Stand Fast for God-Given Freedom!
“For such freedom Christ set us free. Therefore stand fast, and do not let yourselves be confined again in a yoke of slavery.”—GALATIANS 5:1.
1, 2. How was God-given freedom lost?
JEHOVAH’S people are free. But they do not seek independence from God, for that would mean bondage to Satan. They cherish their close relationship with Jehovah and rejoice in the freedom he gives them.
2 Our first parents, Adam and Eve, lost God-given freedom by sinning and becoming slaves of sin, death, and the Devil. (Genesis 3:1-19; Romans 5:12) Why, Satan put the whole world on the sinful road to destruction! But those standing fast for God-given freedom walk on the road to life eternal.—Matthew 7:13, 14; 1 John 5:19.
Freedom From Bondage
3. What hope did God hold out in Eden?
3 Jehovah purposed that humans honoring his name would be free from bondage to Satan, sin, and death. That hope was held out when God told the serpent used by Satan in Eden: “I shall put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He will bruise you in the head and you will bruise him in the heel.” (Genesis 3:14, 15) Jesus Christ, the Seed from Jehovah’s heavenly organization, suffered a bruised heel when he died on the stake, but God thus provided a ransom sacrifice to free believing mankind from sin and death. (Matthew 20:28; John 3:16) In time, Jesus will bruise the head of Satan, the original Serpent.—Revelation 12:9.
4. What freedom was enjoyed by Abraham, and what did Jehovah promise him?
4 Some 2,000 years after the promise given in Eden, “Jehovah’s friend” Abraham obeyed God and left the city of Ur for another place. (James 2:23; Hebrews 11:8) He thus received God-given freedom and no longer lived as a slave of Satan’s world of false religion, corrupt politics, and greedy commerce. To the Edenic prophecy, God added promises that all families and nations would bless themselves by means of Abraham and his Seed. (Genesis 12:3; 22:17, 18) Abraham was free of condemnation because ‘he put faith in Jehovah, who counted it to him as righteousness.’ (Genesis 15:6) Today, a close relationship with Jehovah similarly brings God-given freedom from condemnation and from slavery to the world lying in Satan’s power.
A Gripping Symbolic Drama
5. The birth of Isaac was linked with what circumstances?
5 So that Abraham might have a seed, his barren wife, Sarah, offered him her servant girl, Hagar, as a child bearer. By her, Abraham fathered Ishmael, but God did not choose him as the promised Seed. Rather, when Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90, Jehovah enabled them to have a son named Isaac. When Ishmael mocked Isaac, Hagar and her son were sent away, leaving Abraham’s son by the free woman Sarah as Abraham’s undisputed seed. Like Abraham, Isaac also exercised faith and enjoyed God-given freedom.—Genesis 16:1-16; 21:1-21; 25:5-11.
6, 7. Of what had false teachers convinced some Galatian Christians, but what did Paul explain?
6 These events foreshadowed things very significant to lovers of God-given freedom. This was noted in the letter the apostle Paul wrote to the congregations of Galatia about 50 to 52 C.E. By then the governing body had decided that circumcision was not required of Christians. But false teachers had persuaded some of the Galatians that it was a vital feature of Christianity.
7 Paul told the Galatians: A person is declared righteous through faith in Christ, not by works of the Mosaic Law. (Ga 1:1–3:14) The Law did not invalidate the promise linked with the Abrahamic covenant but made transgressions manifest and served as a tutor leading to Christ. (Ga 3:15-25) By his death, Jesus released those under Law, enabling them to become sons of God. Hence, returning to an arrangement of observing days, months, seasons, and years would mean going back into slavery. (Ga 4:1-20) Paul then wrote:
8, 9. (a) In your own words, explain briefly what Paul said at Galatians 4:21-26. (b) In this symbolic drama, who or what was pictured by Abraham and by Sarah, and who is the promised Seed?
8 “Tell me, you who want to be under law, Do you not hear the Law? For example, it is written that Abraham acquired two sons, one [Ishmael] by the servant girl [Hagar] and one [Isaac] by the free woman [Sarah]; but the one by the servant girl was actually born in the manner of flesh, the other by the free woman through a promise. These things stand as a symbolic drama; for these women mean two covenants, the one [the Law covenant] from Mount Sinai [where God inaugurated that covenant with the Israelites], which brings forth children for slavery, and which is Hagar. [The other covenant was the one made with Abraham regarding his Seed.] Now this Hagar means Sinai, a mountain in Arabia, and she corresponds with the Jerusalem today, for she is in slavery with her children [descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob]. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.”—Galatians 4:21-26.
9 In this symbolic drama, Abraham was a figure of Jehovah. “The free woman,” Sarah, pictured God’s “woman,” or holy universal organization. It produced Christ, the Seed of that symbolic woman and of the Greater Abraham. (Galatians 3:16) To show people the way of release from unclean worship, sin, and Satan, Jesus taught the truth and exposed false religion, but Jerusalem and her children remained in religious bondage because they rejected him. (Matthew 23:37, 38) Jesus’ Jewish followers became free from the Law, which showed up their bondage to imperfection, sin, and death. Free indeed are all humans who accept Jesus as the One brought forth by God’s “woman” to be the Messianic King and the Emancipator ‘proclaiming liberty to the captives’!—Isaiah 61:1, 2; Luke 4:18, 19.
Avoid a Slavish Yoke
10, 11. From what yoke of slavery did Christ set his followers free, and what parallels can be drawn today?
10 To those forming Abraham’s seed along with Christ, the Greater Isaac, Paul says: “The Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. . . . We, brothers, are children belonging to the promise the same as Isaac was. But just as then the one born in the manner of flesh [Ishmael] began persecuting the one born in the manner of spirit [Isaac], so also now. . . . We are children, not of a servant girl, but of the free woman. For such freedom [from the Law] Christ set us free. Therefore stand fast, and do not let yourselves be confined again in a yoke of slavery.”—Galatians 4:26–5:1.
11 Any of Jesus’ followers would have been confined in a yoke of slavery if they had submitted to the Law. False religion is a present slavish yoke, and Christendom parallels ancient Jerusalem and her children. But anointed ones are children of Jerusalem above, God’s free heavenly organization. They and fellow believers with earthly hopes are no part of this world and are not in bondage to Satan. (John 14:30; 15:19; 17:14, 16) Liberated by truth and by Jesus’ sacrifice, let us stand fast for our God-given freedom.
Taking a Stand for God-Given Freedom
12. What course is taken by believers, and what will now be discussed?
12 Millions now enjoy true freedom as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Bible studies are being held with other millions, many of whom are “rightly disposed for everlasting life.” Upon becoming believers, they will take a stand for God-given freedom by getting baptized. (Acts 13:48; 18:8) But what steps precede Christian baptism?
13. What relationship is there between knowledge and baptism?
13 Before getting baptized, a person must acquire and act on accurate knowledge of the Scriptures. (Ephesians 4:13) Thus, Jesus told his followers: “Go . . . and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”—Matthew 28:19, 20.
14. Being baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the holy spirit calls for what knowledge?
14 Being baptized in the name of the Father means to acknowledge Jehovah’s office and authority as God, Creator, and Universal Sovereign. (Genesis 17:1; 2 Kings 19:15; Revelation 4:11) Baptism in the name of the Son calls for recognition of Christ’s office and authority as an exalted spirit creature, the Messianic King, and the one through whom God has provided “a corresponding ransom.” (1 Timothy 2:5, 6; Daniel 7:13, 14; Philippians 2:9-11) A person baptized in the name of the holy spirit realizes that it is God’s active force used by Jehovah in creation and in inspiring Bible writers, as well as in other ways. (Genesis 1:2; 2 Peter 1:21) Of course, there is much more to learn about God, Christ, and the holy spirit.
15. Why must a person exercise faith before being baptized?
15 Prior to baptism, a person must exercise faith based on accurate knowledge. “Without faith it is impossible to please [Jehovah] well.” (Hebrews 11:6) An individual exercising faith in God, Christ, and the divine purpose will want to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, living in harmony with God’s Word and having a meaningful share in preaching the good news. He will speak about the glory of Jehovah’s kingship.—Psalm 145:10-13; Matthew 24:14.
16. What is repentance, and how is it related to Christian baptism?
16 Repentance is another prerequisite for baptism. To repent means to “change one’s mind with regard to past (or intended) action, or conduct, on account of regret or dissatisfaction,” or to “feel regret, contrition, or compunction for what one has done or omitted to do.” First-century Jews needed to repent of their sins against Jesus Christ. (Acts 3:11-26) Some believers in Corinth repented of fornication, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, stealing, greed, drunkenness, reviling, and extortion. As a result, they were “washed clean” in Jesus’ blood, were “sanctified” as those set apart for Jehovah’s service, and were “declared righteous” in the name of Jesus Christ and with the spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) So repentance is a step toward a good conscience and God-given freedom from plaguing guilt over sin.—1 Peter 3:21.
17. Conversion means what, and what does it require of one planning to be baptized?
17 Conversion must also occur before a person can be baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A repentant individual’s conversion takes place after he rejects his wrong course and determines to do what is right. Hebrew and Greek verbs relating to conversion mean “turn back, turn around, or return.” When used in a good spiritual sense, this refers to a turning to God from a wrong way. (1 Kings 8:33, 34) Conversion requires “works that befit repentance,” that we do what God commands, abandon false religion, and direct our heart unswervingly to Jehovah so as to serve him alone. (Acts 26:20; Deuteronomy 30:2, 8, 10; 1 Samuel 7:3) This calls for “a new heart and a new spirit,” for changed thinking, disposition, and aim in life. (Ezekiel 18:31) The resulting new personality replaces ungodly traits with godly qualities. (Colossians 3:5-14) Yes, true repentance really causes one to “turn around.”—Acts 3:19.
18. Why make a dedication to God in prayer, and what is the significance of this step?
18 Dedication to God in prayer must precede baptism. (Compare Luke 3:21, 22.) Dedication means a setting apart for a sacred purpose. So important is this step that we should express to God in prayer our decision to give him exclusive devotion and serve him forever. (Deuteronomy 5:8, 9; 1 Chronicles 29:10-13) Of course, our dedication is not to a work but to God himself. That point was made clear at the funeral of the Watch Tower Society’s first president, Charles Taze Russell. On that occasion in 1916, the Society’s secretary-treasurer, W. E. Van Amburgh, said: “This great worldwide work is not the work of one person. It is far too great for that. It is God’s work and it changes not. God has used many servants in the past and He will doubtless use many in the future. Our consecration [dedication] is not to a man, or to a man’s work, but to do the will of God, as He shall reveal it unto us through His Word and providential leadings. God is still at the helm.” But what else must be done about dedication to God?
19. (a) How do individuals give public evidence of dedication to Jehovah? (b) Of what is water baptism a symbol?
19 Public evidence of dedication to Jehovah is provided when a person is baptized. Baptism is a symbol indicating that the person undergoing water immersion has made an unconditional dedication to Jehovah God through Jesus Christ. (Compare Matthew 16:24.) When a baptismal candidate is buried under the water and then lifted out of it, he dies figuratively to his former course of life and is raised to a new way of life, now to do the will of God unreservedly. (Compare Romans 6:4-6.) When Jesus was baptized, he presented himself to his heavenly Father in an unreserved way. (Matthew 3:13-17) And the Scriptures repeatedly show that qualified believers get baptized. (Acts 8:13; 16:27-34; 18:8) To become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses today, therefore, a person must be a believer who truly exercises faith and gets baptized.—Compare Acts 8:26-39.
20. What are some Biblical examples proving that we will be blessed for taking a stand for God-given freedom as baptized Witnesses of Jehovah?
20 If you have taken a firm stand for God-given freedom by becoming a baptized Witness of Jehovah, he will bless you as he has blessed his servants in the past. For instance, Jehovah blessed aged Abraham and Sarah with a God-fearing son, Isaac. By faith the prophet Moses chose to be ill-treated with God’s people “rather than to have the temporary enjoyment of sin, because he esteemed the reproach of [being an ancient type of] the Christ [or God’s Anointed One] as riches greater than the treasures of Egypt.” (Hebrews 11:24-26) Moses had the privilege of being used by Jehovah to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage. Moreover, because he served God faithfully, he will be resurrected and will serve as one of the “princes in all the earth” under the Greater Moses, Jesus Christ.—Psalm 45:16; Deuteronomy 18:17-19.
21. What encouraging examples are given concerning godly women of ancient times?
21 Dedicated Christians today can also be encouraged by considering women who became truly free and joyful. Among them was the Moabitess Ruth, who experienced both the heartache of widowhood and the joy of God-given freedom from false religion. Abandoning her people and her gods, she stuck with her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi. “Where you go I shall go,” said Ruth, “and where you spend the night I shall spend the night. Your people will be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16) As the wife of Boaz, Ruth became the mother of David’s grandfather Obed. (Ruth 4:13-17) Why, Jehovah granted this humble non-Israelite woman “a perfect wage” by allowing her to become an ancestress of Jesus the Messiah! (Ruth 2:12) How joyful Ruth will be when she is resurrected and learns that she had such a privilege! Similar joy will undoubtedly fill the hearts of the resurrected former harlot Rahab, who was freed from immorality and false worship, as well as erring but repentant Bath-sheba, for they also will learn that Jehovah allowed them to become ancestresses of Jesus Christ.—Matthew 1:1-6, 16.
22. What will be considered in the next article?
22 A consideration of recipients of God-given freedom could go on and on. For example, their number includes the men and women of faith mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11. They suffered tribulation and ill-treatment, “and the world was not worthy of them.” Add to their number the loyal first-century followers of Christ and other faithful ones since then, including the millions now serving Jehovah as his Witnesses. As we shall next see, if you have taken a stand with them for God-given freedom, you have many reasons for joy.
How Would You Answer?
□ What hope did God hold out when God-given freedom was lost?
□ From what “yoke of slavery” did Christ set his followers free?
□ What steps precede baptism as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
□ What Scriptural examples prove that we will be blessed for taking a stand for God-given freedom?
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Do you know what steps precede baptism as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses?