True Freedom

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Sometimes when we celebrate Independence Day, we get the wrong idea. We often think that we are free and independent each to ourselves. We think that freedom means we can each do whatever we desire to do. That is an impossible concept of a free society. In a society, we can only be as free as we are similar. That is, as long as we share the same values, we may be free, but when our values are in conflict, we need regulation in order to have peace.

I think most agree on this, but differ on how we resolve this problem. Some say that we must embrace our diversity even at the expense of some freedom. Others say that we must strive for a society that is identical in values. To this end we need to limit others in order to have our own personal freedom. It seems that both approaches have the same result: One group limits the personal freedom of another group in the interest of peace.

Biblical Christians know that it is impossible to pursue freedom by trying to be similar. After all, without Christ, what I would value the most is me and what you value the most is you. Left to our own, we would always have values in conflict, thus any system that attempts to establish freedom will only be temporary.

This is why I am always cautioning Christians about politics. When we bring an understanding of true freedom to political discussion, there is much to be gained. If we bring the course of political discussion to bear on our gospel, there is much to lose. Certainly, those of both ends of our political spectrum call to Christians to join their fight. However, since Christians offer an understanding of true freedom, we must be calling to others to join our fight.

This idea of freedom is nothing new. In the Declaration of Independence, freedom is phrased as being free from the tyranny that would encroach upon our God-given rights. In order for us to fight for freedom, then, it is critical that we understand true freedom.

I bring this question, “What is true freedom” to Romans 6:15-19.

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. (Romans 6:15-19, NKJV).

Paul offers us a clue to understand this passage in verse 16 and 19. When he says “Do you not know” and “I speak in human terms” he implies that what he is saying is easily understood by his readers. Since he mentions slavery 6 times in 5 verses, a helpful place to start is in understanding slavery in a first century context.

The two most common ways one became a slave was 1) being taken in war or 2) becoming indebted to someone beyond what could be paid. Once someone was a slave, it was near impossible to be freed because a slave’s wages could be set to insure against it. However, a concerned family member might come to a slaves rescue. If this redeemer had the means, he could take the amount of the slave’s debt plus a little extra to the community’s temple cult. There, he would pay the oracle or priest. That person would then keep the extra and use the rest to buy the slave. At the point the slave was technically a slave to the temple cult, but this was always less demanding than the typical slave master. Though the slave was never free to himself, he was free from the demands of the slave master and free to live within the guidelines of the temple cult.

Consider that context for Romans 6:15-19.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! (Romans 6:15, NKJV).

The question is, if Jesus makes us free, are we free to sin? The answer is no. As we will see, we are free from sin, but not free to ourselves.

Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Romans 6:16, NKJV).

If we are slaves, then no matter what, we obey a master. That master may be sin which leads to death or it may be obedience which leads to righteousness. There is not an option of being free unto ourselves.

But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. (Romans 6:17, NKJV).

Though we were slaves to sin, God worked, and we accepted the truth that leads to righteousness.

And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:18, NKJV).

Just as slaves are set free from one master in order to live for another, we were set free from sin and became slaves to righteousness.

I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. (Romans 6:19, NKJV).

When we were slaves to sin, this only lead to more and more sin, which would ultimately lead to an eternal death. However, as slaves to righteousness, we can be holy. I know that I will be holy even despite my daily failures because I did not set myself free nor am I free to myself. Christ purchased me from my master of sin. He is my master and as such I will be what He desires me to be.

There is no freedom that means “I do whatever I want.” Everyone is in bondage to sin, but true freedom is found in Christ. For that reason, I urge everyone to first be set free of sin and death through Christ. Further, live in freedom, not by chasing our own desires, but by seeking to glorify they Lord. Finally, pursue freedom throughout the world by proclaiming the good news of Christ.

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Book Review: The Portable Patriot by Joel J. Miller & Kristen Parrish, eds.

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In honor of Independence Day, I am reviewing The Portable Patriot. This is a collection Revolution-era documents compiled to highlight (as the editors claim), “The American Soul.”

First of all, I want to say how glad I am that this book is a collection of documents rather than a book about those documents. Studying history from source material is extremely valuable but seldom done. This book provides a wealth of source material in studying the build up to revolution and the founding of the United States.

Given the sheer amount of source material, it is important to consider the intent of the editors in selecting material to include. Editors, Joel J. Miller and Kristen Parrish are attempting to show a connection between ideas and action. To do this, they have included the major documents one expects (Declaration of Independence, US Constitution, Federalist Papers, etc) alongside correspondence amongst those involved. It is a combination that works to show this connection.

However, to truly compile such documents and such correspondence together would require volumes of work, not one, small, 265 page book. The work here is brief. It is, at best, a summary. It’s a start. My hope for this book is two-fold: that it provide a much needed relief from the amount of punditry being passed off as serious political discourse, and that it sends people to the source documents of history for further understanding.

Though not a scholarly work in history, I would recommend this book to anyone caught up in the political fervor of our times or to the apathetic that need to begin to understand.

Disclaimer: Thomas Nelson Publishers provided this book to me free of charge in exchange for a review. I am under no obligation to recommend the book and the opinions here are my own.

Politics, Classically Defined

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Recently, I posted my concerns that politics is becoming a new gospel. I have taken some criticism for not standing by a “classic definition” of politics. I’m not sure that I can get any more “classical” than Aristotle’s τα πολιτικά which is essentially “Affairs of the State” (literally, “having to do with the polis”).

The gospel, on the other hand is literally, “good tidings” or “good news.” Biblically, that good news is defined in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,

It is absolutely crucial to note that the good news is not simply an affair of the state. In fact, one could seek to bring Biblical principals to affairs of the state and still ignore the gospel.

This is not to say that a Christian should have nothing to do with politics. On the contrary, it is important that people who have embraced the good news of Christ bring this understanding to the affairs of the state.

The issue at hand is priority. When politics comes first, the gospel is lost. When the gospel comes first, politics are greatly empowered.

The difference in priority is important. It is as C.S. Lewis wrote: “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither. ” Many have attempted to define the gospel as politics. They work feverishly trying to imitate the Kingdom of God in our society. This is nothing but a facade. The Kingdom of God is only realized through Christ.

The gospel; the good news of Jesus Christ: that He was crucified for our sins, buried, and raised again is key. Everything else false in to place, but one does not have the kingdom of God without it.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:33, NKJV).

Politics: A New Gospel

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It is my belief that politics is one of the biggest threats to the gospel faced by conservative evangelicals. Certainly, we could point to various doctrinal debates that cut away crucial theology, but those are, for now, in the left, and evangelicals in the right are wary…for now. In this blog, I want to show you three concerns I have regarding politics, answer some common objections, and offer a simple plan of action.

Politics brings conservative theology to a crashing halt. Doctrinal lines are blurred when political lines are at stake. One only needs to consider how popular Glenn Beck is among conservative evangelicals. Beck’s faith (of which he is very vocal) is contrary to evangelical Christianity. His political views are what are seen as the common ground. Christians are willing to overlook doctrine for the sake of politics. The simple question could be asked, which is more important: sound Christology or political values?

Politics confuses Christians about what is most important. What issues seem to fire up evangelicals these days? Health care? Gay marriage? The Obama administration? Do we not believe that we serve a higher authority? Do we not believe in a Kingdom that exists far beyond the United States, or even Earth? Are we not living in the Already and Not Yet? Why so much concern about the temporary issues of a people that believe in an eternal reality? Do I think these things are important? Yes. I think we should take an active part in our society, living as representatives of Christ, but I wonder why these are often the most important issues. What matters to you more: the passing of the health care bill or the passing away of millions without Christ? Before you answer, could I look for the answer in your email forwards, Facebook profiles, and sermons?

Politics is a new pornography. The sources of most political information are entertainment companies. They are very skilled at reaching in and tickling those emotions that will keep you glued to the set. Your time is wasted. Your emotions are stirred up about something that may or may not be true, and you are essentially being controlled by something other than the Holy Spirit. Don’t believe me? Turn it off for one week. Go a week without any of it and see if you notice the difference. I swore off cable news two years ago. It is amazing how much difference it makes.

Maybe you think we live in urgent times. Are these times better or worse than the Roman Empire? Do we not face many of the same moral concerns of those days? The days of Jesus and the apostles had many political issues that would certainly bother Christians, yet there is little talk of it in the New Testament. Even when given an audience among government officials, Paul seems to be more interested in talking to them about Christ.

Perhaps, you believe that politics is the way to redeem society. Do you also think that you would change an apple tree into an orange tree by hanging oranges from the limbs? No, you would need to begin with a different seed. The same is true of politics. No country will ever be a Christian nation because it chooses Christian values. No law can be passed that will make this country more pleasing to God. If an evangelical desires to make a difference in the world, he should begin with the gospel.

Politics is quickly becoming another gospel. I have known one pastor to say that the US Constitution had in it the essence of the gospel. No, it absolutely does not, as it does not even mention Christ let alone His death for our sins and His resurrection. Evangelicals are setting aside the gospel in order to proclaim conservative values. We are joining forces with all kinds of anti-Christian entities to do so. Scripture says that if ANYONE proclaims another gospel, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9).

Finally, I have some practical suggestions for evangelicals dealing with politics.

1) Consider your intake of political information. How much time do you spend reading or watching the news? How many hours do you spend listening to talk radio? Try this: for every hour you spend there, spend 20 minutes in the Bible. If you can’t do that, I think we see the problem.
2) Listen only to Christian leaders who proclaim the gospel as opposed to any political agenda. That’s what we are called to proclaim. If you find a talk-show host or preacher claiming to be Christian that doesn’t proclaim the gospel, turn it off. They are way too far off course to offer anyone direction.
3) Take a Great Commission inventory. Are you sharing the gospel and discipling believers? If not, you hardly have time for anything political.
4) What are you DOING politically? If your best effort is watching and listening while you whine, then you are doing nothing. If after devoting time to scripture and making sure you are following the Great Commission, you still feel that politics is an area of great concern, pray about what God would have you to DO and DO IT.

Remember; seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Everything else will be added to you.