How to be a better person? # 32 – LET FREEDOM REIGN

Jesus made this harsh recommendation, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pears to pigs.  If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces” (Mt. 7:6).  Paul admonished, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires” (Ro. 6:12).  As long as sin entangles us, we are hindered from becoming free (Heb. 12:1).  These statements tell me that I can impair my freedom when I let transgressions control my life.  What does it mean to be free?  Paul, the Gentile Apostle has been very helpful to me.  He led me to three conclusions.  First, freedom is a possibility; but it is seldom a reality because of our human weakness (Ro. 6:19).  As long as we are in the flesh, we shall be subjected to temptations that lead to errors.  Christ has provided an escape from sin; but total freedom comes when death has spoken.  That is why a Christian must lead a penitent life.  He must be constantly aware of the pitfalls of sin and depend intimately on the voice of his/her conscience that is tuned to the Spirit of Christ.  It is the Spirit that reminds the Christian whether he/she is living a life acceptable to God.  A person that continues in sin is not on the road to salvation, neither is that individual led by the Spirit of God.  The line of demarcation between a life in the Spirit and one in the flesh were marked clearly for Paul (Gal. 5:13-26).  Secondly, Paul was freed from religious regulations and observances, but not from the Ten Commandments that governs all life.  In Paul’s words, “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good”(Ro. 7:12).  It guided Paul’s behavior. “But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.  The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal.  5:13-14).  The Law kept Paul out of trouble because it highlights the pitfalls of sin.  The perimeter of sin had become a serious problem for Paul’s followers.  The Grace of Christ gave him a chance to separate him from sin.  He believed that one could die literally to sin and begin a new life in Christ.  That is why he insisted that his followers imitated him (I Cor. 4:16).  It was the Christian’s job to stay out of sin or literally die to it.  Christ had paid for all the sins that were committed in ignorance or unintentionally, but not for those that use His sacrifice to continue in sin (Ro. 6:1-14).
Thirdly, the burden of freedom, as well as salvation, rested on Paul’s shoulders, and on everyone else’s that follows Christ.  This was crucial to Paul because humans reneged their accountability and responsibility.  They always looked for a Messiah that would take care of their failures and negligence to deal with their problems and sins.  Christ became man’s perfect scapegoat.  All one had to do is believe and confess (Ro. 10:9-10).  To his chagrin, Paul began to realize that his converts were not separating themselves from their sinful ways (Ro. 6: 1-14).  They had not submitted to God’s Law and that made their behavior hostile to God (Ro. 8:6-8).  He admonished the Corinthians, “I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 15:50).  And the Romans he told, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – which is your spiritual worship” (Ro. 12:1).  The Ephesian converts were keen on grace, but not so eager on being blameless and holy (Eph. 1:4-5).  The reason God had been gracious to them was that He had a job for them.  Sin stood in the way of working for God (Eph. 2:1-10).
In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul left the impression that God and not man did all the saving even before man was born (Eph. 1:4).  Interpreters delight in the idea of predestination; namely, regardless of what some people do, they shall be saved.  Yes, Paul too was delighted, but not over his predestination.  Before the world was created, God had determined to choose (exelezato) Christ in whom man can be saved.  Apart from Christ, there is no predestination.  Man must be in Christ, if he wants to enter the kingdom of God.  He must die to sin in this life (Ro. 6:8-12).  To live in Christ, one has no longer any desire to violate God’s Law (Ro. 6:13-14).  To remain in Christ becomes a constant struggle.  Paul had to continue to work out his salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).  He had to discipline and control his desire (body) (I Cor. 9:27).  He had to practice what he preached (I Cor. 9:27).  He had to stay in the race to the finish (I Cor. 9:24-26).  He was racing against himself.  He competed against no one.  And to be a good competitor, he had to separate himself from baggage that kept him from reaching his finished line.  He said no, “no and no” to sin and did not let it control his mortal body, but offered himself to the service of God (Ro. 6:1,11-13).
The greatest freedom, for Paul, was the ability God did grant in grace for man to lay off the yoke of sin; especially, those sins he could no longer atone for.  In order not to disappoint his Lord, Paul did everything humanly possible to remain faithful to the freedom he had received in Christ.  Paul felt that Christ had chosen him to do good work.  He was not disobedient to the vision from heaven (Ac. 26:19).  His followers did not have such a vision; but they had his teaching and so do we.  Freedom from sin was not an easy road for Paul or his converts.  At the time of his death, very few remained with him (II Tim. 4:11).  It was painful for Paul to see his converts return to being slaves of idols and useless observances.  He pleaded with the Galatians, “How can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more?  You observe days, and seasons, and years.  I am afraid I have labored over you in vain.  Brethren, I beg you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are” (Gal. 4:9-12; RSV).  Freedom was not, and still is not without human compliance.  To keep it, we must work at it!  No one will drop it into our lap.  We can come to God through Jesus as we are, but we must leave our sins behind.  Jesus final words were, “Nothing impure will enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful, but only those whose names are written in the lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27).  The only time and place where we can be cleansed is here and now on earth (Heb. 3:7-11; 10:26-30).  Leaving our sin behind sets us free and makes us a far better person.  Remember, sin causes death and death separates us physically and spiritually from each other and from God (Ro. 6:23; Rev. 2:11; 20:14).