“First, consider, That sin is never a, whit the less filthy, vile, and abominable, by its being coloured and painted with virtues colours. A poisonous pill is never a whit the less poisonous because it is gilded over with gold; nor a wolf is never a whit the less a wolf because he hath put on a sheep’s skin; nor the devil is never a whit the less a devil because he appears sometimes like an angel of light. So neither is sin any whit the less filthy and abominable by its being painted over with virtue’s colours.” —Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices
The second remedy to consider, That sin is but a bitter sweet. That seeming sweet that is in sin will quickly vanish, and lasting shame, sorrow, horror, and terror will come in the room thereof: Job 20:12-14, ‘Though wickedness be sweet in his mouth, though he hide it under his tongue, though he spare it, and forsake it not, but keep it still within his mouth, yet his meat in his bowels is turned, it is the gall of asps within him.’ Forbidden profits and pleasures are most pleasing to vain men, who count madness mirth, &c. Many long to be meddling with the murdering morsels of sin, which nourish not, but rent and consume the belly, the soul, that receives them. Many eat that on earth that they digest in hell. Sin’s murdering morsels will deceive those that devour them. Adam’s apple was a bitter sweet; Esau’s mess was a bitter sweet; the Israelite’s quails a bitter sweet; Jonathan’s honey a bitter sweet; and Adonijah’s dainties a bitter sweet. After the meal is ended, then comes the reckoning. Men must not think to dance and dine with the devil, and then to sup with Abraham, Issac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; to feed upon the poison of asps, and yet that the vipers tongue should not slay them. —Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” —Galatians 5:1
If justification by faith alone in Christ alone is the central doctrine of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, why is it hailed as the Magna Carta of Christian Liberty? Because as 5:1 demonstrates, justification by faith is bound to freedom as an attempt at justification by works is bound to slavery. Here we have the central commands of this letter: “stand firm” and “do not submit.” These are really one command. Standing firm is not submitting; not submitting is standing firm. This imperative flows from this gospel indicative, “for freedom Christ has set us free.” Christ, in whom we have this freedom, is laid hold of through faith; the Christ grasped through faith is our righteousness.
What is freedom? Certainly it is freedom from something. It is freedom from the law’s demands (3:23), the law’s curse (3:10), sin (3:22), and the elemental spirits of this world (4:3–9). We are freed from these things, but what are we freed to? Is our freedom only negative?
What is freedom? Consider this, one of the most famous works of Jonathan Edwards is his treatise The Freedom of the Will. One of the most famous of Martin Luther is The Bondage of the Will. What might surprise some is how harmonious the two are. It is all a question of what is meant by freedom. Luther, ever the blunt one, says that the will is in bondage to sin (i.e. John 8:34, Romans 6:17). Edwards, in his more sophisticated style, first says that the will freely does whatever it wants. The problem is, the only thing fallen man want’s to do is sin. Fallen man freely does as he wants, but his want-to is enslaved to sin. So, as Calvin says, to insist that such a will is “free” is to use a big word for a small thing.
What Edwards demonstrates is that being free to do whatever I want to do isn’t truly freedom. Yet, this is exactly what our modern, individualistic connotation of freedom is. As fallen a man, being free to do whatever you want is bondage to self—a self who is a damned fool. As a fish is free in water, so we are free when we bow to the Sovereign who is life, goodness, beauty, and truth. When a creature tries to play creator and cast off God’s Lordship, he embraces death, evil, ugliness, and lies. He embraces bondage. Bondage willingly embraced is the worst kind of bondage. The soul might be free when the wrists are shacked, but, though the wrists are unshackled, they are not free if the soul is chained.
So again, what is freedom? At its core is the redemption of Christ purchasing us unto Himself, so that we are counted righteous in Him, reconciled to God, and adopted as sons with all the benefits and promises thereof. But central to this freedom as Paul now wants to work it out is life in the Spirit. When Paul began laying down his defense of the doctrine of justification by faith alone in chapter 3 he asked, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Paul will bring this full circle in 5:16–18.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
What beautiful irony: walking by your own desires is bondage whereas walking by the Spirit is freedom. In the former we are under the law and break it. In the latter, we are free from the law and keep it. What is this life in the Spirit? It is living unto God by God. It is living as a creature in love and dependence on the Creator. It is not a life that strives for justification. It is a life that stems from justification.
“His [Satan’s] first device to draw the soul into sin is… to present the bait and hide the hook; to present the golden cup, and hide the poison; to present the sweet, the pleasure, and the profit that may flow in upon the soul by yielding to sin, and by hiding from the soul the wrath and misery that will certainly follow the committing of sin.” —Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices
“Whatever sin the heart of man is most prone to, that the devil will help forward. If David is proud of his people, Satan will provoke him to number them, that he may be yet prouder (2 Sam. 24). If Peter is slavishly fearful, Satan will put him upon rebuking and denying of Christ, to save his own skin (Matt. 16:22; 26:69-75). If Ahab’s prophets are given to flatter, the devil will immediately become a lying spirit in the mouths of four hundred of them, and they shall flatter Ahab to his ruin (2 Kings 22). If Judas will be a traitor, Satan will quickly enter into his heart, and make him sell his master for money, which some heathen would never have done (John 13:2). If Ananias will lie for advantage, Satan will fill his heart that he may lie, with a witness, to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3). Satan loves to sail with the wind, and to suit men’s temptations to their conditions and inclinations. If they be in prosperity, he will tempt them to deny God (Proverbs 30:9); if they be in adversity, he will tempt them to distrust God; if their knowledge be weak, he will tempt them to have low thoughts of God; if their conscience be tender, he will tempt to scrupulosity; if large, to carnal security; if bold-spirited, he will tempt to presumption; if timorous, to desperation; if flexible, to inconstancy; if stiff, to impenitency.” —Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices
“At Rome my arrival was marked by the scourge of physical sickness, and I was on the way to the underworld, bearing all the evils I had committed against you, against myself, and against others—sins both numerous and serious, in addition to the chain of original sin by which ‘in Adam we die’ (1 Cor. 15: 22). You had not yet forgiven me in Christ for any of them, nor had he by his cross delivered me from the hostile disposition towards you which I had contracted by my sins. How could he deliver me from them if his cross was, as I had believed, a phantom? Insofar as the death of his flesh was in my opinion unreal, the death of my soul was real. And insofar as the death of his flesh was authentic, to that extent the life of my soul, which disbelieved that, was inauthentic.” —Augustine, Confessions
“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” —1 Peter 2:4–10 (ESV)
Who are you?
How did you answer that question? With your name? Your vocation? Your heritage? Your ethnicity? Your nationality? Your alma mater?
There are multiple ways this question could be rightly answered. Context will determine much. In the workplace you won’t answer by explaining who your great uncle is. At the family reunion you will not reply with your job title. But in a vague context, where your mind goes first can be revealing. When you think about who you are, do you ever think “saint” or “child of God?” Beyond this, do you find yourself only thinking in individualistic rather than corporate categories?
Ours is an age that emphasizes the individual at the expense of any corporate identities. Yet we wonder why we’re so lonely, detached, and isolated and we continue to gasp at rampant consumerism and selfishness. Church, Peter’s aim in these verses is clear. He wants us to know who we are. Being a Christian has implications for each of us individually, but you cannot think of who you are as a saint independently, apart from the body of Christ.
While it is clear that Peter wants us to know who we are, what is less clear is why? Why does Peter want us to know who? Peter doesn’t spell this out, but I think we all realize something of why as we look at who, and it is that who speaks to why. Who determines purpose. When your identity consists of being “elect exiles” (1:1) this has radical implications for why and how you live.
How many of the church’s problems stem from a failure to understand who she is? She is full of people acting like individuals, approaching church and spirituality as consumers looking to fill their personal needs. The church corporately responds to this by marketing herself to this individualism. How often do you get the sense that what really makes a church tick is the desire to express her individualism? It is not enough to simply be the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must be a unique one.
Jesus has adorned the church. She doesn’t need to doll herself up. Any such effort won’t be an improvement. The church’s make-up identity skills suck. She hamfistedly globs on the mascara trying to attract the wrong kind of guy. What the church needs is to realize who she is in Christ and act accordingly. Instead of behaving as a prostitute whoring after the world, let us strive to be faithful to the one who has loved us into beauty. In Him we are a temple, a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a treasured possession. If we realized this, we’d quit trying to tout our uniqueness and start offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable in Christ. We’d start declaring the glories of Him who called us out of darkness and into His light.