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Day 262

Refuse to Be Trapped by Your Past

Wisdom Psalm 108:6-13
New Testament Galatians 4:21-5:6
Old Testament Isaiah 44:24-46:13

Introduction

He had no one to help him become a lawyer or a politician. He was not interested in the army. He had no desire to be a doctor. Therefore, the only obvious career move in those days for a man of his background was to become a clergyman in the Church of England.

He tried to make himself acceptable to God by keeping the whole law, inwardly and outwardly. He got up early. He prayed. He denied himself. He tried to earn forgiveness and peace by increased effort. But he ‘groaned under a heavy yoke’.

On 24 May 1738 at 8.45 pm, he heard someone reading a book by the great reformer, Martin Luther. He later recalled, ‘While he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given [to] me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’

John Wesley became one of the greatest preachers ever, preaching over 40,000 sermons centred on freedom through faith in Jesus Christ. He had, as he put it, ‘exchanged the faith of a servant for the faith of a son’. He was free at last.

‘Freedom’ is the word that best sums up the Christian life. You, too, are free. Therefore, refuse to be trapped by your past.

Wisdom

Psalm 108:6-13

6 Save us and help us with your right hand,
    that those you love may be delivered.
7 God has spoken from his sanctuary:
    “In triumph I will parcel out Shechem
    and measure off the Valley of Sukkoth.
8 Gilead is mine, Manasseh is mine;
    Ephraim is my helmet,
    Judah is my scepter.
9 Moab is my washbasin,
    on Edom I toss my sandal;
    over Philistia I shout in triumph.”

10 Who will bring me to the fortified city?
    Who will lead me to Edom?
11 Is it not you, God, you who have rejected us
    and no longer go out with our armies?
12 Give us aid against the enemy,
    for human help is worthless.
13 With God we will gain the victory,
    and he will trample down our enemies.

Commentary

Cry out for freedom

David knew that God loved him, and he prayed that God would save and help him. ‘Save us and help us with your right hand, that those you love may be delivered’ (v.6). To be saved is to be set free.

If you are facing some difficult challenge in your life, pray like David:

‘Give us help for the hard task;
    human help is worthless.
In God we’ll do our very best’
(vv.12–13a, MSG).

Prayer

Lord, thank you that you love me, help me and set me free. Lord, today I pray for your help with...

New Testament

Galatians 4:21-5:6

Hagar and Sarah

21 Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23 His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.

24 These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written:

“Be glad, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband.”

28 Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. 30 But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” 31 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

Freedom in Christ

5It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Commentary

Live a life of freedom

In our culture, freedom is often understood as being able to do whatever you want, how you want, when you want. But when you live in that way, you don’t necessarily feel truly free.

According to Paul’s teaching in today’s passage, freedom comes through Jesus Christ. His message is that you are not ‘born free’ but that in order to be free, you must be ‘born again’. True freedom is found in a life of faith in Christ.

Many ideas of freedom fail because they do not realise the true nature of our captivity. A belief in freedom as the birthright of a particular group of people has often given birth to malignant nationalism and racism. It has produced some of the gravest evils of recent times, including Nazism and Apartheid*.*

The title of the film Cry Freedom expresses something we all long for. Whether it’s racial and political freedom (as in the case of this film), free speech, free assembly, free worship, a free conscience, or economic freedom and individual freedom, the whole world cries out for freedom.

All of these forms of freedom are important, but you can have them all and still be in slavery. Alternatively, you can have none of them but still be free. The gospel contains within it the promise of other forms of freedom, but it begins with a freedom that is more profound than any other.

‘Christ has set us free to live a free life’ (5:1, MSG). Jesus sets us free to live a life of freedom, faith and love through the Spirit. Paul’s opponents, ‘the Judaisers’, boasted about the fact that they were Abraham’s children. Paul, interpreting the Old Testament figuratively, used an allegorical argument to confront them.

Paul said to his opponents that there are two ways in which we can live – in bondage or in freedom. He explains that there are two covenants. He says in effect: ‘You boast of being Abraham’s children – but Abraham actually had two children – one in bondage and one in freedom.’ True descent from Abraham is not physical, but spiritual. It is not enough to have Abraham as your father. The crucial question is, ‘Who is your mother?’

He argued that by his opponents’ insistence on the law, they were, in fact, children of Hagar. This analogy represents the old covenant, the present city of Jerusalem, Ishmael, the child of the flesh, and a life of bondage (v.25). This is the life John Wesley experienced before his conversion. It is a life of frustration and failure, confusion and defeat.

To be a Christian, on the other hand, is to be a child not only of Abraham, but also of Sarah. Sarah represents the new covenant, the new Jerusalem (‘the Jerusalem that is above’, v.26), Isaac (the child of promise, v.28) and the freedom that is in Christ. This is what Wesley experienced the day he trusted in Christ and Christ alone for salvation. His heart was ‘strangely warmed’. This is the way of peace, joy and freedom.

Paul pointed out that just as Ishmael ridiculed Isaac (see Genesis 21:9), the Galatians who are ‘born by the power of the Spirit’ (Galatians 4:29) should not be surprised that they are being persecuted by these ‘Judaisers’.

He concluded his argument in this section by saying, ‘We are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman’ (v.31). He continued, ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery’ (5:1–2). The picture is of an ox bowed down with a heavy harness.

‘Circumcision’ was the theological symbol standing for a religion of law (vv.2–3). Paul argued that to add circumcision is to lose Christ. To seek to be justified by works is to fall away from grace (v.4).

The Christian life is a life of faith. You cannot work for your salvation, you simply wait for it (v.5). Meanwhile, ‘The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love’ (v.6b).

Prayer

Lord, thank you for setting me free in order that I might live a life of freedom. Thank you for the freedom the Holy Spirit brings to my life. Help me to express my faith in love today.

Old Testament

Isaiah 44:24-46:13

Jerusalem to Be Inhabited

24 “This is what the Lord says—
    your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb:

I am the Lord,
    the Maker of all things,
    who stretches out the heavens,
    who spreads out the earth by myself,
25 who foils the signs of false prophets
    and makes fools of diviners,
who overthrows the learning of the wise
    and turns it into nonsense,
26 who carries out the words of his servants
    and fulfills the predictions of his messengers,

who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be inhabited,’
    of the towns of Judah, ‘They shall be rebuilt,’
    and of their ruins, ‘I will restore them,’
27 who says to the watery deep, ‘Be dry,
    and I will dry up your streams,’
28 who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd
    and will accomplish all that I please;
he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,”
    and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’

45“This is what the Lord says to his anointed,
    to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of
to subdue nations before him
    and to strip kings of their armor,
to open doors before him
    so that gates will not be shut:
2 I will go before you
    and will level the mountains;
I will break down gates of bronze
    and cut through bars of iron.
3 I will give you hidden treasures,
    riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the Lord,
    the God of Israel, who summons you by name.
4 For the sake of Jacob my servant,
    of Israel my chosen,
I summon you by name
    and bestow on you a title of honor,
though you do not acknowledge me.
5 I am the Lord, and there is no other;
    apart from me there is no God.
I will strengthen you,
    though you have not acknowledged me,
6 so that from the rising of the sun
    to the place of its setting
people may know there is none besides me.
    I am the Lord, and there is no other.
7 I form the light and create darkness,
    I bring prosperity and create disaster;
    I, the Lord, do all these things.

8 “You heavens above, rain down my righteousness;
    let the clouds shower it down.
Let the earth open wide,
    let salvation spring up,
let righteousness flourish with it;
    I, the Lord, have created it.

9 “Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker,
    those who are nothing but potsherds
    among the potsherds on the ground.
Does the clay say to the potter,
‘    What are you making?’
Does your work say,
    ‘The potter has no hands’?
10 Woe to the one who says to a father,
‘    What have you begotten?’
or to a mother,
    ‘What have you brought to birth?’

11 “This is what the Lord says—
    the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker:
Concerning things to come,
    do you question me about my children,
    or give me orders about the work of my hands?
12 It is I who made the earth
    and created mankind on it.
My own hands stretched out the heavens;
    I marshaled their starry hosts.
13 I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness:
    I will make all his ways straight.
He will rebuild my city
    and set my exiles free,
but not for a price or reward,
    says the Lord Almighty.”

14 This is what the Lord says:

“The products of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush,
    and those tall Sabeans —
they will come over to you
    and will be yours;
they will trudge behind you,
    coming over to you in chains.
They will bow down before you
    and plead with you, saying,
‘Surely God is with you, and there is no other;
    there is no other god. ’”

15 Truly you are a God who has been hiding himself,
    the God and Savior of Israel.
16 All the makers of idols will be put to shame and disgraced;
    they will go off into disgrace together.
17 But Israel will be saved by the Lord
    with an everlasting salvation;
you will never be put to shame or disgraced,
    to ages everlasting.

18 For this is what the Lord says—
    he who created the heavens,
he is God;
    he who fashioned and made the earth,
he founded it;
    he did not create it to be empty,
but formed it to be inhabited —
    he says:
“I am the Lord,
    and there is no other.
19 I have not spoken in secret,
    from somewhere in a land of darkness;
I have not said to Jacob’s descendants,
    ‘Seek me in vain.’
I, the Lord, speak the truth;
    I declare what is right.

20 “Gather together and come;
    assemble, you fugitives from the nations.
Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood,
    who pray to gods that cannot save.
21 Declare what is to be, present it—
    let them take counsel together.
Who foretold this long ago,
    who declared it from the distant past?
Was it not I, the Lord?
    And there is no God apart from me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
    there is none but me.

22 “Turn to me and be saved,
    all you ends of the earth;
    for I am God, and there is no other.
23 By myself I have sworn,
    my mouth has uttered in all integrity
    a word that will not be revoked:
Before me every knee will bow;
    by me every tongue will swear.
24 They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone
    are deliverance and strength. ’”
All who have raged against him
    will come to him and be put to shame.
25 But all the descendants of Israel
    will find deliverance in the Lord
    and will make their boast in him.

Gods of Babylon

46Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low;
    their idols are borne by beasts of burden.
The images that are carried about are burdensome,
    a burden for the weary.
2 They stoop and bow down together;
    unable to rescue the burden,
    they themselves go off into captivity.

3 “Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,
    all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
    and have carried since you were born.
4 Even to your old age and gray hairs
    I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

5 “With whom will you compare me or count me equal?
    To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?
6 Some pour out gold from their bags
    and weigh out silver on the scales;
they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god,
    and they bow down and worship it.
7 They lift it to their shoulders and carry it;
    they set it up in its place, and there it stands.
    From that spot it cannot move.
Even though someone cries out to it, it cannot answer;
    it cannot save them from their troubles.

8 “Remember this, keep it in mind,
    take it to heart, you rebels.
9 Remember the former things, those of long ago;
    I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.
10 I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.’
11 From the east I summon a bird of prey;
    from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said, that I will bring about;
    what I have planned, that I will do.
12 Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted,
    you who are now far from my righteousness.
13 I am bringing my righteousness near,
    it is not far away;
and my salvation will not be delayed.
    I will grant salvation to Zion,
    my splendor to Israel.

Commentary

Tell the good news of freedom

God’s love extends to every person, of every nation, from the moment of conception onwards. Part of his original plan in choosing Israel was that they would bring his blessing to all people (Genesis 12:3).

God is the creator of the heavens and the earth. He is your maker. There is no other. The book of Isaiah repeats this over and over again for emphasis. Ten times this passage says, ‘There is no other.’

God is your maker. He ‘formed you in the womb’ (Isaiah 44:24). God’s love extends before birth to conception and the womb; this has profound implications for the debate about abortion and how we treat the unborn. Every human being from the moment of conception is created and sustained by God. ‘I have upheld [you] since you were conceived’ (46:3b).

God’s love extends beyond Israel to all the nations as well. Since he is the creator of all, God invites all the nations to participate in salvation and freedom: ‘So turn to me and be helped – saved! – everyone, whoever and wherever you are’ (45:22a, MSG). This promises a freedom greater than any the world can offer.

Here, we get a glimpse of the entire world bowing before Jesus. ‘Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear’ (v.23b). Paul referred to this verse as a reference to Jesus (Philippians 2:9 onwards).

This was a foretaste too, of the fact that God will also use people who are ‘Gentiles’, that is, non-Jewish. Cyrus was a Persian and yet he is described here as the Lord’s anointed (Isaiah 45:1). Isaiah prophesies, ‘I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free’ (v.13). This prophecy was fulfilled when the exile came to an end through the hand of Cyrus.

This was God’s plan. He said, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfil my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do’ (46:10b–11). You can be confident that nothing can thwart God’s purpose for you.

Prayer

Lord, thank you that from the moment of conception, you love all people regardless of race or background. Thank you that Jesus has set us free and that, one day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Pippa adds

Galatians 5:1

‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’

It is a wonderful truth; Christ does set us free from sins, addictions, fears and bad habits. I know that freedom myself and have seen many others totally transformed by the reality of this verse. We then have to continue to walk in that freedom and not be tempted back into those old habits but keep claiming Christ’s freedom and the power of the cross.

Verse of the Day

Isaiah 46:4

‘Even to your old age and grey hairs |I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; |I will sustain you and I will rescue you.’
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References

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers used by permission

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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