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The Christian's Secret to a Happy Life 13 - Bondage or freedom.

By Hannah Whitall Smith


      There are two kinds of Christian experience, one of which is an experience of bondage, and the other an experience of freedom. In bondage the soul is controlled by a stern sense of duty and obeys the law of God either from fear of punishment or from expectation of wages. In the experience of freedom, the controlling power is an inward lifeprinciple that works out, by the force of its own motions or instincts, the will of the divine Lifegiver without fear of punishment or hope of reward. In the first the Christian is a servant and works for hire. In the second he is a son and works for love.

      This contrast in the experience of Christians should not be. To "walk in freedom" is plainly their only right and normal condition. But as we have to deal with what is, rather than with what ought to be, we cannot shut our eyes to the sad condition of bondage in which so many of God's children spend a large part of their Christian lives. The reason and the remedy for this are not difficult to find. The reason is legality and the remedy is Christ.

      Nowhere do we find those two forms or stages of Christian life more fully developed and contrasted than in the Epistle to the Galatians. The occasion of its being written was that some Jewish brethren came among the churches in Galatia. They tried to draw them away from the liberty of the gospel by presenting certain forms and ceremonies as necessary to their salvation. Peter allowed himself to unite with these teachers. Therefore Paul reproves, not only the Galatians, but also Peter himself.

      Neither Peter nor the Galatians committed any moral sin. They did, however, commit a spiritual sin. They got into a wrong attitude toward God a legal attitude. They began, as Christians generally do, in the right attitude. That is, they entered by the "hearing of faith" into the spiritual life. But when it came to a question of how they were to live in this life, they changed their ground. They sought to substitute works for faith. Having "begun in the Spirit," they were now seeking to be "made perfect by the flesh." They descended in their Christian living from the plane of life to the plane of law.

      An illustration will help us to understand this. There are two men who do not steal. Outwardly their actions are equally honest, but inwardly there is a vital difference. One man had a dishonest nature that wants to steal, and is prevented

      from doing so only by the fear of a penalty. The other possesses an honest nature that hates thieving and could not be induced to steal even by the hope of a reward. The one is honest in the spirit. The other is honest only in the flesh. No words are needed to identify which sort the Christian life is meant to be.

      Bondage In Legalism

      We are, however, continually tempted to forget that it is not what men do that is important, but what they are. In Christ Jesus neither following or not following legal observances matters. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." God is more concerned about our really being "new creatures" than about anything else. He knows that if we are right in our inward being, we will certainly do right in our outward actions. We may, in fact, sometimes even do right without being right at all. It is very evident that no doing of this kind has any vitality in it, nor is of any real account. The essential thing is character. Doing is valuable only as it is an indication of being.

      Paul was grieved with the Galatian Christians because they seemed to have lost sight of this vital truth-that the inward life, the "new creature," was the only thing that mattered. They began on this plane, but fell from grace to a lower plane. Romans 7:6 tells us, "But now we are delivered from the law...we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.'' "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace " (Galatians 5 :4 ) .

      This passage is the only one in which the expression "fallen from grace" is used in the New Testament. It means that the Galatians made the mistake of thinking that something else other than Christ was necessary for their right Christian living. The Jewish brethren who had come among them had taught them that Christ alone was not enough, and obedience to the ceremonial law must be added.

      They, therefore, believed that some ceremonies of the Jewish ritual were necessary for salvation, and had tried to urge the "Gentiles to live as do the Jews" (Galatians 2:14). Modern Christians are greatly surprised at them and wonder how they could have been so legal. But are not some modern Christians tempted in a different way to follow legality? They added the ceremonial law. We add resolutions, or Christian work, or church going, or religious ceremonies of one sort or another. Therefore, what is the difference between us and them? It does not make much difference what you add, the wrong thing is to add anything at all.

      We condemn outward deeds and outward ceremonies as bringing salvation. But I fear there are many like the Galatian Christians who frustrate the grace of God by legalism.

      The following contrasts may help some to understand the difference between these two beliefs, and may enable them to discover where the secret of their own experience of legal bondage lies:

      The Law says: The Gospel says:
      Do this and you will live. (See Leviticus 18:5).
       Live, and then you will do

      Pay what you owe.
       God forgives you. (See Luke 7:42)

      Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and spirit. (Ezekiel 18:31)
       "I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within you" (Ezekiel 11:19)

      "And thou shalt love the Lord God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deuteronomy 6:5).
       "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and gave His Son to be a propitiation for our sins"( 1 John 4:10)

      "Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them (Deuteronomy 27:26).
       "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered"(Romans 4:7)

      "The wages of sin is death"(Romans 6:23)
       "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ Christ our Lord". (Romans 6:23).

      THE LAW THE GOSPEL
      Demands holiness
       Gives holiness.

      Says, Do
       Says, Done.

      Extorts the unwilling service of a slave
       Wins the loving service of a son.

      Makes blessings the result of obedience.
       Makes obedience the result of blessings.

      Says, If
       Says, Therefore.

      Was given to restrain man's old old nature.
       Was given to bring freedom to man's new nature.

      Salvation was wages.
       Salvation is a gift. Christ Set Us Free

            

      Paul tells us that the law is our "schoolmaster" (Galatians 3:25), not our savior. He emphasizes the fact that it is our schoolmaster only for the purpose of bringing us to Christ, for after faith in Christ is come, he declares we are no longer to be under a schoolmaster. He uses the contrast between a servant and a son as an illustration of his meaning in Galatians 4:7. "Wherefore, " he says, "thou art no more a servant, but a son." Galatians 5:11 begs us, because of this, to "Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."

      It is as if a woman was paid for her work in weekly wages as a servant in a house. She was under the law of her master, whom she tried to please, but towards whom her service was one only of duty. Finally, however, the master offers her his love, and lifts her up from the place of a servant to be his bride and to share his fortunes. At once the whole spirit of her service is changed. She may perhaps continue to do the same things that she did before, but she does them now from a different motive. The old sense of duty is lost in the new sense of love. The cold word "master" is transformed into the loving word " husband ." "And it shall be at that day, saith the Lord, that thou shalt call me Ishi (my husband), and shalt call me no more Baali (my lord)" (Hosea 2:16).

      But imagine this bride beginning after a while to look back upon her former low position and begin to feel unworthy of union with her husband. Who can doubt that very soon the old sense of working for wages would drive out the new sense of working for love, and in spirit the old name of "my master" would again take the place of the new name of "my husband?"

      We are amazed at such thinking. But isn't this just what happens to many Christians now? The slavery of duty takes the place of the service of love. God is looked upon as the stern taskmaster who demands our obedience, instead of the loving Father who wins it. We all know that nothing so destroys the sweetness of any relationship as when this legal spirit creeps in. The moment a husband and wife stop serving each other out of a heart of love and union, and begin to serve from a sense of duty alone, the sweetness of the union is lost. The marriage tie then becomes a bondage, and things that were a joy before are turned into crosses.

      Many Christians think that taking up the cross means doing something we ought to do, but dislike to do. Such service is thought to have merit. We all know very well that we would not endure it a moment toward ourselves. What wife could endure her husband using language toward her that Christians are continually using toward the Lord? If he would say, for instance, every morning as he went to work, "I am going to work for you today, but I want you to know that it is a very great cross and I hardly know how to bear it." Or what husband would like such language from his wife? No wonder Paul was alarmed when he found there was danger of a legal spirit such as this creeping into the Church of Christ.

      Legal Christians do not deny Christ. They only seek to add something to Christ. Their idea is Christ and something besides. Perhaps it is Christ and good works, or Christ and earnest feelings, or Christ and clear doctrines, or Christ and certain religious performances. All these are good in themselves, and good as the results or fruits of salvation. However, to add anything to Christ, no matter how good it may be is to deny His completeness and to exalt self.

      A religion of bondage always exalts self. It is what I do-my efforts, my wrestlings, my faithfulness. But a religion of liberty leaves self nothing to glory in; it is all Christ, and what He does, and what He is, and how wonderfully He saves. The child does not boast of itself, but of his father and mother. Our souls can "make (their) boast in the Lord" (Psalm 34:2) when, in this life of liberty, we have learned to know that He and He alone is the sufficient supply for our every need.

      Heirs Of God

      We are the children of God. Therefore, we are His heirs. Our possessions come to us, not by working for them, but by inheritance from our Father. Ah, dear friends, how little some of you act like the "heirs of God" (Romans 8:17)! How poverty-stricken you are, and how hard you work for the little you do possess! You may think that good has come from your own effort, which does seem to have a "(show) of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body" (Colossians 2:2 3) . But I am convinced that any good results have come in spite of, and not because of, your legal working.

      I had a friend once whose Christian life was a life of bondage. She worked for her salvation harder than any slave ever worked to purchase his freedom. She never felt as if the day could go right for herself or any of her family, unless she started it with a season of wrestling, and agonizing, and conflict. "Winding up her machine," I called it. One day we were talking about it, and she was telling me of the difficulty and bondage of her Christian life. She wondered what the Bible meant when it said Christ's yoke was easy and His burden light (Matthew 11:30). I told her that I thought she must have gotten things wrong somehow, that the Bible did not suggest that any such wrestling and agonizing are necessary.

      "What would you think," I asked, "of children who had to wrestle and agonize with their parents every morning for their necessary food and clothing, or of sheep that had to wrestle with their shepherd, before they could secure the necessary care?"

      "Of course I see that would be all wrong," she said. "But then why do I have such good times after I have gone through these conflicts?"

      This puzzled me for a moment, but then I asked, "What finally brings about those good times?" "Why, finally, " she replied, " I come to the point of trusting the Lord."

      "Suppose you came to that point in the beginning?" I asked. "Oh," she replied, with sudden illumination, "I never until this minute thought that I might!"

      Christ says that except we "become as little children we cannot enter into the Kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 18:3). But it is impossible to get the child-spirit until the servant-spirit has disappeared. Notice, I do not say the spirit of service, but the servant-spirit. Every good child is filled with the spirit of service, but shouldn't have the servant-spirit. The child serves from love. The servant works for wages.

      If a child of loving parents would get the idea that its parents would not give him food and clothing unless he earned them in some way, all the sweetness of the relationship between parent and child would be destroyed. I knew a little girl who did get this idea, and who went around the neighborhood asking at the doors for work so that she might earn a little money to buy herself some clothes. It nearly broke the hearts of her parents when they discovered it. Legal Christians grieve the heart of their Heavenly Father, far more than they know, by letting the servant-spirit creep into their relationship with Him. As soon as we begin to "work for our living" in spiritual things, we have stepped out of the son's place into the servant's, and have fallen from grace.

      Spiritual Blessings

      One servant, of whom we read in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, thought his lord was a hard master. The spirit of bondage makes us think the same now. How many Christians there are who have bowed their necks to the yoke of Christ as to

      a "yoke of bondage." They have read His declaration that His yoke is easy, as though it were a fairy tale, and gone on their way, never dreaming that it was meant to be actually realized as fact! When some children of God find themselves experiencing freedom, they at once begin to think there must be something wrong in their experience because they no longer find anything to be a "cross" to them. A wife might as well think that there must be something wrong in her love for her husband, when she finds all her services for him are a pleasure instead of a trial!

      Sometimes I think that the whole secret of the Christian life that I have been trying to describe is revealed in the child relationship. Nothing more is needed than just to believe that God is as good a Father as the best ideal earthly father. The relationship of a Christian to Him is just the same as that of a child to its parent in this world. Children do not need to carry money with them for their support. If the father has plenty, that satisfies them. This is a great deal better than if it were in the child's own possession since it might get lost. In the same way it is not necessary for Christians to have all their spiritual possessions in their own keeping. It is far better that their riches should be stored up for them in Christ, and that when they want anything they should receive it directly from His hands. Christ is "made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30). Apart from Him, we have nothing.

      When people are comparative strangers to one another, they cannot receive gifts from each other comfortably. But when they are united in spirit with a bond of true love between them, no matter how great the gifts, they can be accepted without embarrassment or obligation. This principle holds true in the spiritual life. When Christians are living apart from God, they cannot be brought to accept any great gifts from Him. They feel as if they are too unworthy and do not deserve such gifts. Even when He puts the blessing into their hands, their false humility prevents them from seeing it, and they go on their way without it.

      But when Christians get near enough to the Lord to feel the true spirit of adoption, they are ready to accept with delight all the blessings He has in store for them. They never think anything is too much to receive. For then they discover that He is only eager, as parents are, to pour out every good gift upon His children. All things are theirs because they are Christ's, and Christ is God's.

      Bondage Or Freedom

      Sometimes a great mystery is made out of the life hid with Christ in God, as though it were a strange mystical thing that ordinary people could not understand. But this contrast between bondage and freedom makes it very plain. It is only to find out that we really are sons, not servants (see Galatians 4:7), that we can enter into the blessed privileges of this relationship. All can understand what it is to be a little child. There is no mystery about that. God did not use the description of Father and children without knowing all that this relationship implies. Those who know Him as their Father know the whole secret. They are their Father's heirs and may enter now into possession of all that is necessary for their present needs. They will therefore be very simple in their prayers. "Lord," they will say, "I am your child, and I need such and such." "My child," He answers, "all things are yours in Christ. Come and take just what you need."

      Where the executors of an estate are honorable men, the heirs are not obliged to "wrestle" for their inheritance. The executors are appointed to help them possess it. I sometimes think Christians look upon our Lord as someone appointed to keep them out of their possessions, instead of the one who has come to bring them in. They know little how such an implication grieves and dishonors Him.

      It is because legal Christians do not know the truth of their relationship to God, as children to a father, and do not recognize His fatherly heart toward them, that they are in bondage. When they do recognize it, the spirit of bondage becomes impossible to them. Our freedom must come, therefore, from an understanding of the mind and thoughts of God towards us.

      What are the facts of the case? If He has called us to the servants' place, rather than the Christians', whose lives are lives of weary bondage, we are right. But if He has called us to be children and heirs, if we are His friends, His brethren, His bride, how sadly and ,grievously wrong we are in being entangled under any yoke of bondage whatever, no matter how pious a yoke it may seem to be!

      The thought of bondage is utterly abhorrent to any of earth's true relationships, and surely it must be more repugnant to a heavenly relationship. It will not hinder the final entrance of the poor enslaved soul into its heavenly rest, but it will put it into the sad condition of those who are described in 1 Corinthians 3: 1 5. " (Their) work shall be burned, (and they) shall suffer loss; (yet they themselves) shall be saved; yet so as by fire."

      "Against such there is no law" (Galatians 5 :2 3 ) is the divine sentence concerning all who live and walk in the Spirit. You will find it most blessedly true in your own experience, if you will lay aside all self-effort and self-dependence of every kind and will consent to let Christ live in you, work in you, and be your indwelling life. The man who lives by the power of an inward righteous nature is not under bondage to the outward law of righteousness. But, he who is restrained by the outward law alone, without the inward restraint of a righteous nature, is a slave to the law. The one fulfils the law in his soul, and is therefore free. The other rebels against the law in his soul, and is therefore bound. I truly wish that every child of God knew the deliverance from bondage which I have tried to present!

Back to Hannah Whitall Smith index.

See Also:
   1 - Is it Scriptural?
   2 - God's side and man's side.
   3 - The Life Defined
   4 - How to enter in.
   5 - Difficulties concerning consecration.
   6 - Difficulties concerning faith.
   7 - Difficulties concerning the will.
   8 - Difficulties concerning guidance.
   9 - Difficulties concerning doubts.
   10 - Difficulties concerning temptations.
   11 - Difficulties concerning failures.
   12 - Is God everything?
   13 - Bondage or freedom.
   14 - Growth.
   15 - Service.
   16 - Practical results in the daily walk.
   17 - The joy of obedience.
   18 - Divine Union.
   19 - The chariots of God.
   20 - The life on wings.

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