Free societies are gradually disappearing! Within a few months you have seen the world's largest democracy revert to a virtual dictatorship, with mass arrests and loss of personal freedoms. In free, democratic nations, including the United States, we see the loss of many personal freedoms we have long held dear. Totalitarianism reigns; despots, dictators, absolute rulers emerge as the third-world heroes. Politically speaking, millions of human beings are experiencing more and more loss of personal freedoms — losing liberty! But, believe it or not, far more millions are already in slavery than you could possibly realize! Maybe, without realizing it, even you are not truly free.
Spying is Big Business! Everybody's getting into the act. We have the FBI, the CIA, the KGB and who knows what else prying into everybody's business. Privacy is a thing of the past. Surveillance at all levels of society generates a constant hum of clandestine activity. The sale of tape recorders, miniaturized cameras, listening devices and other implements of the surveillance art is booming as never before. Movies like The Conversation underscore the insatiable drive to obtain information on anyone and everyone. Everyone, or so it seems, is suspect. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Doris Day, Billy Graham, John Wayne and yours truly, Garner Ted Armstrong have all experienced their moments in the spotlight of surveillance. At one time even the Ku Klux Klan had been infiltrated by literally thousands of undercover (pardon the pun!) FBI agents. Spying, surveillance, infiltration and undercover work are nothing new, of course. Such clandestine activities have been going on since man first learned to mistrust his fellowman. Even Jesus' own group was infiltrated, in a sense, by a disloyal fifth columnist named Judas Iscariot. Judas complained, grumbled about the way the money was spent, and finally betrayed his Lord and Master into the hands of murderers for thirty pieces of silver. Judas then went out in a horrifying spate of self-destructive remorse and killed himself. He simply could not stand to contemplate the work of his own bloody hands. Judas had done daily obeisance to his own special brand of slavery. He wasn't satisfied with the way Christ did things; he wanted Jesus to come around to doing things Judas' way. He wanted a Christ in Judas' image — all the while he himself was enslaved to the sin of stealing. Every single person who has not really repented is in slavery to sin. But only a rare one-in-a-million person will come to really see himself (or herself) and admit he has been a literal slave to his own lusts and vanities. Only a tiny handful have come to the place where they have been willing to see themselves as in literal bondage to Satan — "the god of this world."
The "Freedom" Preachers
Millions fancy themselves free — especially free from having to obey God! Their mouthpieces speak of "grace," which means, to them, being in some sort of spiritual condition which releases them from any obligation to submit their wills to the Creator. But grace is not any such spiritual "condition" — it is a quality of the nature of God! Grace is God's forgiveness — His attitude of mercy and pardon, unearned, undeserved, which He will show anyone who repents of sin. Millions are in slavery to this world and its customs, habits, beliefs, fables, false religions, dogmas, prejudices, politics, etc. They are and have been — though they don't realize it and would vehemently deny it — under the slavish sway of the hidden god of this present age, who is Satan the devil (II Cor. 4:4; cf. Eph. 2:2). But the great influence who presently holds sway over mankind likes to allow man to believe himself "free." He even has ministers (II Cor. 11:13-15) who preach his special kind of "freedom." Listen: "While they [false ministers] promise them [their followers] liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption... " (II Peter 2:19).
The Political Freedom Preachers
There is a striking parallel between the false ministers of Satan preaching their brand of "freedom" and the political preachers of the same doctrines. Would-be leaders in various movements scream about deprivation of rights, social injustices and the like. They decry the virtual slavery of the people they wish to incite. Yet they, themselves, preach a new kind of slavery — that of mindless obedience to the dictates of their own policies. Ironically, inciters to chaos and violence loudly deplore violence. And so the human pendulum swings. For centuries, humans have kidded themselves they can find true liberty in their own governments, social orders and religions. They have only succeeded in drifting from one kind of enslavement to another — and have never achieved true freedom. Witness revolutionary coup d'etats in dictator ruled nations. I have said before that the worst thing that can happen to an anarchist, plotting to overthrow a government and thus change the "status quo," is to succeed. Our anarchist, who loudly decried abuses of corrupt government to gain his following, emotionally polarize his lieutenants, and to sweep himself into power, now becomes the proprietor of a new "status quo" — often worse than the one replaced. He must then face the inevitable moment when another revolutionary, perhaps one of his own most trusted lieutenants, attempts to overthrow the new (now "old") status quo with yet a newer status quo. But we in politically free America are in other kinds of slavery — we are enslaved by our own technology (i.e., smog-producing automobiles). We are unable to control our own hugeness; we are terrified by the works of our own hands. Today mankind as a whole sees himself facing the ultimate disaster — the suicide of the human race. And all because we wanted liberty. Freedom. But we didn't know where it was. And we didn't know where to look for it.
The Bible — A Book About Freedom.
The Bible is a book about true freedom — and about slavery. Christians, in an allegorical sense, are called slaves in the Bible. Notice Romans 12:1-2: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." And in I Corinthians 3:23 we are told that "ye are Christ's" — that is, we belong to Him. The apostle Paul further elaborates on this theme in his first letter to the Corinthian brethren. "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (I Cor. 6:19-20). Years ago, I ran away and joined the U.S. Navy. I wanted (can you believe this one?) to get out from under authority! Instead I found myself under more authority than ever! So, discharged from the Navy after four years service (including nine months offshore Korea during 1951- 52), I decided I would never "take orders" again. Deluding myself I was the classic independent, I kidded myself I was a "free" soul. I smoked, of course. But then, I argued with myself, I smoked because I wanted to, and not because I had to. No one was commanding me to light up a cigarette. No one but my own self. The truth was, I was a whipped slave to the cigarette habit. I had to smoke — as I finally began to see when quitting time came. I would toy with the idea of quitting — even trying to convince my wife a certain brand had virtually no nicotine in it (as per the implied statements on the package) and therefore was conducive to good health. But finally I knew I had to quit any habit that was degenerative, destructive to health, and, in principle, condemned in the Bible. And I did! But it was tough! I would throw away a pack of cigarettes in disgust, after, of course, having smoked "just one" to satisfy my craving. Then the next day I would try to remember where I threw the pack — and actually drive over to the ditch and search for it! Free man? But smoking is only one example. I wasn't ever going to wait in a line again. Never say "sir" again — never, never take any orders of any kind. That was all a childish pipe dream that went up in smoke. Again I found myself taking orders. I discovered there was no way to get out from under authority. It's all a matter of whose. Christ said we are not "our own." We do not have total, utter autonomy in life. None of us do. In Christ, we must give up all of our human "liberty" in exchange for the greatest true freedom imaginable! More about that later.
Many Kinds of Slavery
Slavery was still extant within the Roman Empire in Paul's day. (It would be ridiculous to say that it is not still extant today — the whole Soviet Union is, in my opinion, in a state of slavery!) In communist nations they have to build walls to keep people in! In the last thirty years we have seen the desperate attempts of some to break out of the Iron Curtain, only to fall in a hail of bullets and glass. Today, whole nations exist in a virtual state of slavery to various types of totalitarian regimes. Slavery, in the narrowest sense of the word, is not practiced, to my knowledge, in the Western world today. A person just doesn't go down to the slave block, literally buy another human being for so many dollars and bring him home as a personal slave. Yet slavery does exist in a very real sense. Perhaps the worst kind of slavery is to be in virtual captivity to — believe it or not — yourself! A person can actually worship at his own altar. Many people walk along in life with this great vision of themselves — an imaginary idea of how they want to appear to others, a secret projection of how they want that self to be. This is, to me, the worst form of idolatry. Self-imagery! Personal worship! Bowing and scraping before this image of an en visionary, imaginary better self! This actually exists in the back. of many human beings' minds as they go about their day-to-day business — their "daily Dagon" — an ego-trip of unbelievable, toadish, egotistical proportions which might even embarrass Adolf Hitler. And this particular type of idolatry goes mostly undetected. We don't recognize that unless and until our egos are deflated (by repentance and real conversion) and we begin to travel in a completely opposite direction, we are all (and have been from the time we were squalling babies) on a massive ego-trip of outlandish proportions. Our slavery to our own selves begins early in life, continues through teenage and all of our adult lives if we don't experience a miracle called repentance somewhere along the way.
The Beginnings of Freedom
When will we ever experience freedom of mind and spirit? When freedom from terror, from worry, from unhappiness, from pain and suffering — and most of all freedom from our own selves? This is the kind of freedom God offers. Freedom never imagined by most of us — the lasting, secure kind that no human being can take away. It begins with freedom from sin — with repentance of sin! Listen to the way Paul put it: "Let not sin therefore reign [rule over you] in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof" (Rom. 6:12). But this freedom is by choice. Human beings have a "right" to continue to be ruled, forced, driven like a cowering, whimpering slave by their own habits (smoking, cursing, overdrinking, arguing, fighting, stealing, etc.) and passions (lusts, covetousness, even drug usage) — slavishly ruled over by mere human impulses and emotions. Or we can decide, by and with the help of God, to repent and be truly free. Paul continued in the same context: "Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you..." (verses 13-14). God says that we don't have to be whipped into line by some false image of ourselves. We can also be free from committing acts that will bring on all sorts of suffering. We don't have to be in abject, groveling slavery to our own prejudices, notions, thoughts, concepts, racial bigotries and religious ideas. The apostle Paul wrote that he had been made free from his own self. He said: "... For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2).
Freedom Has a Price on It
But freedom is not free! Your freedom has a price on it. The price of the blood of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. You have been bought with an incredible price! You didn't cost dollars, pounds, farthings, or escudos — you cost the life of God in the human flesh! The apostle Peter wrote: "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation [Greek, conduct] received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (I Pet. 1:18-19). Therefore, you are under obligation to glorify God in your mind and body. Read I Corinthians 7:23: "Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men" (the word "servant" in the Greek is dulos, which really means "bondslave"). A great sacrifice was made for your freedom. "... For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us," wrote Paul (I Cor. 5:7). It is only through the unconditional acceptance of this sacrifice that we may obtain total and complete spiritual freedom. It begins with Christ's blood and continues as a lifelong commitment to God. Jesus said: "If ye continue in my word [living by every word" of God as a true Christian, see Matt. 4:4 and Luke 4:4], then are ye my disciples indeed; and [by living that way of life] ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31, 32). Gaining this total spiritual freedom is a lifelong process. It starts with your total surrender to God and your complete acceptance of and faith in the blood of Jesus Christ and grows throughout your lifetime. Realistically, there will be some lapses in this overall growth; there will be ups and downs on the graph; you will have some low points bordering on a return to spiritual slavery. But God, in His great mercy, has already made provision for your occasional mistakes, lapses, stumblings. John explains: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).
What is real liberty? What is true freedom? In the truest sense of those terms it is not just political. Again notice Paul's instruction to the Corinthian Church: "Were you a slave when called? Never mind. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord" (I Cor. 7:21-22, RSV). It is clear and plain, from these verses, which type of freedom is of paramount importance. Spiritual freedom from sin is the ultimate liberty! The Jews of Jesus' day misunderstood this fundamental point. Jesus had said that the truth would make them free. But "They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage [in terms of personal slavery] to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? "Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.... If the Son therefore shall make you free [through His sacrifice], ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:33-34, 36). But this precious freedom was not intended as a catalyst for continued licentiousness. It was, instead, to free His followers from enslavement to sin. The angel told Joseph that Jesus was to "save his people from their sins" — not in them (Matt. 1:21). Peter underscored this point in an early sermon shortly after the day of Pentecost. "... God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away everyone of you from his iniquities" (Acts 3:26). Paul wrote: "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid" (Rom. 6:1-2). And: "... Use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh..." (Gal. 5:13).
Freedom From Fear of Death
Those who think freedom includes the absolute liberty to sin whenever they get good and ready simply have not grasped the character of true freedom. Freedom is not absolute in that sense at all. It is freedom from the countless daily fears that plague humankind, such as the most agonizing fear of all: death. In some few extreme cases, people have been so afraid of death that they would not attend a funeral, even of a closest loved one; or they immediately got up to leave a movie with an unexpected burial scene. Religion after religion has this unbelievable preoccupation with death — running the gamut from the nothingness of the Hindu version of Nirvana to the literal pains of hellfire taught by some fundamentalist Christian "faiths." But Jesus Christ of Nazareth came to deliver us from even this terrible fear. That is one of the reasons He emptied Himself of His glorified God-ship and willingly came down to this earth as a flesh-and blood human, subject to death. Paul explains it in Hebrews. "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy [counterwork, thwart, annul] him that had the power of death, that is, the devil: and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb. 2:14-15). But Jesus didn't stay dead. God the Father resurrected Him to everlasting, eternal glorified spirit life. Then Jesus sent to His disciples (throughout every age since that time) "the Comforter" — the Holy Spirit — which is not "the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (II Tim. 1:7). He has made available, especially through the inspiration of the New Testament Scriptures (John 14:25- 26; 16:12-13), the true knowledge of life and death (I Cor. 15; John 5; Rev. 20, etc.). Make no mistake, death is an enemy of human beings, but Christ has conquered it through the resurrection — and it will be destroyed forever as the last enemy of mankind. And with that sure knowledge, we no longer need to contemplate death in a moribund manner. David wrote: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints" (Ps. 116:15). And the apostle Paul could say in absolute confidence: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21).
Paul's Personal Freedom
Paul wrote more about slavery and freedom than any of the other apostles or New Testament writers. Ironically, he was simultaneously both a free man in one sense and a slave in another. He understood deeply about bondage and freedom in an intimate personal sense. Paul described himself as a bondservant (slave) when he was in Roman imprisonment from about A.D. 57 to 59. In the final chapter of Acts, Luke shows him to be under some sort of house arrest where he was able to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God to those who came to see him. Paul also described himself as a "servant" (or bondslave) of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:1). He explained to the Corinthian brethren: "For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ" (I Cor. 7:22, RSV). Paul was a slave to Christ, which paradoxically gave him the ultimate spiritual freedom possible in the human flesh. Yet in spite of all of his analogies of slavery, Paul was free in many ways. To those who wondered about his credentials and questioned the conduct of his ministry and apostolic office, Paul wrote: "Am I not an apostle? am I not free?... Have we not power [freedom] to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? [Peter was married.] Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power [the right] to "forbear working? [in other words, the right to take tithes of the churches for their living — read our free booklet entitled Tithing for a full explanation]" (I Cor. 9:1-6.) It is true that Paul did not exercise some of his freedoms and rights. He would go way out of his path not to offend others. But he did have the power, the right and the freedom to exercise his apostolic office with regard to financial matters and other policies relating to New Testament. Church administration. This apostle also deeply understood Christian liberty and urged the Churches of God to continue in these freedoms. "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage," he lovingly warned the Galatians (5:1). False teachers close to that church were prating about the necessity to be physically circumcised in order to be saved (verses 2-3, 6, 11). Paul carefully and patiently exposed the folly of this Pharasaic, legalistic, do's-and-don'ts type of religion (read this whole chapter along with Acts 15).
Which Will It Be?
Those Galatian brethren had a choice. They could either continue to accept the gospel that Paul taught with the full backing of his apostolic authority from God the Father and Jesus Christ (see Gal. 1) or allow the precious truth of God to slip out of their grasp — retrogressing back into physical circumcision and other legalistic works of the flesh. The apostle Paul had already been down that road. He said: "If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee ... touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ" (Phil. 3:4-7). Paul had exchanged his previous self-righteousness for the righteousness of God through faith (verses 8-9). He was concerned about a resurrection to eternal life in the God family (verse 11) — not clinging onto physical circumcision (as a religious rite) and other fleshly forms of righteousness. He had already decided that true freedom would be his. He decided his authority would be God the Father, and Jesus Christ, and the Word of God. He would no longer mindlessly, blindly cringe before the impulses of his own human mind and the traditional teachings of others. He would not be a slave to "what people think." He would not do obeisance to lust, bow down before vanity, Or obey the instant impulse of greed. He would not drift through life as fair game for the myriads of wrong authorities around him. Paul would choose! He would choose his own authority. And he would not obey it out of terror. It was fear — fear of other people's opinions; fear of family, friends, and associates; fear of all sorts of real and imagined consequences — that had formerly made him part and parcel of his own Pharasaic society. But he would never allow himself to be trapped and enslaved into a fear religion again! Now he would obey because he decided to. He could plainly see which results he wanted — which was the best way to live. Never again would he stoop before the Molech of fashion; the Dagon of public opinion; the Ishtar of sex; or the Mars of hatred and war. No idolatrous power would rule him — not Paul. Because he freely gave himself to God, he found true freedom — real liberty! And for that, he will possess the ultimate freedom for all eternity (compare II Tim. 4:7-8 with Rev. 20:4). God is no respecter of persons. Yes, he loved the apostle Paul. But He is your heavenly Father too. He loves you with a full, swelling, boundless, all-encompassing, limitless love that transcends any human comprehension. If you are one of the many mixed-up, miserable, frustrated, empty people who are enslaved to themselves and this world, He wants you to be free: free from your own false self-image; free from the slavery of your own lusts and passions; free from the world; and free from Satan the devil. He wants you to be your own man, not in captivity to the vanity and the ego-trips of this present society but innovative, creative, unique and different! The choice is yours. Will you choose true liberty?