There are many great thingsthat the gospel gives to those who believe it, but two of the most significant are: an assured hope for the future and the blessing of freedom which results from embracing that hope.
“Hope that is seen is not hope,” says the apostle Paul (Rom. 8: 24), so we wait, trusting in the promises given to Abraham so many years ago. We long for the Lord Jesus Christ, and the establishment of the kingdom. It is the sincere hope of us all that, after a change of nature, we may be granted a place in the new order of things. Of course, this blessing can only be achieved through the mercy and kindness of God: “That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:7-8). Such a wondrous blessing could never be earned by works or by adhering to ritual. Under the terms of the new covenant, everything depends upon faith.
Faith by hearing
We developed our faith not because we learned of God’s plan through human tradition or scholarship but because of the infallible word of God, preserved in the scriptures of truth: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17 NKJ, as are all references).
A good example of this fact is the conversion of the Bereans:
Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived they went into the synagogue of the Jews: these were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed… (Acts 17:10-12).
In a similar way, the Jews of Thessalonica came to a true understanding from the word:
For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe (I Thess. 2:13).
Check it out
Here is one of the fundamental requirements we need to arrive at truth: irrespective of the source or personality, we must check all statements against the word of God. It was the manner by which we came to know of God’s will and purpose and this is the word that abides for ever: “having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (I Pet. 1:23).
Having received the word, it is imperative that we continue to read, believe and act accordingly, for as the Lord Jesus himself explained, this is the basis upon which we shall be judged: “He who rejects me, and does not receive my words, has that which judges him; the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).
Now to the second of our considerations: freedom.
Freedom in Christ
An integral part of our life in Christ is the wonderful freedom it affords: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). Paul was telling the Galatians that the rituals of the Law of Moses were now redundant. Some troublemakers were insistent that the law with all of its rituals must be observed. They had failed to understand that believers in Christ had been freed from that which was only, “a tutor to bring us to Christ” (Gal. 3:24).
Undoubtedly liberation had been achieved, but something had been overlooked. The very essence of the law could be summed up by love, not only toward God but also to their fellow beings:
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty, only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! (Gal. 5:13-15).
It behooves us to reflect on these things, being thankful that we are free from the confines of the Law of Moses and those who would make us subservient in the manner of the Judaizers, who tried to impose their interpretation and ideas on the Galatians. Even today, we must resist enthusiastic people of unsound ideas who strive to press us into their mold. Nevertheless, let it be done in a spirit of the love of Christ. As Paul claimed: “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant of all, that I might win the more” (I Cor. 9:19).
Thoughts from James
The epistle of James was an early book, written a little before Paul penned his letter to the Galatians. Both letters warn against different but equally destructive departures from the faith. Believers in Christ have the responsibility of obedience (“The obedience of faith,” Rom. 1:5). True faith is true obedience and true obedience is true faith. They cannot be separated for they are an indivisible whole.
Although the Judaizers mentioned in Galatians were off track, at least their faith in the law resulted in putting into action the works required by the law, whereas the Jewish Christians of James’ experience were influenced by Greek philosophy — that faith and works are separate. They believed that the Christian life was dependent on strict doctrinal faith to the exclusion of faithful works.
With astute insight into human nature, James gives a positive commendation to grasp their attention: “You believe that there is one God. You do well,” and then cites the revered progenitor of their nation to prove his point:
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only (James 2:20-24).
In this example of Abraham, three factors can be clearly seen: faith and works, bound together by obedience.
Faith in action
“Without faith it is impossible to please God:” but one must remember the counterbalance: “Faith without works is dead” (Heb. 11:6, Jam. 2:20). To be saved, we must have a faith that is demonstratively alive.
James was writing to Jews, whereas the Galatians were Greek converts who were conditioned to being ordered about by both Romans and the upper class. Therein lay the danger of being easily influenced by dominant Jewish brethren who persistently cried: “keep the law, accept circumcision, keep the feasts.” These were law-works, actions and customs not essential for salvation.
Could it be that there is a modern-day counterpart: Brethren, wear suits and ties, sisters, wear only certain colors and styles of clothing, readers, use only the Authorized version of the Bible and teachers, strictly conform to Christadelphian writers?
Paul strenuously appealed to the Galatians to remember the true Gospel:
A man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified (Gal. 2:16).
The principle stands true for us.
Now it is time to turn our attention to the freedom that has brought us together as brothers and sisters in hope. The Lord and Savior gave his life in perfect obedience to his Father’s will. By this work of faith, all those who trust in him and are baptized into his name are set free from sin and death.
In faith and obedience, we participate in the required act of remembrance:
The Lord Jesus on the same night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you, do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same manner he also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’ (I Cor. 11:24-25).
Liberty has been achieved at great cost. Let us use it wisely, avoiding entanglement with the things of the world, doing the works of God in faith and hope.