Sunday, February 17, 2008

Free From What?

You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”

Many people can quote Jesus’ statement in John 8:32, You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” but few understand its true meaning. Just what did Jesus mean? Free from what? And how will knowing the truth make us free?

Whosoever Commits Sin

The average person in the western world today does not think he needs to be made free from anything. And neither did the Jews of Jesus’ day. They were puzzled by Jesus’ statement.

They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? (John 8:33).

Because the Roman government allowed them a limited amount of autonomy, the Jews to whom Jesus was speaking thought of themselves as free. But Jesus’ answer reveals that he was not speaking of the enslavement of one human being by another.

Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin (verse 34).

Jesus was speaking of the enslavement of SIN. The man or woman who sins is not free, because he or she serves sin. Whoever commits sin IS the servant of sin.

Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? (Romans 6:16).

Sin is what has enslaved us all. Sin is the thing from which we all need to be made free. And what will free us, Jesus says, is the truth. But that flies in the face of what many believe. Many, if not most, have been taught that God’s forgiveness is what frees us from sin.

Does Forgiveness Free Us From Sin?

“For sin SHALL NOT have dominion over you.” So says Paul, the apostle, in verse 14 of Romans 6. But why will sin not have dominion over us? And how are we to be set free from the tyranny of sin? The rest of verse 14 contains the answer, but it is an answer that is perhaps among the most misunderstood in all of Scripture.

For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace (Romans 6:14).

Many church-goers who read this verse reach an entirely inaccurate conclusion. They correctly understand “under grace” to be a reference to the New Covenant; but they incorrectly conclude that what makes us free from the dominion of sin is God’s forgiveness of our sins. They read grace and think forgiveness. But they are wrong!

Grace is not necessarily a synonym for God’s forgiveness. In fact there are many instances in Scripture where the word grace cannot mean God’s forgiveness. For example, we are instructed by the apostle Peter to “grow in grace” (2 Peter 3:18). How is one to grow in God’s forgiveness? Are we to sin more, that God may forgive us more? God forbid! (Romans 6:1-2.)

In secular usage, the word grace (like the Greek word charis from which it is translated) is often used to describe the beauty and elegance of a person or thing. For instance, we may say that the movements of a dancer are graceful. It can also describe an admirable quality of character and personality. For example, a person who is kind, benevolent, merciful and generous is called gracious. It can also mean favor or goodwill. And it can mean mercy or pardon.

In Scripture, the word grace is most often used to describe the nature of God. God is gracious. He possesses every quality of grace in abundance. The beauty and glory of His presence are beyond compare. The admirable qualities of His character and attractive facets of His personality are infinite. Even in secular usage, when a person is described as being gracious or graceful, it is ultimately because he is reflecting the nature of his Creator, in whose image he is made. In fact, the word charisma was coined because it was thought that a person who possessed great personal magnetism and the ability to inspire and influence people had been specially endowed by God with charis (grace).

In any case, Paul CANNOT mean forgiveness for sins when he says “under grace.” Why not? Because no amount of forgiveness for past sins can free us from the dominion of sin over us. Jesus plainly said, “Whosoever commits sin is the servant of sin.” Thus, freedom from sin equals cessation from sin. If, when we are forgiven for past sins, we continue to sin, we are not then free from sin. We are still the servants of sin. Sin still has dominion over us. Only when we have stopped sinning can it truly be said that sin no longer has dominion over us.

So “under grace” is NOT – as so many believe – a reference to a covenant based solely (or even primarily) upon forgiveness of sins. The New Covenant is about ceasing from sin. While forgiveness is an element of the New Covenant, it is not the primary element, nor is it even a new element. Forgiveness was available under the Old Covenant (2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalm 103:8-12). John preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins before the crucifixion of our Savior (Mark 1:4). No, forgiveness of sins is not what is new about the New Covenant.

So, what is new about the New Covenant? The author of Hebrews, quoting the prophet Jeremiah, provides the answer:

This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them (Hebrews 10:16).

The New Covenant is about internalizing the law of God. Under the Old Covenant, the Ten Commandments were external, written on tables of stone. But now, under the New Covenant, God’s great spiritual law of love, which is outlined by the Ten Commandments, is to be written in our hearts. It is to become a living part of our being. Ezekiel describes it as receiving a new heart.

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

This “new spirit” is God’s Spirit. Apart from God’s Spirit, the natural human mind is the enemy of God and cannot be subject to the law of God (Romans 8:7). But with the addition of His Spirit, the human mind is now receptive to God’s law.

God’s law is simply a reflection of His mind. It defines His way of life; it describes His nature. And His nature – His grace -- is to be woven into the fabric of who and what we are. It is to become our very nature. We are made, by the grace of God in us, to be partakers of the DIVINE nature.

Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:2-4).

He That Eats My Flesh

Jesus used an analogy of food to illustrate how we can be partakers of the divine nature, the grace that he and the Father possess. In the gospel of John, we find that He called Himself the bread of life, and spoke of men eating that bread.

This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (John 6:50-51)

In other words, we are to internalize Jesus Christ. Just as when we take food into our body, it is digested and eventually becomes part of us; so when we take Jesus into our mind by reading His Word and by receiving His Spirit, He becomes part of us. Jesus continues speaking:

Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me (John 6:54-57).

Jesus is talking here about the most intimate of relationships. He’s talking about the same kind of relationship he had with the Father. Of that relationship he said, “I and my father are one” (John 10:30). And again, when Philip asked Him to show them the Father, he said:

Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works (John 14:9-10).

A Great Mystery

Jesus has promised us the possibility of a relationship with Him that is the same as the relationship that he had (and still has) with God the Father. In the book of Ephesians, Paul likens it to the relationship between a husband and wife. He compares the man to Christ, and the wife to the Church:

For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it (Ephesians 5:23-25).

Notice that the Church is equated with Jesus’ body. The Church is made up of individuals who are distinct entities from Christ, yet are all part of His body.

So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones (Ephesians 5:28-30).

Paul then makes a remarkable connection between the physical union of a husband and wife, and the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church. He calls it “a great mystery.”

For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32).

The mystery is that Jesus and the Church are one. They are one because Jesus dwells in the individual members of the body. “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” Thus, the Church becomes His body. The most intimate of human relationships, the marital relationship, is a picture of the heavenly.

You Shall Know The Truth

Scripture uses the word “know” to refer to this intimate marital relationship. For example, the first recorded human conception is described with the words, “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain” (Genesis 4:1). When Mary was told by Gabriel that she would bear a son, she said, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34).

When Jesus says that we will know the truth, He is using the word know in this same sense of an intimate relationship of oneness. The Greek word translated “know” in Luke 1:34 is ginosko, the same word used in the original text of Jesus’ statement “you shall know the truth.” From Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:

The verb [ginosko] is also used to convey the thought of connection or union, as between man and woman.

Jesus is talking about us having this kind of intimate relationship with HIM! Jesus IS the Truth (John 14:6). It is only when we dwell in Him, and He in us, that we really know the Truth. Those who really know Jesus are one with him, as he is with the Father. Those who really know Jesus are partakers of His divine nature: He is writing His law in their hearts; He is transforming their hearts and minds by His Spirit, which imparts His grace. Forgiveness is a part of this transformation process, but it is only the starting point for the New Covenant Christian.

Forgiveness for our sins reconciles us to God, but it does not change our nature. God has determined to change our nature. This change in our nature, which comes through knowing Jesus – dwelling in Him, and He in us – thereby enabling Him to write his law in our hearts with the Spirit, is spoken of by Paul as he contrasts the Old and New Covenants:

…ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart… [God] also hath made us able ministers of the new testament [covenant]; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life (2 Corinthians 3:3, 6).

The Spirit gives us life because it imparts the nature of God to us; a nature which can be summed up in one word -- love. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). And “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost [Spirit] which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5). It is this love of God that allows us to keep His law. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3). It is God’s love – His nature, His grace -- given to us by the Spirit through faith, which gives us life and sets us free from sin.

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Romans 8:2-4).

The law is righteous, but it has no power of itself to make us righteous. The natural mind of man is “not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). Only with the grace of God, received through the Spirit, can one be subject to God’s law. Under the Old Covenant the law was given to Israel, but it did not make those people righteous; but rather they (and we) were all concluded under sin (Galatians 3:21-22) and were therefore under the death penalty. Thus, Paul calls the Old Covenant the ministration of death.

But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory (2 Corinthians 3:7-9).

Paul calls the New Covenant the ministration of righteousness because under it God is imparting His righteousness to us. Under the Old Covenant God gave Israel the Ten Commandments, written on tables of stone, as well as ceremonial laws and rituals designed to lead them in the path of righteousness. But true righteousness cannot be legislated. True righteousness comes from within. True righteousness comes from the heart.

But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18).

Under grace -- the New Covenant -- God is creating in us a new heart. He is imparting to us His very nature. He is creating in us true righteousness -- HIS righteousness – through the indwelling of His Spirit in us. If we will walk in the Spirit -- if we truly dwell in Christ, and He in us --we have the Truth dwelling in us, and we are then partakers of the divine nature. We are “under grace.” That is how we are to be set free from the tyranny of sin. That is how the Truth sets us free.


But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18).


Anonymous said...

I really enjoy your blog posts. May God continue to use you for to edify and enlighten the body of Christ with God's infallible Word.

David Rothwell said...

Thank you, I really appreciate the encouragement.