Sunday, September 9, 2012

Slave Trade, Pt. 2

(please read Part I before proceeding to read this article)

     Relationships within the framework of government, business, family and church life are all susceptible to the influence of ungodly control.  With the threat of adverse consequences laws can curb unwanted behavior, but they can't rid the human heart of sin, which is a spiritual disease.  Only the blood of Jesus offers humanity forgiveness and deliverance from the bondage of sin.  Slavery and discrimination can be outlawed, but this only masks the true issue in the heart of mankind.  Without the love of God at the center of human affairs, slavery and racism continue in the hearts of men and manifest in relationships all around us.  It's time for the voice of truth and the love of God to break down these walls, beginning in the church.
     You might be surprised to know that in the early church, slavery wasn't even brought into question.  It was woven into the fabric of everyday life, which was guided by the prevailing culture of their time.  In fact, Scripture makes mention of it numerous times without condemning it in the slightest bit.  The New Testament does however give some guidelines for treating slaves fairly, but it doesn't dismiss the notion of slavery altogether (Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22-4:1)
     This doesn't mean that God endorses slavery.  It simply means that the early church had yet to walk into the full revelation of the freedom that Christ has provided for us through the gospel of grace.  Even though the apostle Paul wrote the following verse, I don't think that he fully understood the implications of what he was inspired to pen.
     Galatians 3:28  "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
     The early church also functioned in a culture that didn't value women with the respect they deserve.  But the New Testament records how God began to illuminate them with His thoughts regarding gender.  And the fact that women played a vital role in the church proves that God's revelation was heeded.  (We have also seen this same paradigm shift in our nation in the last century.)
     The first century church also struggled with racial prejudice.  By and large, the Jewish people were esteemed far higher than any other nationality or race.  God had to show Peter a vision 3 times to get his attention regarding his own personal bigotry in this regard.  Upon responding to the voice of the Spirit, he preached to the Gentiles in Cornelius' house and God began yet another transition in the thought processes of the church regarding the freedom that is ours through the grace of Christ.
     Although the Bible is silent on the abolition of slavery, it speaks loud and clear about the spiritual slave trade.  
     Romans 6:17,18  "But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.  And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness."
     I Corinthians 6:19,20  "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's."
     Jesus stood on the auction block of broken humanity and paid the ultimate price for our forgiveness and freedom:  his own blood.  Scripture makes it clear that before we were born again, we were "slaves to sin."  Sin often dictated our decisions without us even knowing what was happening.  Upon believing in the finished work of Christ on the cross and receiving forgiveness of sins, we recognized Jesus as our new Lord (Master) and we became "slaves of righteousness."
     The paradox lies in the fact that although Jesus is now our Lord, we still have the liberty to honor Him through our obedience or to dishonor Him by catering to our own selfish desires.  A thorough reading of Romans 6 informs us that although we are free from sin, we're still responsible to make sure sin doesn't have its way in our lives.
     When we were slaves to sin, we had no choice in the matter.  We sinned because we were sinners driven by the power of sin.  Now that Jesus is our Master, we can exercise the power of choice to resist temptation or to allow sin to bring us under its power.  Not only has our gracious Lord given us this freedom, but He has also given us the power we need to make good choices and to rebound when we don't.  He hasn't set us up for failure.  On the contrary, He promised that "He would never leave us or forsake us," even when we do fail.  Jesus is our Lord and we are free from sin, but we still need to submit to His lordship by following the leading of the Spirit in our everyday lives.  
     It's important for us to realize that we are not exempt from sin just because we are born again.  The fact that our sins have been forgiven doesn't mean that we are out of the reach of sin's influence.  Disobedience to our new Master (Jesus our Righteousness) gives our old master (sin) power to control us contrary to God's will.  It's our responsibility to disallow the influence of sin in our lives by allowing the Spirit of God to take the lead in our decisions.
     Romans 6:12-14  "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.  And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.  For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law but under grace."  
     I Corinthians 6:12  "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.  All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any."
     Galatians 5:1  "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage."
     Now would be a great time to point out that grace doesn't make sin permissible.  Grace actually empowers us to overcome the temptation to allow sin to reign in our lives.  That is, if we continually access God's grace by faith, the ministry of the Holy Spirit will supply us with the strength to walk in ever-increasing dominion over sin in our lives.  Presenting ourselves (our spirit man) and our members (all other faculties) to God through personal devotion and daily communion gives Him the opportunity to infuse His life into us.  This divine life than changes our focus from the temporary pleasure of sin to what really matters.  And when our focus is shifted away from ourselves and our failures towards Jesus and His perfect provision, we can live in the freedom that is available to us.
     The beautiful irony is that we are called to be slaves of righteousness and masters of sin simultaneously!  Yet many professing Christians willingly submit to the slavery of sin while clinging to the mastery of their own lives.  If these same believers would choose to surrender to His lordship, their faith would be energized by God's ability to show them what true fulfillment and freedom are really about.  And the more people see the hand of God shape their lives according to heaven's culture, the more they will trust His leading. 
     One thing is certain:  we will reign in this life to the degree that we trust in His righteousness.  This is possible because of the grace He supplies to us through our faith in Him.  Read it for yourselves in the following two verses:
     Romans 5:2,17  "through Whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand...those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ."
     Notice that grace and righteousness are gifts  to be received by faith, not earned by our good works.  Jesus paid it all on Calvary and our faith in His work causes everything we need to be released into our lives.  

(be sure to catch the finale to this series and please share with others!)                   

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