03 July 2009

What Price Freedom? [Requested classic re-post]

by Dan Phillips

[By special request from Scott, we reach back to June 30, 2006 for this classic 4th of July repost, slightly edited. Stay safe and sane, and don't forget the price of freedom.]
“…and from Jesus Christ, the Faithful Witness, the Firstborn over the dead, and the Ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us, and loosed us from our sins by His blood; and He made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father — to him be the glory and the might unto the ages of the ages! Amen!” (Revelation 1:5-6, my rendering)
In America, we enjoy a degree of freedom unknown throughout most of the history of the world. This freedom had its formal birth with the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, in which the 13 colonies declared themselves independent of Great Britain, and which ended with the words “for the support of this declaration…we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

Was that just big talk, or flowery rhetoric? Well, the 56 signers were marking themselves as traitors to the Crown. “By the end of the war, almost every one had lost his property; many had lost wives and families to British guns or prisons; and several died penniless, having given all to the Revolution” (Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s History of the United States [Sentinel: 2004], 81).

Americans enjoy freedom today because of the blood spilt by thousands of men and women from before 1776 until this very day. Our freedom, as Americans, is not free. If it hasn’t cost us personally, it surely has cost someone else!

But my mind turns today to a far deeper bondage, however, and an infinitely greater freedom — and to the far more dreadful price that was paid for that freedom.

It is found in Revelation 1:5b: “To Him who loves us, and loosed us from our sins by His blood.”

I'd like to focus on two aspects only of that text: the love of Jesus, and the cost of that love.

As to the love of Jesus, we can discern four aspects here:

First, Christ's love is FREE. God is, by definition, the one and only truly free Being. He is under no external controls, subject to no overrides nor limitations. He can will and do anything in accord with His nature. Therefore, He was under no external nor moral compulsion to love guilty rebels. No committee or authority had petitioned nor ordered Him. Certainly His love was provoked by nothing in us — no foreseen faith, no anticipated holiness, as if the ultimate cause lay in us.

More accurately, He loves in spite of the continued rebellions, treacheries, and unbelief of the objects of His love. When He loves, He loves because He loves. It is the only satisfactory and Biblical answer.

Second, Christ's love is DISTINGUISHING. The text says that He loves "us.” The context defines "us" as “His servants" and "his servant John” (1:1; cf. v. 4), as “the seven churches” (1:4), and as people who were “loosed …from sins… made… a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (1:5-6). They are contrasted with false, pretend-Christians (chapters 2—3).

They stand apart from those who try to hide “themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:15-17).

It was a targeted love, a definite love, a particular love. There were people — "us" — whom Christ meant to free. Not "offer freedom to," but free, "loose."

Would anyone dare say He failed to free even one soul whom He determined to deliver?

Third, Christ's love is ETERNAL. John calls Jesus “Him who loves us.” The verb is present in tense, but it is a participle, not a finite verb. It marks no starting point, it erects no terminus. It isn't “Jesus loved us," nor "Jesus will love us.”

Being a verbal noun, it is a characteristic of Jesus'. It was true when John wrote it, it is true as we read it, it will be true through all the centuries and millennia and ages of eternity. Before a world began, He set His love on His own. When the last rebel fist has been shaken, and judged, still He will love His own.

This characteristic trumps all of the fears of God’s people. “But I am unworthy!” So are we all; yet Christ is He “who loves us.” “But I sin!” So do we all; yet Christ is He “who loves us.” “But I am going through a dark, awful time!” So have we all; yet Christ is He “who loves us.”

There is no “use by” date, no expiration, no sunset provision. Because it is eternal, it is invincible; nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.

Fourth, Christ's love is revelatory of HIM, not of US. If ever you find yourself starting a sentence, “Well, I think God loved me because I…” — bail out! Quick! Step away from the stupid statement! The only true and Biblical way to finish that is, “God loved because God loved." And the fact that God loved, and the wretches whom God loved, and the invincible fierceness with which God loved all say a great deal about God — and nothing about me.

Away with all self-help pop-psychologizing, that tries to find self-esteem in the Cross. Many say, “God loved me so much that He gave His Son to die for me — so I must be worth a lot! I must be worthy! I must be special!” I can’t easily imagine a more perverse line of reasoning. What the Cross says about us is that we’re helpless, we’re hopeless, we’re lost and doomed, and only the most extreme, radical, scandalous act on the part of God could redeem us from the wreck and ruin in which we’d buried ourselves!

The Cross says horrible things about us, as we are in ourselves, as Christ finds us! But it says wonderful things about God!

In fact, as a brief aside, to speak of loosing is to assume binding. That is, only those who are bound are interested in deliverance from their bonds. So what is it that binds us? The world, the flesh, and the Devil -- mighty, ubiquitous, tireless forces. [Sheerly because of the length of this post, I expand on this point elsewhere.]

Now let's turn to the COST undertaken by Jesus, because of His love: He freed us from our sins “by His blood.” We'll focus on three aspects.

First, Christ's blood is PRECIOUS blood. It is precious because of whose blood it is. It belongs to God’s Messiah, the Anointed One, the Faithful Witness, the ruler of the kings of the earth. It belongs to the blood of God incarnate; the Bible calls it the blood of God (Acts 20:28). This blood is of infinite worth. Dare anyone set a limit on the value of this blood? I would not! (It is a great misrepresentation of the Calvinist position to think that we do. We see its value as limitless, and its aim as specific.) Thus could Christ shed it on behalf of, and actually accomplish the redemption of, countless scores of multitudes of sinners from every nation, tribe and language.

Second, Christ's blood is PURE blood. The blood that looses us from our sins is itself that of a sinless Man. This is the blood of the one Man who did not share Adam’s guilt, and did not replicate Adam’s sin. It is the blood of one who never violated God’s law in thought, word or deed, who kept every bit of God’s law in thought, word and deed. Can the contrast between the Lord Jesus and those for whom He died be any starker and more immense?

Third, Christ's blood is POWERFUL blood. The apostle John does not say that Jesus made it possible for us to loose ourselves from our sins by His blood. Nor does He say that Christ made loosing from our sins available by his blood. Rather, Jesus Christ actually loosed us from our sins by His blood!

Christ's blood is powerful, and it is effectual. Can any imagine that a drop of that blood would be wasted, would fall to the ground defeated and impotent? I cannot.

Notice the wonders He accomplishes by His blood (vv. 5b-6). Before, we were lost, rebellious, hopeless, impure slaves. After, we are a kingdom, and we are priests. We need no mere man to rule us. We need no man to stand for us before God. We are members of Christ’s kingdom, and priests to God through Him.

This, my brothers and sisters, is freedom!

But at what a cost!

Now, it's beyond us to know who reads our posts. So let me just say, Dear Reader, if your thinking is, “Oh, I don’t need such a drastic conversion; religion is all very well for weak men and old ladies, but I have a fulfilled and meaningful life. I must follow my heart. I don’t need fairy tales to brighten up my life,” then you are still a slave to the world, the flesh, and the Devil. The worst slave is the one who has grown accustomed to his chains.

What power on earth can save us from these things? No power on earth! Only Christ can — but at what a dreadful price! No mere example, or teaching, or method can save. Only the blood of God incarnate can loose us from our sins! Do you know that freedom?

If you do, praise and honor Him alone who loves you, and loosed you from your sins at such a staggering price!

If you do not, throw yourself on the mercy of God, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, look to Him this day!

Dan Phillips's signature


Mike Riccardi said...

This was good.

I wasn't around when this was posted the first time. I'm thankful for the re-post.

That the "Calvinistic" understanding of God -- i.e., that God is supremely free -- is found in all of Scripture is very comforting to me.

And I think God intended that. I think He intended that His repeated assertion of His absolute sovereignty and freedom revealed throughout His Word would cause me to abandon hope in my own "freedom" and "sovereignty" be comforted in His.

NoNothing said...

This one statement said so much: Christ's love is revelatory of HIM, not of US.
Glad you re-posted this...

trogdor said...

This is awesome.

Sir Brass said...

Classic INDEED. Thanks, DJP, for bringing the Word to bear once again. It was a blessing and encouragement (especially the emphasis on how the Cross glorifies Jesus and shows us how horrible we ourselves are . . . kinda helps put the focus of worship and praise back on the only one who is worthy of it).

Johnny Dialectic said...

Would anyone dare say He failed to free even one soul whom He determined to deliver?

Dan, what do you make of the following? (Note the love of Jesus explicitly mentioned):

Mark 10:21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Mark 10:22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Mark 10:23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

DJP said...

First, I'd say it's a perfectly decent question, and I don't think you could have found a better text to try to make your point.

Second, I'd thank you for quoting me exactly to frame your question, and point out that the text does not say that Jesus "determined to deliver" this young man, and failed.

Third, I'd say that just about everyone who affirms the Bible's teaching about God's sovereignty in salvation, and His inability to fail in carrying out His determined will, also affirms that He loves all His creatures in some sense. His love for the reprobate must be affirmed as real, yet marked off from the distinguishing love by which He lets nothing stop Him from saving His elect (John 13:1).

We've had this discussion on this blog many times. (I say that not to chide but for new readers.)

Fourth, I'd say the text is a real problem. For a non-Calvinist, that is - someone who does not affirm the Bible's teaching of God's monergistic grace.

If that person is going to read this passage as saying, "Jesus really loved the man, and did everything He could to save him, but ultimately failed to do so, thwarted by some power beyond His control" - then we're all lost and without hope.

Strong Tower said...

The passage is not isolated, either: And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

Even with men who have give up everything, as Peter will next speak about, there is the recognition that stripped naked and bare a man's wealth remains in himself. The deciples understood this: that all men are rich as long as they live: "Then who can be saved?"

Jesus' response confirms the necessity of God's monergistic work because of man's riches, that is his pride-filled depravity prevents even the most religiously zealous man, the most monkish, from entering the kingdom of God. With man, all men, rich or poor, it is impossible. Salvation, Jesus remarks here, is not ownded by man but belongs to the Lord, alone.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Thanks for clarifying. I do agree that God loves all men "in some sense."

NoNothing said...

Strong tower,
really appreciate your comment.

Anonymous said...

This comes way late (I've been on holidays) but thanks for this Dan.
It's a powerful reminder of whose we are and why that is.

God is good.

Dana~Are We There Yet? said...

Behind on my blog reading, so this comment is late, but I wanted to thank you very much for this post. Is this the appropriate place to request permission to use the post and its references as the basis for a study on freedom for our homeschool?

DJP said...

Sure; just credit the source.

(Email to us is always a good idea, and easy to do, should it come up again.)