The gospel and liberationIntroduction
In Luke 4:18 Jesus describes his role in terms of proclaiming "freedom for the prisoners". Liberation or freedom is an excellent description of the Biblical idea of salvation. In the Bible the word "salvation" means the action or result of deliverance or preservation from danger. In the Old Testament it tends to refer to the escape of God's people from their enemies, and in particular the escape of the nation from the bondage of Egypt and Babylon. In the New Testament it tends to refer to deliverance from the powers of evil - from sin and death.
In liberal Christian circles, salvation, or more particularly it's modern equivalents or freedom and liberation, is seen as a socio-political reality rather than a spiritual reality. The gospel is seen as a programme for the implementation of the just society, and the necessary struggle to overcome oppressive political and structural powers for the liberation of mankind. Yet the struggle of Jesus was in no way a political one. The powers he opposed were not political or philosophical, as Jesus said to Pilate "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above", Jn.19:11. When finally he gained "freedom for the captives" and their entry into the Kingdom of God, it was not into a new political order, for as Jesus said, "my Kingdom is not of this world".
The Biblical imagery of liberation
It is necessary first of all, to identify the Biblical images of liberation.
i] The Exodus establishes a pattern of liberation. God with a mighty and outstretched arm stands against the power of Pharaoh and sets his people free. From that initial confrontation, continued powerful affronts against the children of God are stayed by divine intervention, and so the people are delivered and preserved from danger. From the Exodus to the final defeat of the Philistines by David, the power of the enemy is stayed for freedom/ liberation and finally victory.
ii] During the period of the Kings, the prophets recognise that the Kingdom of Israel is not in reality the Kingdom of God. The nation must face catastrophe for its rebellion against God. Yet a remnant will be saved. There will be a new Exodus. Although the prophets describe this liberation in historic terms, Jer. 29:14, and although it is fulfilled at one level in history, it is actually of another order. cf. Zech.9:9, 11, 10:8-12.
iii] In the ministry of Jesus we finally see the reality of all that is prefigured in the Old Testament. Not only does he announce the good news of liberty for the captives, but he achieves that liberty. Yet it is not a liberty from political oppression, rather it is liberation from a far more sinister bondage. It is in Jesus' confrontation with demonic powers that we are made aware of the real oppressor. It is not without significance that Jesus' first miracle recorded in Mark is the casting out of an evil spirit, Mk.1:21-28. These powers know well who he is and what he has come to do - " Have you come to destroy us?" v.24. Although they attempt to stand against Jesus they are inevitably wrenched aside.
Throughout his ministry the confrontation continues. Even through his disciples the " powers" crumble. On the return of the seventy they rejoice, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name". Jesus replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven". Lk.10:17-18.
Of course Calvary was to be the crucial confrontation against the powers of evil for the release of the prisoners. It was there that the strong man would be bound, his house plundered, and his possessions removed, Mk.3:27. "'Now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself'. He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die", Jn.12:31-33. Paul similarly restates this truth, "Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" Col.2:13-15, cf. Heb.2:14.
iv] In the church, the body of Christ here on earth, the struggle continues. "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual powers in heavenly places", Eph.6:12.
The struggle of the body of Christ, is a struggle against the powers of darkness for the release of the prisoners.
The liberating business
As followers of the Lord Jesus we need to see that we are in the business of liberating captives, of setting people free from sin and death through the gospel, Rom.8:1-4, and thus reconciling them to God, Rom.5:11. The liberation of captives proceeds as we recognise and apply the following truths:
i] Spiritual warfare. The liberating business is a spiritual business. Spiritual powers have to be confronted and demolished to gain freedom for the captives, Math.12:29, Eph. 6:12.
ii] Gospel proclamation. The liberating business proceeds as the 'strong man' is "bound" through the proclamation of the gospel. "The gospel is the power of God for salvation", Rom.1:16. "Is not my word like fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaks the rock to pieces", Jer.23:29. "For though we live in the world we do not wage war as the world does, the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of this world, on the contrary they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments of every kind ......take captive every thought". 2Cor.10:3-5, cf. Eph.6:17, Heb.4:12.
The proclamation of the gospel, the Word (in essence the living Christ), is the means by which "the powers" are attacked, the chains broken and the prisoners released, Lk.10:1-23. For this reason gospel proclamation is primary direction of Jesus to his disciples and recognised as such in Christian tradition, eg. Mk.16:15.
iii] Signs. The liberating business proceeds not just by words but also by deeds. "And then shall the wicked one be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming", 2Thes.2:8. The strong man is put to flight by the words and the powerful deeds of his former captives. Not only can our lives witness to the reality of the gospel message, but through a renewed life we are able to weaken the hold of the evil powers over lost humanity. A holy, Christ-like life, divests the evil one of his power. Jam.4:7. In simple terms, when we live a life shaped by the reality of the Kingdom, we display the gospel message in such a significant way as to promote belief.
iv] Strategy. The liberating business proceeds, not by ad hoc measures, but by strategy - by a battle plan. As Paul puts it, "I do not run like a man running aimlessly, I do not fight like a man beating the air", 1Cor.9:26. The Bible gives us the details of a life lived for God, and even a patterned overview of such a life in the ministry of Jesus. "Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me", Jn.12:26. The strategy even covers the life of the local Christian congregation. This is revealed through the Spirit empowered ministries given for the upbuilding of the church, Eph.4:1-16. When the strategy is God's strategy, it is then the church can break down the gates of hell, Matt.16:18-20.
At the basic level the plan simply details the requirements for a holy/Christ-like life lived in the power of the Spirit of God. Love is the sum of it, particularly demonstrated in forgiveness, mercy, acceptance.....
v] Suffering. The liberating business proceeds through cross bearing. It's probably true that most Christians perceive reality through the limited perspective of the senses. We stand on the mount of temptation and view the glory of the world and believe that the gaining of it, the winning of its beliefs, structures and populous to our side, achieves the will of God. Of course the true perspective is to stand of the mount of transfiguration and view the way of the cross, Lk.9:31. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." Lk.9:23-24. The liberating business involves a struggle against spiritual powers. We are therefore bound to identify with Christ, carry his cross, the light load of his friendship. It is only natural for us to expect that our personal and corporate lives will be marked by success, yet worldly success has little to do with the way of Jesus.
vi] Promise. The promise of God's Word is that the liberating business cannot fail. The enemy cannot stand against us, for our master has broken his back. "Behold, I give you power to tread on serpents and scorpions (the symbols of the evil one) and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you", Lk.10:19. The powers of the evil one are unable to stand against the church of Jesus, Matt.16:18. He can no longer hold his prisoners.
vii] Faith. The liberating business is only limited by the limit of our faith. Remember, the measure of God's acting is the measure of our faith, Matt17:20-21. Mastery is promised over the forces of evil. It only depends on us believing that truth. "For whatsoever is born of God overcomes the world, and this is the victory that overcomes the world - our faith ", 1Jn.5:4.
1. Liberation theology tends to see the gospel liberating people from political or social bondage. In what sense does the gospel liberate people from the bondage of their circumstance?
2. The liberation achieved by Christ is other than political. What is it?
3. What are some of the factors promoting spiritual liberation?
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