The Freedom that is Found “in Christ”

The apostle Paul often teaches that Christians are “united with Christ” (Romans 6:3-5, Galatians 3:27, Romans 8:1-2, Corinthians 5:17). To be united with Christ means that we actually share in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In other words, His death becomes our death, and His resurrection becomes our resurrection. What is the significance of this? Paul uses a number of metaphors to explain.

Those who yield to sin’s temptations are depicted as “slaves” to sin (Romans 6:16). Jesus uses similar language: “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34, NIV). This analogy explains how yielding to sinful influences actually begins to corrupt our hearts and minds (Galatians 6:8). Patterns become established and reinforced—patterns that hold us in a form of bondage. In the ancient world, a slave was legally bound to the service of his or her master. This legal contract, however, was nullified by death. Using the metaphor of slavery, Paul explains that when we share in Christ’s death, we are set free from our former master (Romans 6:3-10). We are no longer under any obligation to “obey” sinful thoughts or impulses. Temptation will still come, but in Christ we are free to say “no.”

At this point it may be helpful to explain exactly what “sin” is, from a biblical perspective. God’s hope and plan for humanity is that we will know and experience His love, that we will love Him in return, and that we will love our neighbor as we love ourselves (1 John 4:7-21, Luke 10:27). “Sin” is the opposite of love. Love does no harm to its neighbor (Romans 13:10). Sin, on the other hand, harms neighbors, harms self and grieves the loving heart of God (Ephesians 4:30).

Through the prophets, the apostles and the Messiah, God reveals that sin will one day come to an end. God will not allow it to continue indefinitely. The reign of sin can end in a person’s life through one of two ways: salvation or judgment. “In Christ,” we are set free from sin. Its reign is ended, and there is no need for judgment. In Christ, we are not only free from sin, we are also forgiven (Colossians 1:13-14).

In Christ, we also share in Jesus’ resurrection (Romans 6:5). Continuing with his slavery metaphor, Paul explains that while we are dead to our former master (sin), we are now made alive to live in the service of a new master–God. Jesus describes this as a “new birth,” a miracle accomplished by God’s Holy Spirit (John 3:3-21). God is not, however, looking for slaves; he is looking for friends (John 15:15). We are free to know, experience and share the love of God that we find “in Christ.” We can know and share the love of God in this life, and throughout eternity, since for those who are united with Christ, there will be no judgment (John 3:16-18).

How are we united with Christ? How do we share in his death and resurrection? How are we freed from sin and judgment to love and be loved for eternity? Jesus, Paul, John and others teach us through the New Testament that we are united with Christ by faith (John 3:16, 1 John 4:14-16, Romans 10:9-13). In other words, when we trust that Jesus is the Savior who came and died to free us from sin and judgment, the Holy Spirit unites us with Christ, and we are “born again” (John 3:3-8).

Paul uses yet another metaphor to explain this. When we are united with Christ by faith, we “put off” the sinful patterns that held us in their grip, like we would take off a soiled garment. We then “put on Christ” and his righteousness (Ephesians 4:22-24, Galatians 3:27). The analogy of “putting on Christ” can also be found in the following parables of Jesus:

The Prodigal Son:
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:11-24, NIV)

When the son turned away from his sinful life and returned home to his father, the first thing his father did was hug him, kiss him and call for the “best robe” to be put on him. This is an analogy of being “clothed with Christ.”

The Wedding Feast:
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (Matthew 22:1-13, NRSV)

All are welcome to a feast of celebration in the Kingdom of Heaven. It does not matter what we have done or not done, or how we have lived our lives in the past. What matters is that we are willing to be “clothed with Christ.” God loves every single human being and welcomes us all to the feast. To our heavenly Father, we are all loved and precious. “Sin,” however, like a soiled garment must be left outside.

Union with Christ does not just make us appear righteous; it begins to transform us from the inside out. To explain this, Paul uses yet another metaphor. He compares those who share in Christ’s resurrection to the Temple of God that stood in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Peter 2:5). When we are united with Christ by faith, God’s Holy Spirit comes to dwell in the Holy of Holies of our hearts. From here, God teaches, comforts, leads, loves and works to transform us more and more into the loved and loving people he created us to be (Romans 12:1-2, John 14:15-17, John 16:12-15). Sinful patterns no longer have dominion over us, and we can begin to shed them from our lives (Colossians 3:8-11). The Bible repeatedly compares sinful patterns of living to the “flesh” that is removed in the Jewish rite of circumcision (Deuteronomy 30:6, Romans 2:29). As we learn to “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16), old patterns begin to be replaced by new patterns of thinking and behavior, which are described (in yet another metaphor) as the “fruit” of the Holy Spirit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things” (Galatians 5:22-23, NRSV).

Contrary to what bad theology tells us, humanity is not perceived as a loathsome, “damnable mass of sin” (Augustine, Letter to Simplicianus 1.2.16).  This is the language of shame. We are God’s dearly loved creation: “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NRSV). God does, however, truly “hate” sin. The sin that envelops us is hated because it does harm to God’s creation—the children that he loves. Enveloping sin becomes a false self that is once again depicted as a soiled garment that must be removed from the person that God loves: “Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you’” (Zechariah 3:3-4, NIV).

Jesus loves us so much that he became a human being and died to free us from sin, to clothe us with his righteousness, and to invite us to live with him in his Kingdom of Love forever. This wonderful message of hope is what is known as the “gospel,” which means “Good News.”

The Good News is that God offers each of us love, forgiveness, righteousness, freedom and eternal life. The Bible calls this “salvation” (1 Peter 1:8-9). It is a gift that each of us may receive by willingly sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, through faith (John 1:12).

If you wish to receive God’s gift of salvation, you may express your faith in Jesus Christ by saying the following prayer:

Dear Jesus,

Thank you that you died on the cross and rose again so that I might be freed from sin and forgiven. I trust in you as my Savior. Please send your Holy Spirit into my heart, so that I might know how much you love me and how valuable I am in your sight. Help me to love you with all my heart, soul, mind and strength; and teach me to love my neighbor as I love myself. Deliver me from sinful patterns of thinking and behavior, and help my life to become filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Thank you that because of your death and resurrection, I can be “clothed with Christ” and spend eternity with you in heaven. Amen.

Why Did He Do It? Remembering the First Palm Sunday

On Palm Sunday, we remember the day Jesus entered Jerusalem, knowing that he would then be captured and crucified.  On the way to the holy city, one of Jesus’ disciples (Peter) begged him not to go.  He was aware that Jesus was a hunted man.  The religious leaders of the day felt threatened by Jesus’ popularity.  Hoping to silence him and protect their “monopoly on religion,” they plotted his death.

…And Jesus rode into their hands on the back of a young donkey.  Why did he do it?

Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  This was the special day of the year when every Jewish person remembered how God delivered  Israel from slavery to Pharaoh, and when God’s judgment “passed over” them.  This story can be found in the book of Exodus.  Israel had been in Egypt for more than 400 years.  For much of this time, they had been forced into slavery.  When they cried out for deliverance, God answered.

Moses was chosen as God’s messenger to Pharaoh.  God’s message was, “Let My People Go.”  Pharaoh refused.  God responded by sending 10 judgments on Pharaoh and Egypt, the last of which was death.  To be spared from God’s final judgment, every Israelite was instructed to place the blood of a “Passover Lamb” on their doorposts.  Placing this mark on their homes was an act of faith.  When death visited Egypt, it “passed over” all the homes marked with the blood of a flawless lamb.  God’s judgment passed over Israel, and Pharaoh finally allowed them to leave.  Israel was free.  They left slavery, death and the false gods of Egypt behind.

When a prophet known as John the Baptist first saw Jesus, he called out, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  When Jesus entered Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday, he did it not just to celebrate the Passover, but also to become humanity’s Passover Lamb.  This time, however, it was not just Israel that could be freed from slavery; it was the whole world.  It was not just Israel that could have their sins “passed over”; everyone on earth–past, present and future–can now experience freedom and forgiveness.

The apostle Paul explains to us how Jesus accomplished this extraordinary miracle. Everyone who trusts (has faith) in Jesus as humanity’s Passover Lamb is “united with Christ” by the Spirit of God.  This means that his death becomes our death.  The judgment due to everyone who has been a servant of sin passes over us, because in Christ, we have already died.  As far as our former master (sin) is concerned, we are dead and therefore freed from any further obligation to serve.  United with Christ through faith, we also share in Jesus’ resurrection.  We rise again with Christ–free and forgiven–to live new lives “in fellowship with God.”  Rather than being “slaves to sin,” we are now called “sons and daughters of God.”  God even sends his own Holy Spirit to live within us, to teach us just how much we are loved by God, and to help us learn to love one another as we have been loved.  Freedom, forgiveness and eternal life with a God of love–all of these things belong to everyone who is united with Christ through faith.

Why did Jesus enter Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday, knowing that it would lead to his death?  He did it to free us from our sins so that we might know and share the love of God forever.

Happy Palm Sunday.

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'” (John 1:29)

“Christ, our Passover Lamb, was sacrificed for us.” (1 Corinthians 5:7)

“When you were the slaves of sin, you were free from righteousness.  What did you gain from doing the things that you are now ashamed of?  The result of those things is death… For sin pays its wage—death; but God’s free gift is eternal life in union with Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:20-23)

“It is through faith that all of you are God’s children in union with Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26)

“For when we die, we are set free from the power of sin. Since we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that Christ has been raised from death and will never die again—death will no longer rule over him. And so, because he died, sin has no power over him; and now he lives his life in fellowship with God. In the same way you are to think of yourselves as dead, so far as sin is concerned, but living in fellowship with God through Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:7-11)

 

Recovering the Gospel from Patriarchal Theology

What is “the gospel”? In other words, what is the “Good News about Jesus” that Christians are encouraged to embrace and share with a fallen world? According to patriarchal theology, the “Good News” is that Jesus lived, died and rose again so that men could be restored to their proper place of authority over women.

In an article entitled “Genesis Gender and Ecclesial Womanhood,” Owen Strachan, President of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, portrays God’s plan for humanity strictly in terms of male authority and female submission:

“The Lord takes Eve from Adam, forming her from his rib (Gen. 2:21). Her substance proceeds from his, an elegant reality which underscores that Eve’s physical safety derives from Adam’s masculine strength.”

“Adam is in every respect the initiator, the leader, the one who bears the weight of responsibility for himself and others before God” (Gen. 2:24-25).

Strachan further explains that “sin” occurs when men fail to lead, and women “assume” male authority:

“Everything falls apart in the fall. Adam fails to lead and protect Eve. Eve is deceived by the serpent and assumes the role of leader (Gen 3:1-13). In short, the fall itself involves an inversion of God’s plans for men and women.” (http://9marks.org/article/genesis-gender-and-ecclesial-womanhood/)

Do the Bible passages cited by Owen Strachan actually state that “Eve’s physical safety derives from Adam’s masculine strength”? Do they say that “Adam is in every respect…the leader”? Is Eve ever accused of wrongly usurping male authority? Let’s examine the passages mentioned to see for ourselves:

Genesis 2:21 – “Then the LORD God made the man fall into a deep sleep, and while he was sleeping, he took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the flesh.” There is actually no mention in this passage of Eve deriving physical safety from Adam’s masculinity.

Genesis 2:24-25 – “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united with his wife, and they become one. The man and the woman were both naked, but they were not embarrassed.” There is no mention here that Adam is a leader, an initiator, or that he is responsible for the actions of others.

Similarly, in Genesis 3:1-13, there is no language present to indicate that Eve wrongly assumes male authority. Referring to this portion of the Genesis account, the apostle Paul explains that humanity’s fall into sin occurred when they “disobeyed God’s command” (Romans 5:14).

Prior to humanity’s sin of disobedience, the only mention of authority in the Genesis narrative occurs when God gives human beings, both male and female, “charge” over the rest of creation:

“Then God said, ‘And now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us. They will have power over the fish, the birds, and all animals, domestic and wild, large and small.’ So God created human beings, making them to be like himself. He created them male and female, blessed them, and said, ‘Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control. I am putting you in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the wild animals.'” (Genesis 1:26-28, GNT)

In fact, the tendency of men to “rule over” women is described in Genesis 3:16 as a consequence of humanity’s first sin.

The notion that the fall constitutes an inversion of God’s planned authority structure for men and women is not stated in the Bible. Rather, this assumption has been supplied by Owen Strachan. He is not the first theologian or church leader to project a patriarchal worldview onto the book of Genesis. St. Augustine, an incredibly influential theologian from 4th century Rome, made a similar inference:

“When she was made of his rib, Adam said, ‘This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh….’ Flesh, then, is put for woman, in the same manner that spirit is sometimes put for husband. Wherefore? Because the one rules, the other is ruled; the one ought to command, the other to serve. For where the flesh commands and the spirit serves, the house is turned the wrong way. What can be worse than a house where the woman has the mastery over the man? But that house is rightly ordered where the man commands and the woman obeys. In like manner that man is rightly ordered where the spirit commands and the flesh serves.” (On John, Tractate 2 § 14)

As in the case of Owen Strachan’s patriarchal assumptions, the Bible nowhere states that just as the spirit commands and the flesh serves, so too must men rule over women. St. Augustine supplies this inference himself. In his book of Confessions, he identifies the source of his patriarchal worldview; it is not the Bible:

“Simplicianus congratulated me that I had not fallen upon the writings of other philosophers, which were full of fallacies and deceit, ‘after the beggarly elements of this world,’ whereas in the Platonists, at every turn, the pathway led to belief in God and his Word.” (Augustine’s Confessions, Book VIII, Chapter II)

In Plato’s Republic, a “just society” is one in which the “complex pleasures” found in “women, children and servants,” must be “held down by the virtuous desires and wisdom of the few.” The “best born” and the “best educated” men were required to rule the social order, allegedly because of the “general inferiority of the female sex” (http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/plato/republic.pdf).

Do Jesus and his earliest followers truly portray humanity’s fall into sin as “an inversion of God’s plan for men and women”? Do they, like Augustine and Strachan, make sense of God’s plan for humanity through the lenses of Plato’s patriarchal philosophy? Let’s examine the evidence:

“Be under obligation to no one—the only obligation you have is to love one another. Whoever does this has obeyed the Law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery; do not commit murder; do not steal; do not desire what belongs to someone else’—all these, and any others besides, are summed up in the one command, ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ If you love others, you will never do them wrong; to love, then, is to obey the whole Law.” (Romans 13:8-10, GNT)

According to Paul’s letter to the Romans, God’s plan for humanity is “love.” When we love one another as we love ourselves, we “obey the whole Law.” “Sin,” on the other hand, is a violation of God’s law of love. When we sin by breaking any of God’s commandments (e.g. adultery, murder, stealing etc.) we are not acting in love; we do “wrong” (i.e. harm) to ourselves and others.

When asked for an explanation of God’s will by the Teachers of the Law, Jesus provides an answer that is very similar to what we have just read from Paul:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and the most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ The whole Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40, GNT)

God’s plan for humanity is that we love God with all of our being and that we love one another as we love ourselves. No mention is made by Jesus or the apostles about a “just society” based on “male authority.” This patriarchal worldview has been supplied by theologians, who were influenced by human philosophy.

One of Jesus’ original disciples, named John, writes a beautiful epistle that teaches us how we can begin to love God and one another:

“Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. And God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.

Dear friends, if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in union with us, and his love is made perfect in us.

We are sure that we live in union with God and that he lives in union with us, because he has given us his Spirit. And we have seen and tell others that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If we declare that Jesus is the Son of God, we live in union with God and God lives in union with us. And we ourselves know and believe the love which God has for us.” (1 John 4:7-16, GNT)

John tells us that “love comes from God.” He further explains that God revealed his love to humanity by sending his Son “to be the Savior of the world.”

Jesus saves us from our sins through his death and resurrection. In many of his letters to the churches, the apostle Paul explains how each of us can find freedom and forgiveness “in union with Jesus Christ, through faith”:

“For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins; he canceled the unfavorable record of our debts with its binding rules and did away with it completely by nailing it to the cross. And on that cross Christ freed himself from the power of the spiritual rulers and authorities; he made a public spectacle of them by leading them as captives in his victory procession.” (Colossians 2:13-15, GNT)

“For when we die, we are set free from the power of sin. Since we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that Christ has been raised from death and will never die again—death will no longer rule over him. And so, because he died, sin has no power over him; and now he lives his life in fellowship with God. In the same way you are to think of yourselves as dead, so far as sin is concerned, but living in fellowship with God through Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:7-11, GNT)

“It is through faith that all of you are God’s children in union with Christ Jesus. You were baptized into union with Christ, and now you are clothed, so to speak, with the life of Christ himself.” (Galatians 3:26-27, GNT)

When we trust that a God of love sent His Son to be the Savior of the world, we share in Christ’s death and resurrection. We are “dead to sin” and freed from its power. Our sins are forgiven. We are free now to live a new life “in fellowship with God.” We also receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. Using the language of metaphor, the apostle Paul explains that the “fruit” of the Holy Spirit living within us is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. There is no law against such things as these” (Galatians 5:22-23, GNT).

Did the Son of God become a human being, die on a cross and rise again to restore men to their rightful place of authority over women? No, Jesus and the disciples never use such language. Simply put, this is a “different gospel.” Jesus died and rose again to free humanity from sin and to bring us into the kingdom of his love forever:

“We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you. For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all God’s people. When the true message, the Good News, first came to you, you heard about the hope it offers. So your faith and love are based on what you hope for, which is kept safe for you in heaven…

And with joy give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to have your share of what God has reserved for his people in the kingdom of light. He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us safe into the kingdom of his dear Son, by whom we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven.” (Colossians 1:3-14, GNT)

Freedom, forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ (the incarnation of God’s love)–this is the gospel message. I pray that church leaders the world over would no longer confuse the “Good New about Jesus” with patriarchal philosophy:

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8, NIV).

(For a fuller exploration of the gospel message as it was taught by Jesus and his earliest followers, please feel free to read Bob’s new book entitled, “Jesus the Messiah: His Atonement and Return.”)