Sunday, December 14, 2014

Gathering for Freedom

Our congregation’s worship leader sent me an e-mail last week describing several events going on this Lord’s Day. A community announcement in our little Southwest town invited people to “Happy Heathen Sunday,” a get-together by the “Atheist Meet-Up” group. Among other things, as this group gathers at a downtown coffee shop, they’ll “enjoy being terrible people who get to do what they like on Sunday morning.”

Sounds like freedom, doesn’t it? In opposition to the (maybe) 5% of the people in this city who will attend church this morning, these radical non-conformists will join the other 95% in following the dictates of their own desires. They’re only unique in that they’re being open and public about it. Are they really free, though?

Romans 6. Christian baptism denies their enjoyment is a reality. They may be doing “what they like,” but it’s the only thing they can do; not quite the libertine party they advertise it to be.

“ many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin” (Romans 6:3-7, N.K.J.V.).

“Slaves of sin,” needing to be “freed from sin.”

“ not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts” (6:12). Prior to baptism “into Christ Jesus,” sin reigned in the mortal body, and there was no option but to “obey it in its lusts.”

“ not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin” (6:13). Prior to baptism “into Christ Jesus,” there was no option but to “present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin.”

“Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 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...just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness...what fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:16-19,21-23). Prior to baptism “into Christ Jesus,” nobody is free “to do what they like.” Well, let me clarify that. They are totally free “to do what they like,” as long as it’s “uncleanness,” “lawlessness,” and “sin.” We cannot pursue God’s “cleanness” apart from His Word (John 15:3) and baptism (Hebrews 10:22). Apart from Christ, we are not only breakers of God’s Law, but we hate God’s Law. Apart from Christ, we are “slaves to sin.” We can be nothing else.

On the Lord’s Day, grow in your knowledge of “that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.” Gather together with those who are “slaves of righteousness for holiness,” who are “slaves of God” bearing “fruit to holiness.” Gather with those “baptized into Christ Jesus.”

“Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ They answered Him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone [see Exodus 13:3,14; 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6; 6:12; 7:8; 8:14; 13:5,10; Judges 6:8; Micah 6:4]. How can You say, “You will be made free”?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:31-36).

How does the Son make us “free”? By the abiding “in [Christ’s] word” as His “disciples indeed.” Gather together in the Word.

One of the first Christian books I read was Chuck Colson’s The Body (Word Publishing, 1992). It took a while for the message of the book to sink in, but as I’ve read it repeatedly over the last few decades, I’ve come to love it more and more. I wish I would’ve grabbed on to its theme sooner. There’s a passage in the book where a former Soviet citizen describes the efforts to erase God and her reaction to these efforts (pg. 76):

Today Irina was wondering, as she often had, why the teacher even bothered with the truckloads of words she was dumping from the front of the room. “God doesn’t exist,” the instructor said again. “Only silly old women believe in Him.”

Can’t they tell they are giving themselves away? thought Irina. Adults tell you there are no gremlins or ghosts. They tell you once or twice, that’s it. But with God, they tell you over and over again. So He must exist – and He must be very powerful for them to fear Him so greatly.

The Psalmist points this out, as well: “All his thoughts are, ‘there is no God’” (10:4, N.A.S.B.). This confession must be so constantly repeated because its assertion is counter to the way any part of the creation behaves. “...since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:20, N.K.J.V.). “The things that are made” include the human brain, which is why Paul also says in the following verse that even idolaters and atheists “knew God.” They are “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them” (1:18,19). The work of the atheist is constant and never done, because it is a continual denial of the reality hard-wired into their very being. Must be exhausting. Especially when you must live up to the advertisement and “enjoy” your gathering under this banner.

I’m glad they made the announcement, and I absolutely support their freedom to gather and say whatever they want to say. I would never take it away from them or support anyone who desired to do so. In fact, they are being exceedingly helpful to the Gospel cause. They are conformists to the uttermost, since the vast majority of the population will be doing exactly what they are doing, be they confessing Christians or not. Most will spend this Sunday morning doing whatever they feel like doing, whatever they perceive will bring them the most enjoyment. The “happy” atheists are just being open and honest about it, reminding all who do obey the Scriptures’ command to gather for Christ’s glory on this third Sunday of Advent that our little town is a vital mission field. The self-described “heathen” are a God-given catalyst to prompt us to prayer and even greater efforts at evangelistic outreach to our neighbors, friends, and maybe even church members who get around to the Gathering if there’s nothing better to do on their plate.

And part of me, that part I’m not too sure about (he’s a weird mix of orneriness and zeal for the house of God), thinks, “I’ll wonder how long it would take to overwhelming outnumber the public atheistic gatherings in coffeehouses with Bible studies planted and supported by local churches?”

Not long, I suspect. Maybe it’s time to find out.

Gather, Church, this third Sunday of Advent, and rejoice in the coming of God to earth...then become a signpost pointing to this utterly unique and saving act by going out to be light in the darkness of your city.
Ormoc City, Leyte, Philippines (May 2014)

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