Freedom In Christ – Part 1

13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.

14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 1 The. 4:13-14

Oh, the liberty that the gospel brings!

One of the things that money cannot buy in this world is reprieve from sorrow. And, without a doubt, one of the most painful sorrows that affects us here on earth is the loss of a loved one. Imagine the pain that death brings to those who are left behind by the passing away of a loved one. It affects us in our deepest parts. It is bad enough when it is an ordinary death but, in today’s violent and unpredictable world in particular, death sometimes is attended with terror, pain, suddenness and a host of other additional calamities that make it all the more difficult for the deceased’s relatives to bear. I cannot imagine the pain that the violence that accompanies so many deaths in a place like the U.S. city of Chicago, for example, causes to those left behind. It is estimated that every day, 12 people are shot dead in Chicago.

It is in this light that we can better appreciate the Apostle Paul’s words here. This scripture makes it clear that people ignore Christ at their own spiritual peril. It is in Christ that both the dead and the living can enjoy this liberty. What Paul says in essence here is that when we lose a brother or sister in Christ there is no sense of loss on our part! The brother or sister is simply sleeping, he says! Who would mourn a person who was only sleeping?

What a blessing, to be set free from such incredible pain! Imagine being set free from the many bondages and hurts that death brings! It is an incredible thought.

But these things, though hard to comprehend, are true in the Spirit. Remember when Jesus was told that His friend Lazarus had died. Jesus did not break out wailing. He simply told His disicples:

“Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.” (Jn. 11:11)

Jesus said this because He was the resurrection and the life. He did, in fact, raise Lazarus from the dead.

Today, Jesus is still the resurrection and the life, and He will remain so unto eternity. We may grieve for a brother or sister who has died in the Lord in the short term, but that is due to our human weakness. In truth, however, that person has gone to a far better place – to be with the Lord.

This realization affords us incredible freedom – freedom from sorrow. And sorrow is one of our greatest enemies. Sorrow can hit us where nothing else can.

The words of our Lord Jesus Christ in John 8:36 ring out true and clear when held in this perspective.

“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

[Below: Women mourning at a funeral in rural Singida]

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Building Spiritual Character – Part 1

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. Rom 5:1-5

The word ‘experience’ here could be substituted with the word ‘character’. In other words, we could say, “Patience builds character”, and still do justice to the above scripture. That word, ‘character’ is what I want to talk about today.

The path of a righteous man has never been easy, and it will never be. It is a costly one; and yet, it is this very costliness that gives God’s call on a man’s life its value: it makes the person to appreciate and respect God’s call upon their lives.

If you look at the lives of Saul and David in the Book of 1 Samuel, who both were kings of Israel, you notice a big difference in their characters. Saul was not a disciplined man. He lacked patience. He would, for example, not wait for the prophet Samuel to come and sacrifice as per God’s word but, unable to bear seeing his men leaving him, he went on and did the sacrifice himself.

Lacking in that inner discipline that comes from patience, Saul was also a severely temperamental man. He took badly to David’s victory against Goliath, and he allowed himself to develop a deep hatred towards David. He went on to hunt him down like an animal.

Time and time again Saul failed to obey God. He failed to respect God.

But, you know, we cannot blame Saul too much for this lack of a spiritual character in his person. Why? Because he was handed the kingdom without being prepared. He had not paid any price to receive it. He was handed it, as they say, on a silver platter. He did not know its worth or value. As a result, he failed to guard the position he was so graciously granted. In the end, God had no option but to take the Kingdom from his hands. The prophet Samuel told Saul, “The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou.”1 Sam. 15:28

Notice the word ‘better’ there. You do not become ‘better’ because you have dimples on your cheeks.

When we look at David we see someone who, long before he became king, had to go through a very difficult period. In the first place, David knew and loved God. Secondly, he was humble enough to allow God to mold and shape him. Thus by the time he became king, David was ready to take his position and rule his people justly and in righteousness.

With the exception of the issue with Uriah’s wife, David was a capable and effective king who knew and taught God’s people the ways of the Lord. In many ways, David proved himself ‘better’ than Saul. He had been tested and tried.

In today’s Christian world, the virtue of character is lacking to a very great degree. There are many areas where this virtue is lacking. One area where this is clear is the area of marriage and divorce.

Even without salvation, our parents and grandparents never contemplated divorce. Poor folks, seems they were not civilized enough! Today’s generation, on the other hand, is a ‘liberated’ generation. In some countries I hear there is such ‘liberation’ that in some circles the word ‘marriage’ has been deleted from their vocabulary. It has been fossilized. Words like ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ are unknown. Instead, there are ‘partners’. In these ultra-modern settings, people live together on a contractual basis, each ‘partner’ having their ‘rights’ fully guaranteed!

For those of us who still believe in marriage, we also are not safe. Women have been to Beijing and back, and they are now fully aware of and ready to fight for their ‘rights’. Men, on the other hand, have had their manhood so undermined to the extent that they take out their frustrations on the object nearest them – which invariably happens to be their wife!

All of the above is okay if you are of the world. But in church, we must talk a different language. Marriage is such a serious issue with God that He does not allow divorce unless under the most extreme of circumstances (adultery); and even then the wronged party, if they cannot forgive, are not allowed to re-marry until their spouse dies. Marriage is literally a “till death do us part” affair!