In the times when men enslaved their fellowmen, a person might have had two men serving him with entirely different attitudes and relationships.
One of these men, being a slave, served out of compulsion and fear. When he failed to please his master, there were fearful consequences that had to be faced. Born out of his slavish fear, however, was one security. When the master specified in detail all of his duties and the slave fulfilled them, he could feel some security and acceptance. It was a security through accomplishment and perfectionism, but the sense of security was always overshadowed by his fears of inadequacy. The slave could perform his service with no love, admiration, or oneness of purpose with his master. That is a spirit of bondage.
The other of these two men was a son of the master. He served his father out of a sense of belonging, acceptance, love, and unity of purpose with the father. This son knew that his security and acceptance were dependent upon his relationship rather than his ability and diligence to achieve. His confidence was in the unconditional love of his father. His service was in gratitude for the father’s love and sustenance rather than to meet demands of specifics and quotas set by the father. This young man was free from the fears of inadequacy in performance and he was free to exercise himself creatively in a loving relationship expressive of love and joy. This is the spirit of freedom that sons may enjoy.
The slave pictures the disciple whose fears are at least partially relieved by his law-keeping through which he seeks to perform to specified standards and quotas. It is a spirit of bondage to law. The son represents the disciple who serves out of loving response to God’s love and continual acceptance of him as his son while the disciple knows that he can be nothing more than an undeserving sinner at his best. The spirit of the sons of God is a loving response to the grace of God rather than keeping laws to obtain grace.
Jesus has assured us, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Although Jesus is the one who sets us free, some disciples are apprehensive of the freedom. The spirit of bondage may make the yoke of law seem desirable and freedom seem fearful. A woman who had spent a number of years in a monastery as a nun renounced her vows and entered into secular life again. When asked concerning her greatest problem of readjustment, she readily responded that it was in making so many decisions. As a nun, her regimented life was prescribed for her as to her residence, schedule, dress, meals, and social activities. Her freedom brought responsibility, and responsibility demands choices. This responsibility may be frightening to a person conditioned by bondage to legal righteousness.
A License to Sin
The anxieties felt by those of the spirit of slavery lead them to suspect that freedom from legal justification is a license to do as they pleased a license to sin. These children of Hagar interpret according to the flesh. The children of the free woman live by the Spirit, being ruled by a higher nature. Paul explains, “So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship” (Romans 8:12ff). The sons of God have a higher motivation than law and a nobler relationship than that of a slave. In our crying, “Abba, Father,” we are not exercising a legal right but we are recognizing our acceptance as children of God.
Jesus made us free. Paul is the great champion of our freedom, sounding a call for freedom, defending it, and giving a challenge to all who are free. “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another” (Galatians 5:13). Paul would have us to follow the Spirit rather than a code of laws so we will respond to an internal control instead of an external one. The Spirit works through our intelligence and understanding in guiding us.
Freedom of Sons
Religion can satisfy neither man nor God unless it satisfies the intelligence. Intelligence, motivated by its conclusion of faith, leads one to hunger and thirst for right emotionally. The desire to do what is right is a fundamental virtue without which one cannot be acceptable to God. Bondage to a system of law may constrain a person into conformity out of fear of the consequence of non-conformity while there is still resistance both intellectually and emotionally. Man is not free if he is driven by what he does not value or choose, and he cannot value and choose except to the degree that he comprehends. Service to God through imposed laws which one neither understands nor values is a spiritual slavery not fitting the sons of God. Such might even be more carnal than spiritual. For the spirit to be free, one must find satisfaction and happiness in following his own higher motivation to do what is good and right. He gives himself willingly and happily, but to give himself he must first own himself. He cannot properly dedicate himself if he is not free. Jesus gives us this kind of enabling freedom.
The spirit of bondage, rather than freeing one of his carnal nature, may cause him to test the law, strain at its limitations, and seek loopholes to justify exploits of the flesh. Thus we may find ourselves to be modern scribes and Pharisees defining with hair-splitting detail the limits of what we interpret as the divine code. Carnal deeds done in the name of religion and for the sake of it are among the darkest of history, appalling for their extravagance of hatred, vengeance, cruelty, greed, and lust. The carnal person may observe “Thou shalt not kill” while cursing, hating, and oppressing his brother.
The other extreme is true also. A person may claim his freedom as a son of God to use as a license to live according to the flesh. So it is not too shocking to learn of persons on whom we have looked as spiritual leaders being involved in all sorts of licentious immoralities and greedy and aggrandizing schemes. Neither of these extremes is inherent in the freedom which Christ gives, but they are the ditches on either side of the road of highest intention.
An Inner Control
In the new covenant relationship, the change in the nature of control was prophesied by Joel, “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10). By this God was not pointing to a time of the memorization of laws, formulas, systems, or codes, but to a time when his people would have an inner control. This would not be laws written on tables of stone or parchment but it would be principles written on the conscience. No longer being yoked by a law which brought death, the disciple’s heart would be attuned to the Spirit of life.
While I was in college, some of the students managed to get the questions for the test to be taken the next day. We knew that this was not the most upright thing to do, but rationalizing that grades were a contest between the student and the teacher, we were able to justify our improper actions.
At another time, my brother, George, and I missed an examination in the class of Homer Hailey. When we asked him to let us take a makeup examination, Brother Hailey handed us the questions, saying, “Here are the questions; you and George may take them home with you and answer them. I know that you won’t cheat.”
Would we cheat on that test? Certainly not! Not even a little peek at my notes. Why not? He had put me on my honor causing me to determine what kind of person I was going to be. My inner nature was called upon and my response had to come from within.
In similar manner, God has put us in his honor system to see what kind of persons we will be. Rather than trying to evade the “All-seeing Eye watching you,” we serve conscientiously because we hunger and thirst for that which is right. He calls us not to be robots stiffly doing his bidding, but as his friends and sons who have his aims and goals in our hearts. The internal rule gives us conviction and courage to travel God’s road even though none go with us.
We might prefer to have everything defined in plain and simple terms so that we would have no hard decisions to make about our conduct as disciples. It might seem preferable to have an explicit code of law like the Law of Moses recorded in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. God’s claim of the tithe and firstborn was spelled out. One’s lawful food could be a sheep or goat but not a pig or mule, and he could eat bass or perch fish but not catfish or oysters. One needed not to be concerned about being a priest unless he was a Levite. The sacrifices expected were specified in detail. The rules were about as “black and white” as words could make them.
Those of us who cannot accept the reality of freedom would like to know the percentage of giving expected, and if it is on a sliding scale determined by the number of dependents, as in figuring our income tax. They would like to have a description of the clothing permitted so decisions would not have to be made and interpretations would not be necessary in each generation and society. Since modesty in clothing relates to the expense of it, how much may one spend on clothes, jewelry, hairdos, and cosmetics? How much of the body must be covered and what areas may be exposed? How form-fitting, transparent, clinging, and revealing may it be and still be decent? And where is the chart or code that defines the amount of permitted consumption, or prohibition, of alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and various kinds of drugs? If these things were all spelled out, we would not have to make decisions. It would be an external control like that over a slave. Rightness would be in keeping within all the legal limits. But as sons, we are free to make daily decisions, difficult as they may be, based on the highest of principles and the noblest of motivations.
Be Free Men
Paul says that we have been freed from the Mosaic kind of law; however, he is not saying that Christ has no law or that we are without law, but that his law is of a different nature a guiding by principles of action. When we might yearn for subjection to a code like Israel yearned to return to the slavery of Egypt, Paul would recall us with, “Christ set us free, to be free men. Stand firm, then, and refuse to be tied to the yoke of slavery again” (Galatians 5:1).
It seems that at some time those who seek to make Christ’s law into a legal code would have gone through the New Testament scriptures and listed all of his laws. The Law of Moses was a code, and the Jews could list 613 laws in it. In some generation it seems that someone would have cataloged Jesus’ laws. Have you ever tried that? You will become totally frustrated in such an effort because the law written on the heart involves principles. Commands, instructions, teachings, and exhortations only expedite the fulfilling of the law of the heart.
In thinking of freedom, one might visualize a ship in the vast Pacific Ocean with no engine, sail, or rudder. Although, in one sense, the ship is free of controls, it is driven by the external forces of wind and current and can reach no harbor or goal. That is not the kind of freedom we are looking for in Christ, but it is the very thing that Paul is warning about in our Galatians passage: “You, my friends, were called to be free; only do not turn your freedom into license for your lower nature.” Freedom is not being free from guidance but in being led by the Spirit, who bears witness with our spirits that we are sons of God.
Working for someone else, a person may feel entrapped and enslaved by time clocks, schedules, and quotas to meet constantly. The desire to be free from all of that is strong. That employee may buy out the business and become free. Now, instead of an eight hour schedule, he may work ten or fifteen hours each day. He is no longer meeting schedules and quotas to fulfill requirements, but his interest now is in making a success of the business. He has something different in his heart. His freedom from a boss is not a license to loaf, indulge himself, or take the easiest path.
Our liberty is not permissive living. The lower nature fights against the spiritual nature. “I mean this: if you are guided by the Spirit you will not fulfill the desires of your lower nature. That nature sets its desires against the Spirit, while the Spirit fights against it. They are in conflict with one another so that what you will to do you cannot do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law” (Galatians 5:16ff NEB).
Paul continues: “Anyone can see the kind of behavior that belongs to the lower nature: fornication, impurity, and indecency; idolatry and sorcery; quarrels, a contentious temper, envy, fits of rage, selfish ambitions, dissensions, party intrigues, and jealousies; drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.” Although one may be free to do these things, the gates of heaven are doubly locked against him.
We must reap of the Spirit of the law written on the heart. “But the harvest of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law dealing with such things as these.” The harvest of the Spirit begins with love and ends with self-control, and that’s what the law written in our heart is all about. Love is higher than any code, needs no law to regulate it, and requires no specified ritual for its expression. The just man has the hunger and thirst for righteousness, and “The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, etc.” (I Timothy 1:9).
We always have to get back to love, don’t we? Back in the beginning sentence, Paul urges, “But be servants to one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”‘ The harvest of the Spirit comes from keeping the whole law which is summed up in one commandment and is written on the heart of the son of God. This is his guarantee of freedom from bondage to a code of law.
How obvious all of this is. The spiritual service of the son begins with love and ends in self-control. He needs no code of law to control his conduct for he has an inner control. He is loved, accepted, and forgiven because he is a son rather than in reward for flawless conduct and meritorious works. Being filled with and guided by the Spirit, he stands in the strength of the Lord and the power of his might. The son is free from bondage to a code of law intended to control his carnal nature and free from the fears resulting from the ineffectiveness of such controls. His inner control of love casts out his fears.
This page Copyright © 2003 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the King James Version. This article appears on the site: https://www.peterwade.com/.
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