The Joy of Christian Liberty

Everyone is talking about the woke, or enlightened, life. They have no idea what they are getting into. It’s not new. It’s also not what the world thinks.

1 Samuel 26:1-25

Then the Ziphites came to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is not David hiding on the hill of Hachilah, which is before Jeshimon?” So Saul arose and went down to the wilderness of Ziph, having with him three thousand chosen men of Israel, to search for David in the wilderness of Ziph. Saul camped in the hill of Hachilah, which is before Jeshimon, beside the road, and David was staying in the wilderness. When he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness, David sent out spies, and he knew that Saul was definitely coming. David then arose and came to the place where Saul had camped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army; and Saul was lying in the circle of the camp, and the people were camped around him. Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite and to Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, saying, “Who will go down with me to Saul in the camp?” And Abishai said, “I will go down with you.”

So David and Abishai came to the people by night, and behold, Saul lay sleeping inside the circle of the camp with his spear stuck in the ground at his head; and Abner and the people were lying around him.

Then Abishai said to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hand; now therefore, please let me strike him with the spear to the ground with one stroke, and I will not strike him the second time.”

But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be without guilt?”

David also said, “As the Lord lives, surely the Lord will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the Lord’s anointed; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go.”

So David took the spear and the jug of water from beside Saul’s head, and they went away, but no one saw or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a sound sleep from the Lord had fallen on them.

Then David crossed over to the other side and stood on top of the mountain at a distance with a large area between them. David called to the people and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, “Will you not answer, Abner?” Then Abner replied, “Who are you who calls to the king?”

So David said to Abner, “Are you not a man? And who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not guarded your lord the king? For one of the people came to destroy the king your lord. This thing that you have done is not good. As the Lord lives, all of you must surely die, because you did not guard your lord, the Lord’s anointed. And now, see where the king’s spear is and the jug of water that was at his head.”

Then Saul recognized David’s voice and said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And David said, “It is my voice, my lord the king.”

He also said, “Why then is my lord pursuing his servant? For what have I done? Or what evil is in my hand? Now therefore, please let my lord the king listen to the words of his servant. If the Lord has stirred you up against me, let Him accept an offering; but if it is men, cursed are they before the Lord, for they have driven me out today so that I would have no attachment with the inheritance of the Lord, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods.’ Now then, do not let my blood fall to the ground away from the presence of the Lord; for the king of Israel has come out to search for a single flea, just as one hunts a partridge in the mountains.”

Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will not harm you again because my life was precious in your sight this day. Behold, I have played the fool and have committed a serious error.”

David replied, “Behold the spear of the king! Now let one of the young men come over and take it. The Lord will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the Lord delivered you into my hand today, but I refused to stretch out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. Now behold, as your life was highly valued in my sight this day, so may my life be highly valued in the sight of the Lord, and may He deliver me from all distress.”

Then Saul said to David, “Blessed are you, my son David; you will both accomplish much and surely prevail.” So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place.

Slavery to sin

The Ziphites betray David, and Saul pursues him again (Cf. 23:19ff). In fact, this occurrence is almost the same with a few differences:

  • David is on a hill instead of in a cave,
  • he does not now plan on killing Saul,
  • he entered Saul’s camp, and
  • he took Saul’s spear and jug instead of a piece of his garment.

If God is absolutely sovereign and He is Lord over life and death and over every event and determines every person’s life and steps and freedom, then it is God who sovereignly places us where and when we are and in the circumstances which we find ourselves. All authority comes from God. I think David understands this. He also understands that it is God who particularly anointed Saul. David, fearing God, will not lift a finger against the leader God anointed. We don’t necessarily have to support our leaders’ decisions, but—whether a plurality of pastors, a governor, principal, or president—if we fear God, then we trust He is the one working all things together, even the leaders we have in our churches and nations. To personally lift a finger against the leaders God gave us is to deny God Himself. That is why Paul writes what he does in Romans 13 concerning Christians and their governments. There are probably exceptions, but it is normative for God’s people to respect the worldly authorities placed over them in this life because God has foreordained those authorities by His own providential decree. Governmental authority, not everything a government does but the authority itself, is a picture of God’s sovereign authority. It is one way He glorifies Himself within His creation.

At this point, it is very difficult to ignore Saul’s bipolar swings. One moment he is trying to kill David and the next he is calling David “son” and begging for the Lord’s forgiveness because he has sinned. Then he again tries to kill David. Saul’s mood swings could result from the demon God sent to torment him (Cf. 16:14). They might be an outpouring of Saul’s jealousy from pride. Or, they could simply be the way that sin works in our lives. All of these things are probably at play. What we have seen and now see with Saul is textbook slavery to sin. This is how addiction works, and we are all addicted to our own desires. Saul is trying his best to honor God’s decision to make David king. Yet, he can’t help but defend his own dynasty. Every time he rises above his sin and confesses it, it pulls him back under. There are many people out there teaching that this necessary struggle exists; Brothers and sisters, it is simply slavery to sin in the likeness of Saul’s own slavery. God makes His elect a promise.

Liberation from sin

David still sins, but we don’t witness the same type of struggle against sin in his life that we do in Saul’s. As early as Genesis 4, we see that Abel did not struggle so much against sin. It seemed natural for him to give God his best first-fruits. Cain struggled against his sin, and God had to counsel him. Sin desired to rule over Cain, and Cain could not master it. Throughout the biblical narrative, we read about people who are free from sin (the seed of the woman; Cf. Genesis 3:15) and others who are slaves to sin (the seed of the serpent; Cf. Genesis 3:15). If we are trying to follow Christ by our own willpower or trying to be good enough to earn righteousness, this same sort of bipolar pattern emerges, though maybe not to the extent it does with Saul. We are down when we sin and we feel great when we don’t. Have we not realized that salvation is by grace? Sin does not rule over us any longer. We are free! When I give-in to sin, I am still under grace because the Sovereign God has brought me into grace and I did not contribute to that salvation by my abstinence from sin. Like we see in David, faith always produces fruit. Everyone is talking about being woke—that’s just a new term being used to refer to what people see as the new enlightenment. It’s not new; It’s merely a product of human selfishness, self-righteousness, and the wretched estate of those who are slaves to their sin. I’ll tell you what it means to be woke. I’ll show you how to find true liberty.

Let’s consider how the New Testament brings clarity to the sin-liberty motif we see throughout the Old Testament. In Romans 8, Paul describes what it means for a person to no longer be condemned under God’s Law:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him (Romans 8:1-9).

Paul will describe two laws—the law of sin and death and the law of the Spirit of life in Jesus Christ. In Christ, the law of life sets God’s people free from the law of sin and death. While we are under the law of sin and death, there is no possible way we can subject ourselves to God’s Law and, in so doing, be good enough or be righteous. Why are we unable to subject ourselves to God’s Law? As soon as we try to be righteous, we break the first of the ten-commandments by putting ourselves in the place of God—who alone is holy in His righteousness. For anyone to try to keep the whole degree of the Law, which reveals God’s righteousness, is for him or her to try to achieve the same level only God has by His nature. That is blasphemy in its truest sense. A mind set on the flesh, focused on doing good enough works, is hostile toward God. That’s our natural state and the very meaning of depravity. Just like the enlightenment, the novel woke movement is merely another movement by which people are trying to be good enough by some set of standards and demanding other people be good enough according to their own standards. It’s the same ole slavery to sin. There’s nothing woke, or enlightened, about it. There is nothing woke about elevating a certain type of person because of his or her skin color or sex. There is nothing woke about burning history to the ground. There is nothing woke about limiting what people can say based on how true or false it is or on how it makes others feel. That’s the way the world has always done things. It’s pharisaical legalism. It’s just another form of oppressive slavery no matter how people try to sugar-coat it. Suppression is not enlightenment. Christians need to speak into this mess.

Since we are unable to be like God, God delivered His people through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Those for whom Christ has atoned are free from the law of sin and death—liberated from the world’s legalism and from trying to keep the whole degree of the Law (or any standard imposed upon them) in order to be righteous or good enough. They live differently. By nature, we see a border and ask ourselves how we might stay within that border. Whether God’s Law, political correctness, moral action, social justice, or any popular philosophy of the time, we are focussed on being good enough. This way of living is death. When Jesus captivates us for Himself, regenerating our hearts, our focus is no longer on Law but on Christ. He is glorified. Instead of concerning ourselves with whether or not we are on the correct side of the Law or with whether or not we are righteous, we are concerned about Jesus and rest in His work. The world needs to hear about this kind of liberty! When we are focussed on the one who is righteous, we don’t have to worry or burden ourselves about whether we have crossed the line or not because the one who is righteous is always righteous.

In Galatians, Paul, a Jew who will identify theologically with the Pharisees, will talk about the freedom we experience because of the Messiah: 

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love (Galatians 5:1-6).

If our relationships with Christ are based on our keeping the standard of the Law or of religion, we do not know Christ because we have not been set free from the law of sin and death. There are many Churches and preachers who treat their congregants as though they are not free from sin. They are always talking about the battle against sin and how we must master sin. That is how worldly, reprobate people—the seed of the serpent—think about sin in their lives. They will never win the battle (Cf. Colossians 2:20-23). The elect person seeks first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, not his or her own kingdom or righteousness. He who the son sets free is free indeed (Cf. John 8:36). Hallelujah! The whole world yearns for what only Christ offers, but it wants the benefits without the Lord. The only woke life is life in Christ. Do you want to be free from the law of sin and death? Be transformed by Jesus Christ; Be covered in His atoning blood!

As Christians, then, we think about the way we live in this world as Christ is building His church and redeeming His creation—even concerning politics, news, freedom of information, the current oppressions of our governments, etc… Because we are woke, we don’t have to stand for oppression of people because they don’t fit the standards of the world, exaltation of some because of their skin color or sex, heavy government regulation, suppression of free speech, or the burning of God’s world and its history to the ground. When we speak and when we vote, we do so according to the wonderful law of life and not the law of sin and death. That’s what we see in the woke life of David, and it opposes everything we see in the benighted life of Saul. It pains me to see such oppression and suppression in our day perpetrated by those who claim to be woke. It pains me to see such a trend of fear-mongering among many who claim to be liberals; “Liberal” literally means generous with liberty. In that sense, the conservatives of our day fit a purer liberal ideal than many who claim to be liberal and certainly the leftist identity politics of our day. It pains me to see such expertism that the government feels a need to tell people what to do rather than give people all the information they need and allow them to make their own decisions. It’s not like the nation was founded upon even the smallest notion of liberty… This year, vote your conscience. We are not condemned if we make a “wrong” decision according to the standards of the world. We are focussed on Christ, and live to honor Him as best we can. We do not live to be on the correct side of history, whatever that means. We don’t condemn others based on the outward actions as if God isn’t freeing people from the law of sin and death.

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