled and sets us apart from most of those around us. If you aren’t willing to pay that price, you can’t be free!
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