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Live as Free People

Notes & Transcripts

“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” [1]

Being free and living as one who is free are two entirely different concepts. People who have been incarcerated for extended periods may have difficulty adjusting to life outside of prison walls. Through long confinement, these individuals have been conditioned to avoid making decisions on their own. Throughout the period of imprisonment, they were told when to wake up, when to go to bed, when to eat—essentially, they had no freedom to make decisions for themselves. In a more pragmatic sense, they have not been required to accept responsibility for any decisions related to the minutiae of life. Thus habituated, they discover that freedom is an intimidating concept. It is frightening to be responsible for one’s own decisions. However, freedom always carries the burden of responsibility.

The command to live as people who are free comes in what many today find to be a puzzling context—a call to submission. The only free people within contemporary culture are those who have learned the secret of subjection to institutions ordained for human good—government, labour and family. So that no one need be confused as to his concern, Peter identifies the principle institution in view as the government. Specifically, he names the emperor and governors. It does not seem wrong to take his point as meaning that we who are Christians are to work to foster an attitude of submission toward government—federal, provincial and local.

In the verses that follow, Peter will continue with his exposition naming specific institutions to which Christians are to subject themselves by naming (in the modern context) relationships to employers [1 PETER 2:18-25], marriage [1 PETER 3:1-7] and even the cultural milieu in which we live [1 PETER 3:8-12]. The general principle is that we are to first arrange ourselves under the reign of God, then in so far as there is no conflict to human institutions, we are to subject ourselves willingly to these other institutions.

I acknowledge that such voluntary subjection can be messy. Having experienced some conflicts in life, I can imagine the necessity of judgement calls requiring a conscientious Christian to act obediently to a human institution, even when other equally conscientious Christians disagree with the submission. At other times, a believer intent on honouring the Lord will find himself or herself in conflict with various human institutions, perhaps gaining the disapproval of fellow believers.

Whatever the situation, if we will honour the Living God, our response must reflect humility, even while soliciting the support of other believers. Each of us as followers of the Son of God must show consideration for our fellow saints. We will do well to recall the apostolic admonition, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” [EPHESIANS 4:1-3]. Above all else, we must ensure that we endeavour to know the will of God and boldly do that which pleases Him and honours Him.

LIVE FREE — The Christian can live as free because the Christian is free. Before we move into the text proper, think of several rich verses that speak of the freedom we have in Christ the Lord. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” [GALATIANS 5:1]. “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” [GALATIANS 5:13].

Jesus pointed to a rich promise of freedom for those who followed Him. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” [JOHN 8:31, 32]. Soon after this, the Son of God spoke again, promising, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” [JOHN 8:36]. This promise is iterated by Paul, when he wrote, “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” [2 CORINTHIANS 3:17].

In light of where we will be going shortly, consider a couple of other verses of Scripture. “Thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” [ROMANS 6:17, 18]. Paul followed this statement with another emphasising the identical point. “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” [ROMANS 6:22]. Mankind is enslaved; each individual is either a slave to sin or a slave to Christ. The former speaks of thralldom that leads to death; the latter points to life and in what from the outside appears to be incongruous, freedom.

The freedom of which I have been speaking leads to this summation: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” [ROMANS 8:1, 2].

Before thinking of how to live as people who are free, pause to think of the freedom we now possess as followers of the Risen Son of God. The believer is free from condemnation. “The free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” [ROMANS 5:16, 17].

This affirmation is but an expansion of the words recorded by the Apostle of Love. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” [JOHN 3:18]. In turn, this expression of truth anticipates the words of Jesus spoken on another occasion. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” [JOHN 5:24].

The child of God is free from the sentence of death. What a powerful sermon in a sentence Paul has written in the Letter to Roman Christians. “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” [ROMANS 6:23]. The Apostle’s exultation still thrills the child of God. “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’

‘O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?’

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” [1 CORINTHIANS 15:50-57].

The Christian is free of fear. In the Letter to Hebrew Christians we read, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” [HEBREWS 2:14, 15].

What a contrast! Elsewhere, the Apostle has written, “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 adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” [ROMANS 8:14-17].

We who believe in the Lord Christ are free to come into the presence of the True and Living God, knowing that we will be received as dearly loved children. Access to God’s throne, promised in the Letter to Hebrew Christians, serves as a soft pillow for weary heads. “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” [HEBREWS 4:14-16].

We believers are free to call on Him at any time. There is a powerful affirmation of our ability to come before the Saviour that is found in Hebrews. “Jesus [is] the guarantor of a better covenant.” The reason this statement can be made is that “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.” Now, get the practical implication of this truth! “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” [HEBREWS 7:22-25].

We modern people often require some succinct, pithy statement on which to hang our lives. Let’s attempt to construct precisely such a statement enshrining this truth. Peter is urging us as believers, not to see freedom as liberty to do what we want; rather he is urging us to consider that we have freedom to do what we ought. These primitive believers took Peter’s words to heart in a manner that should humble us in this day. Tertullian contrasted the Christians of his day with the pagans. The heathen delighted in bloody gladiatorial shows presented in the amphitheatre; but a Christian would have been excommunicated if he went to such a show. When the pagans deserted their relatives in a plague, Christians ministered to the sick. The heathen would leave their dead unburied on the field of battle and cast their wounded into the streets; the disciples would hasten to relieve their suffering. [2] In this way, the Christians would, through doing good, “silence the ignorance of foolish people” [1 PETER 2:15].

The seeming conundrum arises when we attempt to substitute contemporary ideas of freedom for the biblical concept of freedom. We moderns define freedom as the absence of responsibility; and in a measure, that is a freedom. However, biblical freedom speaks of liberty to fulfil ideals rather than the absence of responsibility.

Peter pointedly addresses this very real conflict by cautioning believers in these words, “Not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as bondservants of God.” What is in view is the attitude of Christians—believers are to “live as people who are free.” Having been freed from sin’s dominion, Christians were free to choose to live in a way that honours God. Calvin states that the Christian life “is a free servitude, and a serving freedom.” [3]

The issue comes down to the fact that we who are called by the Name of Christ are called to act responsibly and in liberty. We are not to do what is right because we are compelled to do so. Neither are we to live in craven fear of what repercussions may arise from the various institutions should we not fulfil their expectations. We are not to endeavour to be good citizens solely because we are compelled to do so; we are to seek to be good citizens because we choose to do so, thus honouring God. Likewise, our labour is not to be grudgingly offered in exchange for remuneration; we are to provide honourable service because our desire is to honour the Lord. In all of life, as worshippers of the True and Living God we are responsible to discover the will of God whatever the endeavour and then boldly do that which is pleasing to Him. We are not to be good husbands and good wives because we have to do so; we are to be the best possible husbands and wives because we choose to do so, honouring God.

Focus on the three specific areas just named to provide examples from the Word. Christians are taught to be good citizens. This is not because government compels us to obey; it is because we choose to live as free people, choosing to obey in so far as obedience honours God. This is the essence of Paul’s teaching to the Roman Christians. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” [ROMANS 13:1-7].

Some time ago, I preached a message on conscience. In the opening paragraphs, I noted that two good reasons for obeying government were given by Paul in this passage from Romans. First, the state has the power of the sword—it can compel obedience. However, the higher, nobler reason for obedience is “for the sake of conscience.” [4] This is the same concept that Peter presents in our text. In so far as we avoid dishonouring God, we are to be obedient citizens. This is a matter of freedom for the believer; we are responsible rather than reactionary.

Respecting the labour force, whether as employers or as employees, we have a principle that is set throughout the Word of God. To those in positions of authority, Paul commands “Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven” [COLOSSIANS 4:1]. The injunction is repeated in the Ephesian encyclical: “Masters, [treat your slaves in a godly fashion], and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him” [EPHESIANS 6:9].

Admittedly, these two passages speak of bondservants, or indentured servants, and their masters rather than addressing what we know in the modern context as employees and employers; however, the principle of treating those who work for an individual is established. What is presented continues the principle established under the Law. Remember these verses: “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning” [LEVITICUS 19:13]. This principle is iterated in another place. “You shall give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets (for he is poor and counts on it), lest he cry against you to the LORD, and you be guilty of sin” [DEUTERONOMY 24:15].

Though the passage is presented in the context of salvation, Paul uses the principle of a fair wage for a fair day’s work to make a point. “To the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due” [ROMANS 4:4]. The principle of a fair wage paid in timely fashion is emphasised through James’ condemnation of unjust employers. “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” [JAMES 5:4].

Those who were compelled to work received specific instructions. “Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free” [EPHESIANS 6:5-8].

This injunction is echoed in the Letter to Colossian Christians. “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality” [COLOSSIANS 3:22-25].

Of course, were employers and employees just in their dealings with one another, not motivated by greed, but rather motivated by a desire to honour the Master, conflicts between labour and management would be a thing of the past. Unfortunately, we do live in a fallen world, and greed does define our world to a distressing degree. It is a principle of the Word that “The labourer deserves his wages” [cf. 1 TIMOTHY 5:18]. It is an equally valid principle that the employer is to treat those employed honourably and with respect.

The following passage is written to encourage support for those who labour at the sacred desk; nevertheless, the principle is applicable to all labour. “Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop” [1 CORINTHIANS 9:7-10].

I do not wish to belabour the point of responsibility within the marriage relationship; however, it will be beneficial to recall the instructions that are provided in the Word of God. Without excessive commentary, consider again the words that Paul has written to the Ephesians. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” [EPHESIANS 5:22-33].

I will only add to this what the Apostle wrote to the Church in Colossae and what Peter has written. “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” [COLOSSIANS 3:18, 19]. “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” [1 PETER 3:1-7].

Woven throughout these passages is the principle of freedom within marriage. It is frequently said that marriage is a fifty-fifty proposition; marriage is not a fifty-fifty proposition—it is one hundred ten-one hundred ten proposition. By this, I mean that both wives and husbands must voluntarily commit to one another, respecting the different positions the other occupies and focused on fulfilling her or his own position within the marriage relationship. Both husbands and wives will be compelled to work hard to make marriage work. Moreover, either must labour freely, or they will only generate resentment.

MISUSE OF FREEDOM — Repeatedly in Scripture, the believer is cautioned against misusing the freedom that God gives. Consider just a few instances that should be immediately apparent. We’ve already noted GALATIANS 5:13, but take note of that verse again, paying particular attention to the closing clause. “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Your freedom should lead you to adopt an attitude of service to other believers. This means in great measure that you must consider the impact of your actions, your choices, your words, on fellow believers. “You are not your own,” the Apostle warns, “for you were bought with a price” [1 CORINTHIANS 6:19b, 20a].

In another place in that same letter, Paul is speaking of the right each Christian has to eat what they want, and by extension he is speaking of the right of each Christian to do whatever they want. However, he gives a caveat. “Not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ” [1 CORINTHIANS 8:7-12]. Pay special attention to the NINTH VERSE: “take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”

I will cite one final verse in this context of cautioning to accept responsibility for others. Again looking at the First Corinthian Letter, Paul writes, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” [1 CORINTHIANS 10:31-33].

We live in increasingly difficult times, especially if we live christianly. There has been a dynamic transformation of western culture within a few short decades. One need but contrast popular entertainment of the fifties with that of this present day to verify the reality of the change that has occurred. A few short decades past, it would have been unthinkable that songs would glorify calling women degrading names, exult in violent sexual acts or even exalt violence. Had such a song played on the radio and any dad heard such attestations, he would have beaten the radio into a pulp and tossed it out with the trash. Movies would not have included gratuitous cursing, dismissing it as colourful language. Neither would movies have depended upon sexual scenes to carry the story line as is commonly done today. Until very recently, no self-respecting parent would have allowed his or her child to go to a movie house to watch such pornography. Today, we not only allow such pornographic activities to be introduced to our children, but we actively seek it out as entertainment! Mothers would have been embarrassed should their child be educated via advertising of the possibility of erectile dysfunction or vaginal discomfort; children today know the commercials by heart and parents watch passively as their children are educated in such perverted concepts in their own living rooms.

These are the more dangerous aspects of contemporary life; they are dangerous precisely because we who are Christians misuse and abuse the freedom we enjoy in Christ. We have permitted ourselves to become indistinguishable from the world. Our grandparents and our parents lived in an era when civility reigned. In an earlier, more genteel day, men would not swear in front women or children. Today, women swear as much as do men, flinging our salacious comments and what Paul identifies as “filthiness,” “foolish talk” and “crude joking” [EPHESIANS 5:4]. Candidly, the speech of my drill instructors at Quantico was less vulgar than that coming from the mouths of many women in this day.

Mothers, to say nothing of fathers, would have insisted that their daughters must be modest in dress and deportment in that earlier day. Today, parents not only permit their daughters to dress immodestly, but they rush them into dress that can only be described as lascivious and then train them to act in sexually provocative fashion. I’m not speaking of those identified with this dying world; I’m speaking of those who profess to know the Lord Christ! This can be nothing less than misuse of the freedom we enjoy in Christ the Lord!

I still recall the disappointment when a librarian in Burnaby gave a book to my daughter. The book was from the juvenile fiction section of the library. I had a habit of reviewing almost every book my children read, and that was quite a feat as they checked out between twenty and thirty books each week. I was astonished to discover that the pages of this book were replete with suggestive situations and language that we did not permit in our home. I immediately took the book back to the library and delivered it to the children’s librarian.

I suggested that she likely was not familiar with the book, but that the language was less than civil and that the situations were sure to influence children negatively. That heifer first suggested that I likely didn’t have as much education as she did and proudly stated that it was great literature. I admit that I responded somewhat aggressively when I said, “Lady, I have an earned doctorate in biochemistry, read four languages, have taught in several universities both in Canada and in the United States and been to a Mexican goat roping. Perhaps it is you that is lacking in education!”

I followed up that tact by asking whether she had children. She responded that she had two daughters. “And do you permit them to read such tripe?” I inquired. She replied that she had taken this particular book and others by the same author, home so her daughters could read it when it had first arrived.

“Woman,” I said, “it is people like you that will come crying to a pastor in a few short years, whinging and crying that you can’t do a thing with your daughters and wondering if they can have an abortion. You’ll complain that the church has done nothing for your daughters. When you come, I hope your pastor tells you, ‘Pbbbth!’”

Let me tell you of what I’m talking about. Lynda and I went to a talent show in a nearby community on one occasion. Four children, girls of no more than eleven years of age, came on stage dressed in provocative clothing singing LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade.” They had all the moves of Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya and Pink as performed in their video. The children sang, “Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir.” For me, agitated already, the final straw that led me to leave the hall was observing the parents of these children applauding and laughing while grown men nodded approvingly watched beady eyed and breathing heavily. Now, I’ll confess that French is not one of my stronger languages, but I do have some comprehension of the language. Had these children spoken that way without singing, their fathers would have been outraged. What was more distressing still were professing Christians in attendance clapping and whistling as though such activity somehow honoured God.

In this day, in a show of breath-taking tolerance, Christians are encouraged to embrace every form of perversion as normal, join with the world in quaffing a cold draught or a hot toddy in order to show that we are not uptight, dressing and speaking indistinguishably from those of this dying world. And we are proud of our descent into irrelevance! Fascinatingly enough, we are traumatised by governments that impose perversion on society as a grave danger, when the greater danger to our culture and to us ourselves is that we misuse our freedom, inviting the judgement of God on ourselves.

FREEDOM AS SERVANTS OF GOD — Look back to the text and think of what Peter has said. “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” [1 PETER 2:16]. Determine to live free. Don’t misuse or abuse your freedom. Now, the Big Fisherman says that “living as servants of God” is the appropriate way to use the freedom we have received in Christ the Lord. The position of a servant is a voluntary position that we are urged to accept.

In the remaining moments, I want us to think of what it means to be a servant of God. Undoubtedly, many will think of those in full-time ministry as servants of God—and that is appropriate. However, Peter is urging each Christian to adopt the position of a servant. Perhaps you will recall Jesus’ words on this subject. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” [MARK 10:45]. On another occasion, the Master found it necessary to correct His disciples. “A dispute also arose among [the disciples], as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And [Jesus] said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves’” [LUKE 22:24-27].

We previously saw that freedom is to be seen as opportunity to serve fellow believers. Refresh your memories by recalling Paul’s admonition to the Christians in the Galatian churches. The Apostle wrote, “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” [GALATIANS 5:13]. What he wrote early in his ministry of providing written instruction to the churches anticipates something that Peter would say to the churches of the Diaspora. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” [1 PETER 4:10, 11]. The overarching principle, then, is to serve one another. In this way, we serve the Risen Saviour.

Early in the message, I spoke of a fourth area in which the Christian is to act with liberty. I named, and I have addressed three areas within which we are to act with freedom—our interaction with government, our freedom in labour and management and the freedom we enjoy within marriage. The fourth specific area Peter addresses is the cultural milieu—society itself. This area is defined by what is permissible in all interactions and what is generally permitted for the purpose of good order to ensure that society remains civil.

Our world is changing at a dizzying pace. Accepted social structures are being transformed, moral standards are being rewritten, even language is being revised. Attitudes that were considered good only a few years past are being recast as wicked; that which was previously thought to be evil is now exalted. The Faith of Christ the Lord is being marginalised both by the constant assault of wicked people and even through legal actions. Increasingly, the preaching of the Word is being censured by people who are offended at the thought of a fixed standard of righteousness. It is as though the warning delivered by Isaiah has arrived in our day:

“Woe to those who call evil good

and good evil,

who put darkness for light

and light for darkness,

who put bitter for sweet

and sweet for bitter!

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,

and shrewd in their own sight!”

[ISAIAH 5:20, 21]

Under such conditions, how shall the worshipper of the Christ live? How shall we who belong to the Son of God respond? Peter has given us the answer we require—we must live as servants of God. I lay no claim to being a prophet, though I am appointed to preach prophetically as a minister of Christ the Lord. Speaking prophetically, I can advise the people of God with confidence to discover the will of God and boldly do the will of God. This decision will set you at variance with society as it is transmogrified into a brave new world; nevertheless, if you will truly be free, you will discover that freedom in Christ.

Invest time familiarising yourself with the Word and do not neglect meeting together. Cultivate the practise of prayer, spending time speaking with the Master. Do not castigate those benighted individuals who are held fast by the bonds of their own sin; reveal the love of God through living freely and consistently point such people to life in the Beloved Son of God.

The role of government is being transformed. Just because this transformation is occurring does not allow us to begin to live as we wish. We are still responsible to honour God, living as free people. Conflict between labour and management grows more pronounced with each passing day. The believer is yet responsible to act as a free individual, choosing to honour the Master and reveal His presence through the manner in which she or he conducts herself or himself. The legal definition of marriage is being distorted in ways we could never have imagined even one decade past. That does not exempt us from practising freedom to be godly within our own marriages. As our culture is revamped, we are still citizens of Heaven. Living as free people, we honour the Master and look for His return. Though wickedness abounds, through Christ our Lord, grace abounds all the more in us. May God give us wisdom. May God be glorified in our lives. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version  2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] Cf. Tertullian, “Ad Nationes,” Translated by Peter Holmes in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe (eds.), (Christian Literature Company, Buffalo, NY 1885) 111-27

[3] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Logos Bible Software, Bellingham, WA 2010) 84

[4] See Michael Stark, “Christian Conscience and the State,” August 14, 2011, http://newbeginningsbaptist.ca/clientimages/42652/sermonarchieve/romans 13.05 christian conscience and the state.pdf

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