Comfort & Counsel

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by Jacob Ninan

When Jesus was on earth, some people in Israel expected that He would be the one to set them free from the rule of the Romans who had conquered them. That was the freedom they were looking for. When Jesus told them how He could set them free through the truth, they did not think they needed that kind of freedom. They imagined that since they were children of Abraham they were already free (Jn.8:31-33). Even when Jesus explained to them that those who committed sin were slaves to sin, they could not understand what He was saying.

When children reach the teenage years, some of them want to be free from their ‘bondage’ to their parents. They think that when they are able to do ‘their own thing’, that would be real freedom.

The ‘hippie’ movement of the 1960s was a counter-culture development that revolted against social, religious and cultural norms and tried to be ‘free’. They adopted ‘free’ dress and hair styles and experimented with psychedelic music and drugs, and free sex. Even though this movement has left its imprint in mainstream society in many areas, the movement as such died down within a few years because its essential premises were unsustainable, and that was discovered in the course of time.

The feminist movement (a.k.a. the women’s liberation movement) fought for equal rights for women as with men. They succeeded in bringing awareness to the world of the plight of women as a class who had been disregarded, misused and abused over centuries. As a result, women have now obtained voting rights and equal opportunity for jobs in many parts of the world. But these activists forgot, in their zeal, that they were ‘equal but different’ from men. This led them to fight for an unrealistic ‘freedom’ at different levels, trying in the process to obliterate all perceptions of differences between the sexes. As an offshoot of this freedom they insisted on ‘rights’ to abort their babies, for example, as a way to claim rights over their own bodies.

The gay movement wanted to be ‘free’ to identify themselves the way they wanted and do what they liked, going against the moral values that practically everyone recognised all over the world. They made it a matter of personal choice that no one else, they said, had a right to deny them, suppressing in the process many other related issues that affected human life. Gay activists gained their victory by false propaganda and violent threats, and now we can see that this sexual freedom is being taken to ridiculous extremes.

Jesus came according to prophecy to proclaim freedom from bondage. He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favourable year of the Lord” (Lk.4:18,19).

Just what kind of freedom did Jesus have in mind? When He came into this world where different people were looking for different kinds of freedom, what did He offer? When He said that when the Son set someone free he would be free indeed (Jn.8:36), what kind of a freedom did He mean?

What we see is that different people are looking to Jesus for deliverance from different types of bondages. Healing from sickness and freedom from poverty are usually what they seek most often, and this explains why healing crusades and preachers of the ‘prosperity gospel’ are most popular. We cannot minimise or ignore needs in these and many other types of bondages that take a heavy toll on life on this earth. Only those who are caught in such circumstances can truly understand their agony. There is no denying the fact that we as Christians need to take whatever measures we can to alleviate such suffering.

At the same time, we have to come to terms with the fact that such problems are peculiar to our life on earth. These have come about as a result of the presence of sin here, and we cannot really expect to be entirely rid of them while we are still here. As Christians we must remember that the long term solution is to deal with sin in people’s lives, and even as we do what we can to mitigate the immediate problems, we must not lose sight of the goal of leading people towards salvation from their sins. In the meantime, we can comfort and encourage ourselves in such a situation with the knowledge that Jesus is preparing a place for us where there will be no more pain, sorrow, disease, death, or sin itself (Rev.21:1-4). It is only there that we will be granted a freedom such as this.

Jesus made it clear that His top priority was to set people free from their sins (Jn.8:34-36). We can see that this freedom has several parts. There is freedom from the guilt and the punishment for our sins because He has suffered our punishment on the cross. But, as this passage tells us, there is also a freedom from sinning. He wants to save us from the power of sin in our lives so that we do not have to continue to sin. What does this mean in practice?

Obviously, it does not mean that, once we have come to Jesus, there will not be any sin in us any more (1Jn.1:8). It also does not mean that we will never fall into any sin afterwards. No. Even though God’s intention is that we might never sin again, He knows we might fall into sin. And so He has made a provision that if we fall, we can go to our Advocate, Jesus our Saviour, confess our sin and receive forgiveness (1Jn.2:1,2;1:9).

But the freedom God gives His children is that sin need not have any dominion over us. “Sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom.6:14). This means that sin will not have any more power over us which compels us to sin. In other words, as the apostle Paul says, we are no longer under any obligation to the flesh to walk according to it (8:12). No. Now we can choose what we want to do. Even though we have freedom to do wrong too, because of the work of regeneration which God has done in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, we have received a new desire not to sin. Because of this we can say that we now have the freedom to choose what is right. The old bondage which we were in had made us inclined towards sin, and that has now been broken. The Son has set us free from that compulsion. Now, when we are tempted to sin in any way, grace gives us the ability to choose what is right.

Of course, this transition from the old life to the new is something that we must learn to accept (6:11), and experience increasingly (vv.12,13), which is a measure of our spiritual growth.

Now the good news is that, even when we find ourselves in external situations that bind us, we can be free inside. We may not always be able to do what we want to do. But we have the freedom to choose how we will respond to people and situations from our hearts. We need not be slaves to our circumstances and consider that we have no option but to give in to sin. It was this kind of freedom that the three young men in Daniel’s days exercised by faith. In effect what they told the king was that perhaps he could kill them, but they were still going to exercise their will to do the right thing (Dan.3:16-18). It is in this exercise of our will to obey or disobey God that we win or lose. Once we know this, we can be free from people, their opinions and all kinds of situations. “A free will is not the liberty to do whatever one likes, but the power of doing whatever one sees ought to be done, even in the very face of otherwise overwhelming impulse. There lies freedom indeed” (George Macdonald). “He that is good is free, though he is a slave; he that is evil is a slave, though he be a king” (Augustine of Hippo).

To become spiritually mature is to grow in the exercise of this freedom to be on God’s side. It is natural that we fail, especially in the beginning and even later if we become proud or careless. But what can give us courage is to know that now we need not fall as a matter of course.

-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, October 2016

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