Freedom Like You’ve Never Heard Before

liberty

21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

                                                                                                           – James 1:21-25

I found this in James earlier this week, and something caught my eye. At first it was the word perfect, but then I looked at liberty and all but forgot perfect. But first, why  don’t you go ahead and read the first two chapters of James so you have some context to what we’ll be talking about today.

The word in the original Greek text (Strongs G1657 – click on the word for a lexicon entry) is ἐλευθερία–or for those of you who don’t actually read Greek it transliterates to eleutheria – it translates to “liberty” all of the 11 times it is used in the New Testament. The image above is the entry in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon for this word, and I’ll tell you why liberty excites me so much.

The first and lengthier entry follows so:

a. liberty to do or to omit things having no relation to salvation (1 Cor 10:29); from the yoke of the Mosaic law, (Gal 2:4; 5:1,13; 1 Pet 2:16) from Jewish errors so blinding the mental vision that it does not discern the majesty of Christ, (2 Cor 3:17) freedom from the dominion of corrupt desires, so that we do by the free impulse of the soul what the will of God requires … i.e. the Christian religion, which furnishes that rule of right living by which the liberty just mentioned is attained, (Jas 1:25; 2:12) freedom from the restraints and miseries of earthly frailty … manifested in the glorious condition of the future life, (Rom 8:21)

The second, and much shorter entry is simply:

b. fancied liberty, i.e. license, the liberty to do as one pleases, (2 Pet 2:19)

Now let’s take this new concept of liberty back to the context and see what James was talking about. Take a look back at James 1:25 again:

25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

Perfect law of liberty. The reason this phrase piqued my interest at all in the first place is because until now I’d believed James to be quite traditional, and here we have a law, right in the middle of James’ letter clung to by traditional thinkers for his pro-works message, but it doesn’t sound very traditional! He appears to be saying that people who do whatever they want–even if they put aside every scripture unrelated to salvation–and simply follow their desires, are blessed.

Wait a minute. You might say. Who’s gonna keep them in line?

Well, let me introduce you to something–rather Someone–John the Beloved calls The Word:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend[a] it. – John 1:1-5

Verses 14-18 go on to declare:

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 John [the Baptist] bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’”

16 And[e] of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son,[f] who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

From this–not to mention the rest of the book of John–we know that Jesus is the Word become flesh and Jesus the logos–the very spoken word of God–declares the Father. So what does James say about this Word? Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (1:21) but it’s not enough to just hear. It’s not enough to sit through church every week–it’s not even the same! 

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. (1:22-24)

I can just hear the urgency–but be DOERs of Jesus, not just HEARERs; you’re just fooling yourself otherwise; you have no sense of your identity outside of Christ. And the method? Looking into the perfect law of liberty and continuing in it. The real question now is what is the perfect law of liberty and how do we do it? If I were to put what I’ve learned so far into a basic statement I would say that the law of liberty can be summed up as simply being true to our desire; does that sound like the life of a Jesus-doer? I believe it is, so much so that I would say it is the crux of living in the New Covenant.

Does it still seem like there’s a missing piece to the puzzle–like how we are going to keep people on the straight and narrow with a law that lets them do whatever they want? You’re right, but it’s not like that. If you still think there’s something missing, or that this law sounds like chaos, you may not have understood the gospel or what Christ did on the cross. Colossians 2 says this:

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him [Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. 11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins[c] of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (2:8-17)

The New Covenant’s life in Christ involves total transformation; you can’t enter into the law of liberty without being cut off from your old self and implanted, as James says, with Jesus’ spirit. Salvation is of utmost importance to liberty because salvation produces liberty. There would be no good desire in us unless Christ cut our sinful nature away. And with the Spirit of God in us, there is no longer need for that old covenant system of doing things, because as Galatians 5 declares, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. It should never be a bad thing for people full of the Spirit to do whatever they desire, because what they desire is what God desires. I believe we continue in the law of liberty, the new covenant law of love, by remaining true to His desire in us, and following His voice.

The perfect law of liberty, salvation and the new covenant–it’s all about freedom: freedom not to be used as a pretext to get away with doing wrong, but freedom to be who we were created to be. Scandalous freedom to do whatever we desire. Freedom to do what all true believers desire: the will of our Father.

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Jesus Loves Barabbas

As Easter Weekend comes to its peak I’m sure many of us are thinking about that story that started in a stable and ended in a tomb–only it didn’t end, and that’s why we have a story to think about. I’m also thinking about it because I just watched the second half of Ben Hur the other night and had a minor revelation (even though it wasn’t particularly in the film). Consequently, I’ve been thinking about a certain character which I’m surprised isn’t mentioned by many grace teachers, yet is–in my mind–one of the most prime examples of grace, and certainly among the first to receive it so obviously. I’m talking, of course, about that man Barabbas.

And isn’t it true? How many sermons have you heard preached about him? When was the last time you heard someone – reading from the portion of the Gospels dealing with Christ’s trial – stop and say, “Now take this guy Barabbas for instance …” He’s the unsung hero. Only, he’s not a hero; Barabbas is a murdering revolutionary (as described by Mark).

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered how he’d been missed in the grace story. You probably already know where I’m going with this – that’s just how obvious it is. We’ll pick up the story in Mark, and I’ll be reading from the New Living Translation tonight.

Jesus’ Trial before Pilate

Very early in the morning the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law—the entire high council—met to discuss their next step. They bound Jesus, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.

Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus replied, “You have said it.”

Then the leading priests kept accusing him of many crimes, and Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer them? What about all these charges they are bringing against you?” But Jesus said nothing, much to Pilate’s surprise.

Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner—anyone the people requested. One of the prisoners at that time was Barabbas, a revolutionary who had committed murder in an uprising. The crowd went to Pilate and asked him to release a prisoner as usual.

“Would you like me to release to you this ‘King of the Jews’?” Pilate asked. 10 (For he realized by now that the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy.) 11 But at this point the leading priests stirred up the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus. 12 Pilate asked them, “Then what should I do with this man you call the king of the Jews?”

13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

14 “Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?”

But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”

15 So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

             – Mark 15:1-15

As far as I’m concerned you can just close the book right there! Pilot knew who was the innocent one – you don’t become governor of as politically fragile a region as Judea was at that time by being a poor judge. But an undeserving Jesus took the punishment (and much more) of notoriously deserving Barabbas.

Did you know Barabbas’ name means something along the lines of “Son of a/the father”? I’ve been learning to read Hebrew and as a result I’m now continually looking for deeper meaning in everything, particularly names. Barabbas’ name comes from the Aramaic roots  bar (בַּר – H1247) meaning “Son”, and Abagtha (אֲבַגְתָא – H5) meaning “God-given”. It might also interest you to know that in early manuscripts Barabbas was referred to as “Jesus Barabbas”, but “Jesus” was later left off; speculation has it that this was done either out of solemn respect or to avoid confusion, but either way that’s a bunny trail for another day. What I’m most interested in is the meaning of Barabbas’ name.

Imagine with me, if you will: it is early in the morning; the Jewish leaders have been up all night trying to make all their false witnesses agree. They’ve finally got all the falsified evidence the crowd needs and they bring Jesus to Pilate, since they cannot condemn him to death themselves. The Jewish high council is bringing accusation after accusation down on Jesus and he’s just silent; all he’s letting on to here is his kingship. Pilate’s confused. He can’t get this guy; if he’s innocent, why doesn’t he clear himself? If he’s guilty of something serious enough for death, why doesn’t he fight the charges, knowing his end?

So Pilate throws what he hopes is a curve-ball on the clearly envious Jewish religious leaders: for the customary release of a prisoner on Passover, he offers them Jesus. The crowds go wild–stirred up by the religious leaders–but not for Jesus – they want Barabbas, and they want Jesus dead.

So to keep the peace, Pilate handed the undeserving Son of the Father over to his soldiers to be brutally flogged and killed while that deserving “Son of the Father”–that notorious criminal Barabbas–went free, because of love, the newly adopted son of a Heavenly Father.

A sinner set free.

I came across this video of a sermon from Judah Smith almost immediately after I began looking into this Barabbas, and he says it all; if there is one thing you do this Easter, watch this video. Seriously. Turn down the lights, turn up the volume and have a tissue on hand, because it’s about to get real.

 

“Jesus stood there silent for he knew the will of the Father; he said “It’s fine Father; let them have Barabbas,” for Jesus knew that the Father would have to treat Jesus like Barabbas, so He could treat Barabbas like Jesus.”

Unmerited, undeserved favour.

“Barabbas thought it was the people that set him free–no, no, no–it was the love of a Heavenly Father.”

Gifts and Fruits

(context: Galatians 5)

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

           – Galatians 5:16-26

I am a rock-star.

I’ve known it for quite some time, though I rarely, if ever, thought it.

I’m also a dancer. I’m moved by rhythms and vibrations. It’s just “Me”.

I wanted to say “And primarily I’m…” But whatever would follow that statement I probably would later revoke as a lie, because my immediate response to realizing my giftings and passions is to shut them right down again, usually with something along the lines of “There are much more important things to do than dance around like a fool.”

I’m not putting my paper heart out on my sleeve. But neither am I bragging. I recently heard someone declare openly what their giftings were, and my first response was something along the lines of “Please. How arrogant can you get?” But my mind didn’t stop there, because my second thought was, “Well, why not?”

The reality of my life is, those closest to me don’t really know my deep passions. They don’t know what makes my heart beat, what fills my lungs in every breath. They don’t know because I have never found the courage to trust them with things so deeply ingrained in me. My heart says “Just let it out, express yourself!” My mind says, “They won’t understand what it means to me, they won’t respect the significance of my passions,” or flat out, “They won’t care.”

I take myself too seriously. It is the most crippling of my disabilities, because I do not allow the Spirit the freedom to express Himself throughin or to me.

It’s all well and good when Christ has set me free by spiritually cutting off my sinful nature of Galatians 5:19-21, but I make the work of Christ no benefit to me by denying and disallowing the working of the Spirit of Galatians 5:22-23 that keeps me free. Ignoring Paul’s exhortations of Galatians 5:1 to not fall back under bondage to the law, I condemn the fruits of the Spirit before they even begin to ripen in me.

I’ve been largely silent here for some weeks; I spent some time pouring over the epistle of James and my faith has been tested, challenged, and developed. I’d like to say I’ve been taking time off to ponder James, but that wouldn’t be consciously true; my life virtually shut down for a while and I’ve been reduced to a state of basic function. I’ve had to realize again and still again that all my knowledge, wisdom, abilities and strengths are nothing, and if I rely on them I cannot be any greater or more functional in the Kingdom of God than they are. If I do not allow the power of the Spirit to abide in and work throughout my life, I will continue to live under the law and my own sinful nature.

You might be wondering where the passions I was talking about fit into this. You’re not alone; I’m wondering too.

I think I got it backwards, or turned around. Actually, I’m not sure how I got it, because I stepped away and lost the train of thought I had when I wrote that opening sentence. So here it is straight: my deep inner passions are not the moving of the Spirit in me, but my response to the moving of the Spirit in me. The passions of my heart are a personal strain of worship of the Lord of Lords. When I deny my passions, I deny the outcry of my heart in revere of God. These  passions I’ve had ingrained in me from the very beginning, then, are not the fruit, they are my response. I’ve recently been pondering worship, and it fits now, just what worship is really about, and how it takes shape in my own life. I’ll leave a fuller explanation of this realization for a later post, but I now have a fuller picture of what it means to be a worship leader.