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Day 202

The Way Out of the Maze

Wisdom Psalm 88:1-9a
New Testament Romans 6:15-7:6
Old Testament Hosea 3:1-5:15

Introduction

At the age of eighteen, Billy Nolan ran away from the merchant navy. He was an alcoholic for thirty-five years. For twenty years he sat outside HTB drinking alcohol and begging for money. On 13 May 1990, he looked in the mirror and said, ‘You’re not the Billy Nolan I once knew.’ To use his own expression, he asked the Lord Jesus Christ into his life and made a covenant with him that he would never drink alcohol again. From that day on, he didn’t touch a drop. His life was transformed; he radiated the love and joy of Christ. I once said to him, ‘Billy, you look happy.’ He replied, ‘I am happy because I am free. Life is like a maze and at last I have found the way out through Jesus Christ.’

St Augustine wrote that God was the master ‘whom to serve is perfect freedom’. This is a great paradox. Many people think that if they serve God they will lose their freedom. In fact, it is the very opposite. Living for ourselves is, in fact, a form of slavery. Serving God ‘in the new way of the Spirit’ (Romans 7:6) is the way to find perfect freedom – free to have a relationship with him and to be the kind of person that deep down you long to be.

Wisdom

Psalm 88:1-9a

A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According to mahalath leannoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.

1 Lord, you are the God who saves me;
        day and night I cry out to you.
2 May my prayer come before you;
        turn your ear to my cry.

3 I am overwhelmed with troubles
        and my life draws near to death.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
        I am like one without strength.
5 I am set apart with the dead,
        like the slain who lie in the grave,
    whom you remember no more,
        who are cut off from your care.

6 You have put me in the lowest pit,
        in the darkest depths.
7 Your wrath lies heavily on me;
        you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
8 You have taken from me my closest friends
        and have made me repulsive to them.
        I am confined and cannot escape;
9 my eyes are dim with grief.

        I call to you, Lord, every day;
        I spread out my hands to you.

Commentary

Cry out to God

This psalm describes a situation similar to the one that Billy Nolan had found himself in: ‘I’m caught in a maze and can’t find my way out, blinded by tears of pain and frustration’ (v.8, MSG).

The psalmist is undergoing great suffering. His ‘soul is full of trouble’ (v.3a). He thinks he is going to die: ‘I’m camped on the edge of hell... a hopeless case. Abandoned as already dead’ (vv.3–5, MSG). He is ‘in the darkest depths’ (v.6), ‘without strength’ (v.4), ‘confined and cannot escape’ (v.8). He has even lost the support of his closest friends (v.8).

Only God can save us: ‘God, you’re my last chance of the day’ (v.1, MSG). However bad your situation may feel, cry out to God for freedom.

Prayer

‘O Lord, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry’ (vv.1–2).

New Testament

Romans 6:15-7:6

Slaves to Righteousness

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey —whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Released From the Law, Bound to Christ

7Do you not know, brothers and sisters —for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? 2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. 3 So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.

4 So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. 5 For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Commentary

Serve God

There is a Thomas the Tank Engine cartoon that pictures Thomas on his side, having fallen off the train tracks. He is shouting, ‘I’m free! I’m free at last. I’ve fallen off the rails and I’m free!’ Of course, the reality is that Thomas is far more ‘free’ when his wheels are on the rails and he is operating in line with how he has been created to function.

It is the same with us. We might imagine that we are freer if we have no one telling us what to do other than ourselves, but this is a delusion for we find ourselves enslaved to sin – it leads to ‘a dead end’ (6:21, MSG).

It has been said that ‘the only exercise some people take is jumping to wrong conclusions.’ The apostle Paul is worried that his readers will jump to the wrong conclusion – that some might argue that it doesn’t matter if we carry on sinning. He writes, ‘What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!’ (v.15).

The assurance of forgiveness is not an excuse to continue sinning. Grace is not a casual ‘get out clause’ for sin. It would be absurd to carry on sinning for two reasons:

1. New Lord

As a Christian you have a new Lord. You now serve God, ‘one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!’ (v.17, MSG). Like it or not, we are all slaves to something. Sin is a form of slavery which brings only spiritual captivity and death, but serving God brings perfect freedom. For ‘God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master’ (v.23, MSG).

God is your new Lord. Every time you yield to sin you are going against the purpose of grace – which is to give you real life, eternal life. When you are tempted, remember that you do not have to give in. You are no longer a slave to sin. You are free to say ‘no’.

Remember also the rewards of obedience. In serving God, ‘the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life’ (v.22).

2. New love

It is absurd to carry on sinning because, as well as having a new Lord, you also have a new love.

Paul speaks about one aspect of marriage to illustrate this. A woman is released from the law of marriage when her husband dies. Death discharges us from the law (7:1–6).

Similarly, we as Christians have died to the law. Our old love was the law but, as Christians, ‘we’re no longer shackled to that domineering mate of sin’ (v.6, MSG). You can now be bound to your new love, Jesus, just as a woman whose husband dies is free to marry a new love (v.4).

Now that you live under grace rather than under law, you have the Spirit living in you who fills you with both the desire and ability to do what is right. Connected to your new love, Jesus, you ‘serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code’ (v.6). Jesus sets you free to be the person that, deep down, you long to be. This is true freedom.

Prayer

Lord, thank you that serving you is perfect freedom. Today I offer all the parts of my body as slaves to righteousness (6:19). I want to serve you, my Lord and my love, in the way of the Spirit.

Old Testament

Hosea 3:1-5:15

Hosea’s Reconciliation With His Wife

3The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes. ”

2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. 3 Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.”

4 For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. 5 Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days.

The Charge Against Israel

4Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites,
        because the Lord has a charge to bring
        against you who live in the land:
    “There is no faithfulness, no love,
        no acknowledgment of God in the land.
2 There is only cursing, lying and murder,
        stealing and adultery;
    they break all bounds,
        and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
3 Because of this the land dries up,
        and all who live in it waste away;
    the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
        and the fish in the sea are swept away.

4 “But let no one bring a charge,
        let no one accuse another,
    for your people are like those
        who bring charges against a priest.
5 You stumble day and night,
        and the prophets stumble with you.
    So I will destroy your mother —
        6 my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.

    “Because you have rejected knowledge,
        I also reject you as my priests;
    because you have ignored the law of your God,
        I also will ignore your children.
7 The more priests there were,
        the more they sinned against me;
        they exchanged their glorious God for something disgraceful.
8 They feed on the sins of my people
        and relish their wickedness.
9 And it will be: Like people, like priests.
        I will punish both of them for their ways
        and repay them for their deeds.

10 “They will eat but not have enough;
        they will engage in prostitution but not flourish,
    because they have deserted the Lord
        to give themselves 11 to prostitution;
    old wine and new wine
        take away their understanding.
12 My people consult a wooden idol,
    and a diviner’s rod speaks to them.
        A spirit of prostitution leads them astray;
    they are unfaithful to their God.
13 They sacrifice on the mountaintops
        and burn offerings on the hills,
    under oak, poplar and terebinth,
        where the shade is pleasant.
    Therefore your daughters turn to prostitution
        and your daughters-in-law to adultery.

14 “I will not punish your daughters
        when they turn to prostitution,
    nor your daughters-in-law
        when they commit adultery,
    because the men themselves consort with harlots
        and sacrifice with shrine prostitutes —
        a people without understanding will come to ruin!

15 “Though you, Israel, commit adultery,
        do not let Judah become guilty.

    “Do not go to Gilgal;
        do not go up to Beth Aven.
        And do not swear, ‘As surely as the Lord lives!’
16 The Israelites are stubborn,
        like a stubborn heifer.
    How then can the Lord pasture them
        like lambs in a meadow?
17 Ephraim is joined to idols;
        leave him alone!
18 Even when their drinks are gone,
        they continue their prostitution;
        their rulers dearly love shameful ways.
19 A whirlwind will sweep them away,
        and their sacrifices will bring them shame.

Judgment Against Israel

5“Hear this, you priests!
        Pay attention, you Israelites!
    Listen, royal house!
        This judgment is against you:
    You have been a snare at Mizpah,
        a net spread out on Tabor.
2 The rebels are knee-deep in slaughter.
        I will discipline all of them.
3 I know all about Ephraim;
        Israel is not hidden from me.
    Ephraim, you have now turned to prostitution;
        Israel is corrupt.

4 “Their deeds do not permit them
        to return to their God.
    A spirit of prostitution is in their heart;
        they do not acknowledge the Lord.
5 Israel’s arrogance testifies against them;
        the Israelites, even Ephraim, stumble in their sin;
        Judah also stumbles with them.
6 When they go with their flocks and herds
        to seek the Lord,
    they will not find him;
        he has withdrawn himself from them.
7 They are unfaithful to the Lord;
        they give birth to illegitimate children.
    When they celebrate their New Moon feasts,
        he will devour their fields.

8 “Sound the trumpet in Gibeah,
        the horn in Ramah.
    Raise the battle cry in Beth Aven;
        lead on, Benjamin.
9 Ephraim will be laid waste
        on the day of reckoning.
    Among the tribes of Israel
        I proclaim what is certain.
10 Judah’s leaders are like those
        who move boundary stones.
    I will pour out my wrath on them
        like a flood of water.
11 Ephraim is oppressed,
        trampled in judgment,
        intent on pursuing idols.
12 I am like a moth to Ephraim,
        like rot to the people of Judah.

13 “When Ephraim saw his sickness,
        and Judah his sores,
    then Ephraim turned to Assyria,
        and sent to the great king for help.
    But he is not able to cure you,
        not able to heal your sores.
14 For I will be like a lion to Ephraim,
        like a great lion to Judah.
    I will tear them to pieces and go away;
        I will carry them off, with no one to rescue them.
15 Then I will return to my lair
        until they have borne their guilt
        and seek my face —
    in their misery
        they will earnestly seek me. ”

Commentary

Seek God’s freedom

Some people find ‘sin’ a hard concept, but ‘loving something too much’ (idolatry) is something most of us can understand. Our highest love is that which we serve and worship.

This Old Testament passage provides an illustration of the principle that Paul expounded in the book of Romans, that those who sin are slaves to sin and end up with their lives caught in a maze.

God loves his people (3:1). The prophet Hosea is called to give a visual aid of this by his love for his wife in spite of the fact that she has committed adultery (v.1): ‘Love her the way I, God, love the Israelite people, even as they flirt and party with every god that takes their fancy’ (v.1, MSG).

Hosea speaks the word of the Lord, ‘There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery’ (4:1–2). The people are guilty of adultery and prostitution (vv.13b,15; 5:3). This is a fairly accurate description of many societies today.

The leaders were not setting a good example: ‘The more the priests increased, the more they sinned against me; they exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful. They feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness. And it will be: Like people, like priests’ (4:7–9).

Instead of finding freedom through their sin, they were dissatisfied and enslaved as a result of their sin: ‘They’ll eat and be as hungry as ever, have sex and get no satisfaction... Wine and whiskey leave my people in a stupor... Drunk on sex, they can’t find their way home. They’ve replaced their God with their genitals’ (vv.10–12, MSG). They are ‘addicted to idols... When the beer runs out, it’s sex, sex, and more sex’ (vv.17–18, MSG).

They found themselves unable to turn back to God: ‘Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God’ (5:4a). Adultery and prostitution were rife among the people (14:13b,15; 5:3). It is as if they had come under some demonic power: ‘A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the Lord’ (v.4b). He withdrew himself from them (v.6).

But God’s withdrawal was so that the people would come back to him. The way back is to admit their guilt and seek God’s face: ‘In their misery they will earnestly seek me’ (v.15b).

‘Exactly how do we seek God?’ writes Joyce Meyer. ‘One way is to think about Him and consider what matters to Him and what He says about certain situations. When we seek Him, we find out much more about His answers to our problems. We also find joy, peace, love, wisdom and everything else we need in our lives. Let me urge you to seek him in every area of your life today.’

Prayer

Lord I seek you today. I bring to you all the problems that I’m facing… Please show me what you want me to do. Give me wisdom. Help me today to find perfect freedom in serving you wholeheartedly.

Pippa adds

Romans 6:23b

‘… but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

I find buying presents for people rather stressful. I am often overwhelmed by people’s kindness, generosity and thoughtfulness when I am given a present. God’s gift to us is even more amazing – ETERNAL LIFE! This gift will never get old, worn out or forgotten. It is the most precious gift of all. It required a huge sacrifice in getting it; it will last forever and be perfect in every way.

Verse of the Day

Romans 6:23, MSG

‘God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus’
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References

Nicky Gumbel, Questions of Life (Hodder & Stoughton, 2018) p.47.

Joyce Meyer, The Everyday Life Bible (Faithwords, 2018) p.1368.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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