On Biblical Liberty   Leave a comment

It’s always a good idea to keep in mind that the letters and histories of the New Testament were written in a particular order. Scholars have pretty much teased out the time line. James wrote his letter to the Christian diaspora (an overwhelmingly Jewish Christian population) sometime before the Jerusalem Council in AD 49. Not long afterward, Paul wrote two letters to the brand-new church at Thessalonica and almost immediately wrote to the churches in Galatia. Although the books of the New Testament are not organized in that manner, this chronology is important because it explains certain emphases in the subject of each letter.

Even in AD 49, a mere 14 years after Christ’s death, the Christian churches had some concept that the gospel gave liberty — James 1:25 says to keep their attention on the “law of liberty” and James 2:12 warns them to conduct their lives as people who are judged under liberty. In other words, they could sin and not be condemned, but they shouldn’t because they loved God. Jesus had said believers would know the truth and the truth would set them free. Free from what? Free from the authority of “words on stone tablets” (2 Corinthians 3:7). Believers would be free to worship God not in a place, under a specific authority, but in their spirit, wherever they went. This did not mean they were free of God’s authority, but that they were free of man-made religious authority.

Paul would expand upon this concept of liberty, in Galatians 5 (which was one of Paul’s earliest letters written not long after the Jerusalem Council) and then later in both letters of the Corinthian church. There is no question that the early church believed they’d been set free of the authority of Judaism. The entire letter to the Galatians represents Paul’s attempt to teach Gentile Christians that they did not need to be Jews to be good Christians. They had been taught to this erroneous belief by false teachers who had failed (or rejected) the teaching that the truth would set them free … not free to sin, but free to worship God within a cultural concept that is in line with God’s will.

And, then came the letter to the Romans.  Before we get to Romans 13, it benefits us to look at Romans 8:18-21: “For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly but because of God who subjected it – in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.”

There’s no question that the New Testament Christians believed they lived in God’s liberty. They were directly under the authority of God, not any man-made institutions.

So, once again, why did Paul write Romans 13 and what did he mean by the words he penned?

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