by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 2 Paragraph # 1 Study # 4 March 27, 2011 Dayton, Texas (Download Audio)
(068)Thesis:The issues of "liberty" and "bondage" have primarily to do with the soul's relationship with God and its "anticipation" from Him.
Introduction:In our last study (which was lost after recording), I attempted to provide a basis for reconciling Luke's description of the trouble-makers in Jerusalem as "Pharisees who believed" with Paul's description of the same bunch as "false brethren". I tried to show that multiple assumptions go along with each man's terminology. If a person takes Luke's "belief" terminology and weds it to the teaching that justification is by a single event of faith, Luke would be understood as saying that the Pharisees were justified children of God. That would automatically force Paul's "false brethren" terminology to mean "true brethren" who are acting "falsely" and "against their true identity". On the other hand, if a person takes Paul's "false brethren" terminology and weds it to the biblical teaching that the faith that justifies is also a faith that does not "fail", Paul would be understood as saying that the Pharisees were not justified because their "faith" did not reach to the point of "justification". That would mean that the "false brethren" were men who called themselves "brethren", but were lying and it would mean that Luke's "belief" terminology meant only that they had accepted the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ but had not accepted the biblical methodology for bringing the truth of Jesus' identity as the Christ to fruition in the life of the person making the claim to faith.
My solution to this terminological dispute was to note that Luke recorded Jesus' teaching that there is such a thing as "believing for a while but cratering in the face of persecution" so that Luke understood "faith for a while" as a deficient "faith". Then we noted that Paul, in his declaration of what the Gospel actually is (1 Corinthians 15:1-11), actually put forth the notion that it might happen that a person "believed in vain" by only "believing for a while". Additionally we noted that the teaching regarding the mark of the beast in the Revelation assumes that "saving faith" does not crater in the face of the threats associated with that mark. Thus, Luke's "Pharisees which believed" and Paul's "false brethren" both describe men whose "faith" had not progressed enough to bring about a decree of justification from God.
This evening we are going to proceed under the assumption that Paul's description of the men as "false brethren" means unsaved men who are under the double curse of Galatians 1:8-9. If we link Luke's record of Acts 15:5 (where he pointedly said that the men he had described as having "believed" did not believe in Paul's Gospel) to Paul's claim that anyone who received circumcision as a matter of necessity for justification would find that Christ's death would bring them no benefit (Galatians 5:2), we will have no trouble understanding the "false brethren" terminology. Nor shall we have any such trouble if we simply look at what Paul declares in our current text about their objectives.
I. The Dishonest Desire to Find the Flaws in Paul's Gospel.
A. Paul declared that these "false brethren" came in under false pretenses.
B. He went on to declare that their goal was "to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus".
1. The first issue in this declaration is raised by the word translated "to spy out".
a. This term is in an intensified form and only exists in this form this one time in the New Testament.
b. The unintensified form is, likewise, only found once in the New Testament, but its use is clear from the context (Hebrews 11:31).
c. The conclusion for our understanding is this: one of the issues of Paul's description of his opponents is that they were deliberately underhanded so that they might have access to the discussions for the purpose of ferreting out the weaknesses in Paul's arguments so that they might undercut them and overturn his teaching of justification by faith apart from human performance issues.
1) We have no recourse from these words but to understand that Paul's opponents did not believe in justification by faith alone.
2) With no other options, we are compelled to view these dishonest spies as men whose claim to "brotherhood" was "false".
2. The second issue in this declaration is raised by the word translated "liberty".
a. This term is used multiple times throughout the New Testament and has plenty of contexts to give us the particular meaning involved.
b. Romans 8:21 identifies "liberty" as a freedom from "the bondage to corruption".
1) This particular phrase refers to the gradual loss of vitality that leads to being able to do less and less.
2) Ultimate "corruption" is the absolute inability to "execute", or use "energy" to accomplish some task.
3) By default, then, "liberty" is the ability to continually draw "power" from Elohim (the Source of all Power) to pursue various and sundry tasks.
c. 1 Corinthians 10:29 identifies "liberty" as a "freedom to act without real guilt, or, even a sense of guilt".
d. 2 Corinthians 3:17 declares that "liberty" exists wherever the Spirit of the Lord is actively functioning.
1) This is highly enlightening in that it reveals the Source of "liberty" (as the ability to possess and use "power" to pursue one's tasks): God's Spirit.
2) This strongly implies that "liberty" is not to be found anywhere else.
3) The "flesh" cannot sustain any kind of incoming "power", nor can any created thing [God is, alone, the Executor of Power in the sense of sustaining the level of power so there is no "corruption"].
e. Both Paul (Galatians 5:13) and Peter (1 Peter 2:16) caution against using one's "liberty" to do evil.
1) This adds another dimension to "liberty": it is not merely the sustained ability to use energy in the pursuit of one's goals, nor is it the ability to be guilt-free after such use; this text reveals that it is the ability to do evil without some form of negative consequence.
2) Since there is an inevitable negative consequence to every evil action, we must ask what "form" of negative consequence is disallowed by God when a believer does evil?
3) The only form which the New Testament identifies is that form which the death of Christ for sins disallows for those who have believed: divine judicial retribution.
4) There can be no "wrath" for those whose sins are covered by the death of Christ through faith.
5) Therefore, it is possible for a believer to use his/her "liberty" (as freedom from the wrath of God) to do evil. Believers can do evil and never face judicial retribution. That is not to say, however, that there are not things other than divine judicial retribution that will come into play when a believer does evil (divine discipline, the kick-back of a cause/effect world, spiritual bondage, emotional crises, physical deterioration, loss of place in the coming Kingdom, etc., etc.).
f. 2 Peter 2:19 details another facet of "liberty": freedom from the compulsion to do self/other-destructive things.
g. The bottom line of "liberty" seems to be this: the ability to do what one genuinely wishes to do without the repercussions of guilt, condemnation, or the withdrawal of power by the Spirit [in other words, he/she is "free" who wishes to do good, has the power to do good, and acts upon those wishes with that power].
3. The third issue in this declaration is the question of what impact "liberty" is supposed to have in the life of a believer.
a. The answer is fundamentally rooted in God's fixation upon bringing a Kingdom of Love into existence.
b. Since the fall, man has been totally self-absorbed in his pursuit of self-preservation.
c. The only thing that can deliver man from this objective is God's promise that his "preservation" is a sealed reality [this is the reason for the promise of Eternal Life].
d. The "liberty" of the believer is the reality of his relationship to the Grace of God as opposed to the Justice of God.
e. Thus, "liberty" is designed by God to set a believer free from his/her pursuit of "Life" on the basis of self-preservation.