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He had no one to help him become a lawyer or a politician. He was not interested in the army. He had no desire to be a doctor. Therefore, the only obvious career move in those days for a man of his background was to become a clergyman in the Church of England.
He tried to make himself acceptable to God by keeping the whole law, inward and outward. He got up early. He prayed. He denied himself. He tried to earn forgiveness and peace by increased effort. But he ‘groaned under a heavy yolk’.
On 24 May, 1738 at 8.45am he heard someone reading a book by the great reformer, Martin Luther. He later recalled, ‘While he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given [to] me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’
John Wesley became one of the greatest preachers ever, preaching over 40,000 sermons centred on freedom through faith in Jesus Christ. He had, as he put it, ‘exchanged the faith of a servant for the faith of a son’.
Jesus Christ is the supreme liberator, and becoming a Christian is the supreme act of liberation. ‘Freedom’ is the word that best sums up the Christian life.
1. Cry out to God for freedomPsalm 108:6-13
‘Save us and help us with your right hand, that those you love may be delivered’ (v.6). To be saved is to be set free. The psalmist knows that God loves us, and he prays that God will help and save.
‘Give us help for the hard task;
human help is worthless.
In God we’ll do our very best’
Lord, thank you that you love us, aid us and set us free. Thank you so much for all the ways in which you have helped us in the past. Lord, today I pray for your help with ...
2. Live the free life made possible by JesusGalatians 4:21-5:6
According to Paul’s teaching in today’s passage, freedom comes through Jesus Christ. His message is that we are not ‘born free’ but that in order to be free, we must be ‘born again’. True freedom is found in a life of faith in Christ.
True freedom cannot be found outside of this rebirth. Other ideas of freedom fail because they fail to realise the true nature of our captivity. A belief in freedom as the birthright of a particular group of people has often given birth to malignant nationalism and racism. It has produced some of the gravest evils of recent times, including Nazism and the apartheid. In reality, we need to be born again to be truly free.
Despite this failure to understand what freedom really is, the world does indeed long for freedom. The title of the film Cry Freedom expresses something we all long for. Whether it’s racial and political freedom (as in the case of this film), free speech, free assembly, free worship, a free conscience, or economic freedom and individual freedom, the whole world cries out for freedom.
All of these forms of freedom are important, but you can have them all and still be in slavery. Alternatively, you can have none of them but still be free. The gospel contains within it the promise of other forms of freedom, but it begins with a freedom that is more profound than any other.
‘Christ has set us free to live a free life’ (5:1, MSG). Jesus sets us free to live a life of freedom, faith and love through the Spirit. Paul’s opponents, ‘the Judaisers’, boasted about the fact that they were Abraham’s children. Paul used an allegorical argument to confront them. (It is interesting to note in passing that Paul was quite happy to interpret the Old Testament figuratively, 4:24).
Paul said to his opponents that there are two ways in which we can live. There are two covenants: ‘You boast of being Abraham’s children – but Abraham actually had two children – one in bondage and one in freedom.’ True descent from Abraham is not physical, but spiritual. It is not enough to have Abraham as your father. The crucial question is, ‘Who is your mother?’
He argued that by his opponents’ insistence on the law, they were, in fact, children of Hagar. This analogy represents the old covenant, the present city of Jerusalem, Ishmael, the child of the flesh, and a life of bondage (v.25). This is the life John Wesley experienced before his conversion. It is a life of frustration and failure, confusion and defeat.
To be a Christian, on the other hand, is to be a child not only of Abraham, but also of Sarah. Sarah represents the new covenant, the new Jerusalem (‘the Jerusalem that is above’, v.26), Isaac (the child of promise, v.28) and the freedom that is in Christ. This is what Wesley experienced the day he trusted in Christ and Christ alone for salvation. His heart was ‘strangely warmed’. This is the way of peace, joy and freedom.
(Incidentally, this passage is the origin of Mothering Sunday – which has morphed into Mother’s Day. Paul saw the Jerusalem described above as a representation of the Christian church, as foretold in Isaiah 54:1, and ‘she is our mother’ (Galatians 4:26), ie the church is our mother. Mothering Sunday was originally a day when Christians celebrated this fact.)
Paul pointed out that just as Ishmael ridiculed Isaac (see Genesis 21:9), the Galatians who are ‘born by the power of the Spirit’ (v.29) should not be surprised that they are being persecuted by these ‘Judaisers’.
He concluded his argument in this section by saying, ‘We are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman’ (v.31). He continued, ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery’ (5:1–2). The picture is of an ox bowed down with a heavy harness.
‘Circumcision’ was the theological symbol standing for a religion of law (vv.2–3). Paul argued that to add circumcision is to lose Christ. To seek to be justified by works is to fall away from grace (v.4).
The Christian life is a life of faith. We do not work for our salvation; we wait for it (v.5). Meanwhile, ‘The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love’ (v.6b).
Lord, thank you for setting us free in order that we might live a life of freedom. Thank you for the freedom the Holy Spirit brings to our lives. Help us express our faith in love.
3. Tell everyone the good news of freedom through Jesus ChristIsaiah 44:24-46:13
God’s love extends to every person, of every nation, from the moment of conception onwards. Part of his original plan in choosing Israel was that they would bring his blessing to all people (Genesis 12:3).
God is the creator of the heavens and the earth. He is our maker. There is no other. The book of Isaiah repeats this over and over again for emphasis. Ten times this passage says, ‘There is no other.’
God is our maker. He ‘formed you in the womb’ (Isaiah 44:24). God’s love extends before birth to conception and the womb; this has profound implications for how we treat the unborn. Every human being from the moment of conception is created and sustained by God. ‘I have upheld [you] since you were conceived, and have carried [you] since your birth. Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you’ (46:3b–4).
God’s love extends beyond Israel to all the nations as well. Since he is the creator of all, God invites all the nations to participate in salvation and freedom. ‘So turn to me and be helped – saved! – everyone, whoever and wherever you are’ (45:22a, MSG). This promises a freedom greater than any the world can offer or than any nation or people group would forcibly seek to establish for itself.
We get a glimpse here of the entire world bowing before Jesus. ‘Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear’ (v.23b). Paul referred to this verse as a reference to Jesus (Philippians 2:9 onwards).
This was a foretaste too, of the fact that God will use people who are ‘Gentiles’, that is, non-Jewish. Cyrus was a Persian and yet he is described here as the Lord’s anointed (Isaiah 45:1). Isaiah prophesies, ‘I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free’ (v.13). This prophecy was fulfilled when the exile came to an end through the hand of Cyrus.
This was God’s plan. He said, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfil my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do’ (46:10b–11).
Lord, thank you that from the moment of conception, you love all people regardless of race or background. Thank you that we have here a picture and a foretaste of what Jesus came to do. Thank you that when the nations turn to you, they are saved and set free. Thank you that from the moment of conception, you love all people regardless of race or background.
Thank you that Jesus died to set us free and that, one day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. He is our Lord and supreme liberator.
‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’
It is a wonderful truth; Christ does set us free from sins, addictions, fears and bad habits. I know that freedom myself and have seen many others totally transformed by the reality of this verse. We then have to continue to walk in that freedom and not be tempted back into those old habits, but keep claiming Christ’s freedom and the power of the cross.