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How We Taught the New Testament in the Past: Lesson 15: “I Am the Light of the World”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 23, 2011

Lesson 15: “I Am the Light of the World”

The purpose statement for this year’s lesson is “To strengthen class members’ testimonies that Jesus Christ is our Savior and that by following him we can gain true freedom.” As with many lessons in this manual, the connection between the purpose statement and the episodes presented isn’t entirely clear. The following lesson from the 1961 adult Sunday School course addresses what it means to find liberty in following Christ, which makes the events illustrating the current lesson more relevant than they at first appear. The lesson comes from Lowell L. Bennion, Teachings of the New Testament, Sunday School Course 27. Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School Union Board, 1953.

“Called Unto Liberty”

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. (Gal. 5:1)


Man’s Desire for Freedom

People are happiest in an atmosphere of considerable freedom, when they are able to direct and control their lives according to good and self-chosen goals. We see this desire for freedom from the beginning of life through old age. A baby protests against being held too tightly, being restricted in movement. Children who grow up under authoritarian and domineering parents often develop serious personality problems. Many of them find it difficult to get along well with others. Adolescence is an age when youth is trying to achieve an independent status.

Adults also resent autocratic and authoritarian controls. The history of mankind has been in good part the struggle of individuals against political tyranny and dictatorship. the battle continues as real and fierce today as it has ever been.

Man’s need for freedom, for a feeling of independence, for self-direction and determination is deeply imbedded in his nature. Man was born to function. He desires to be respected as a person. He needs a “place in the sun.” His free agency is a capacity for freedom and it causes him to seek it. Man is a child of an eternal Father, one of whose attributes is certainly freedom to think, to act, and to choose for himself.

Religion is often interpreted as restraint of one’s freedom. Many a youth rebels against the faith of his fathers so he can feel free to live his own life. Adults forsake religion so they can do as they please. A man of sixty, educated and successful in his profession, said seriously to a small group of friends: “My religion has kept me from doing the things I have always wanted to do all my life.” A twenty-one-year-old college girl said to us: “I wish I didn’t believe in Mormonism.”

“Why do you say that?” we asked.

“If I didn’t, I would have a good time. But I’m afraid it might be true.”

does religion rob man of his freedom to think and to live, or does it increase his feeling of freedom? This question is many sided and cannot be discussed from all angles in this lesson. Jesus Christ and his disciples have an answer that merits our study.

Christ Promised Freedom

Jesus said and did things to make men more free. (See lesson on positive character of his teaching.) He opened his ministry, according to Luke, by quoting from Isaiah:

The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preached the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken0hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and receiving of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. (Luke 4:18)

His religion was not to be a hard yoke, a heavy burden:

Come unto me, all ye that labor or are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matt. 11:28-30)

To many who believed in him, he said:

… If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:31, 32)

Paul Finds Liberty Through Jesus Christ

Jesus promised is disciples freedom. Paul realized the Savior’s promise. To him the Christian life was one of perfect liberty. In our lessons on the Grace of Deity we were introduced to Paul’s teaching on liberty. It merits further treatment with a different emphasis here. According to Paul, how did Christ make him more free?

1. Christ freed Paul from the fear of death. Faith in Christ means faith in a glor8ious and personal immortality.

And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. … so when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, death is swallowed up in victory. (I Cor. 15:49, 54)

Not only did Paul lose his fear of death, but he was also no longer afraid of the wrath of God and the day of judgment. He learned through Christ of the love of God for him. he knew also his own great love for the Father and the Son. In his newly found faith he had no fear of divine punishment. He was free and he rejoiced in his relationship with God.

2. Through Jesus Christ, Paul broke the yoke of sin. Never, under the Mosaic Law, had Paul been free from the burden of sin and guilt. Now he was a new creature in Christ Jesus. Early Christians, as is illustrated in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, misinterpreted his idea of freedom from sin through the Savior. Some thought it meant that they now had license to do anything they pleased; that they could give the flesh free reign and still be saved through the atonement of Christ. Nothing was further from the apostle’s mind.

Christ did not come to give men license to sin nor to save them in their sins. He came to show men what sin is and to give them faith to repent and thereby to overcome sin. Through faith in the Savior, one’s whole nature is changed. No longer is he disposed to do evil. The Spirit of Christ and the Comforter fill the believer’s life. No longer is he burdened by rules and the consequences of their violation. For, with the Spirit of Deity, he fulfills the law by living the principle of love.

This is explained beautifully by Paul in his letter to the Galatians:

For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve on another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. … This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these, Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with affections and lusts. If we live in the spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Gal. 5:13, 14, 16-25)

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. … For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any things, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. (Gal. 6:7, 8, 15)

Man, trying to keep the whole law, letter-by-letter, rule-by-rule, always fails. But faith in Jesus Christ brings a motivating power into his life which enables him to repent and to rise above sin. The “fruit of the Spirit” overcomes the “lusts of the flesh.” Man, living by faith in Christ, gains increasing freedom from sin.

3. Jesus Christ changed Paul’s entire attitude toward religion. Before his conversion, religion had been a sort of contractual relationship between Paul and his Creator. The main note in this kind of religion was obedience. Paul obeyed the commandments in order to avoid punishment and to gain a reward. The Lord was a lawgiver and a judge. Paul felt the burden of the law and of divine judgment. He was held in line, hedged in, and weighted down by his failure to keep the whole law. (This does not mean that all Jews felt this way or only this way. Many loved the law and had a delight in it.)

After his conversion, Paul new that the heart of religion was not calculation of rewards and punishment, nor the performance of rites, but that it was living righteously and freely by love and through faith in Jesus Christ.

For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love (Gal. 5:6).

The Spirit of Christ enables one to live in freedom and in peace, Paul believed.

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. (Col. 3:15-17)

James Found Liberty in the Gospel

James learned that keeping the4 laws of the gospel brought increased freedom. He bears witness of this truth in simple, beautiful language:

Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. (James 1:21-25)

Our Liberty in Jesus Christ

Questions:

1. Do you ever envy the man, not of your faith, his freedom to enjoy the “good” things of life? Illustrate.
2. In what ways, if any, is it burdensome to be a disciple of Jesus?
3. In what ways does the gospel bring you freedom – more freedom than you would have without it?

We are not free because we desire to be free. persons in jail, alcoholics, and people living under dictatorships long for freedom. Freedom to choose is relative to many conditions in and outside of ourselves. It may be increased or it may decrease; it may be won or lost.

Even our free agency does not make us entirely F=free. Free agency means an inherent capacity and a desire for freedom, not the knowledge, wisdom, and ability to make the choices which bring us true freedom. Our free agency must be exercised and trained and realized before we are free. Freedom is always an achievement of the individual and of society; and in both instances it is won at great cost, and with much effort.

With Paul, we believe that Jesus Christ came to make us free. He called us unto liberty. We shall suggest a few ways in which following the Savior will increase our freedom.

1. Faith in Jesus Christ means faith in immortality. A genuine faith in immortality – particularly with the knowledge we have of man’s purposeful, progressive life with Deity and with fellow man – frees the heart of man from much of the fear of death. With such a faith, maturity and old age are not beclouded by a tragic sense of the decline and end of personality. If one can live with hope and faith to the end – other things being equal – one lives with more freedom in his feeling for life.

2. Jesus Christ brought us knowledge. Knowledge is one essential prerequisite to freedom. Through knowledge, we increase our choices and become aware of our possibilities to choose. Knowledge makes our choices fruitful whereas ignorance is blind.

Jesus Christ brought us two essential types of knowledge which contribute to freedom: (a) A knowledge of God, of our relationship to Deity, and of our worth and place in the scheme of things. (b) An increased knowledge of the great principles of life such as humility, impartiality, mercy, forgiveness, purity, and love. These religious and moral principles make us free as we understand and use them. Humility means freedom from envy, jealousy, inferiority. Love means freedom from lust, greed, hate.

3. Jesus Christ brought us inspiration to live in harmony with the truth. Jesus said: “If ye continue my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31, 32) Real knowledge of religious principles comes only through experience. Without faith, no one knows the meaning of faith. Without love, no one knows love. Jesus brought us the power of his life and Spirit, and the Comforter, through which his words may become breath and life to us.

“For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” (I Cor. 4:20) Faith in Jesus Christ is the power to repent. Love of Christ means love of service. Repentance brings wholeness and a sense of freedom. Loving service is always experienced as freedom, for there is no compulsion whatever in love.

Repentance is not simply freedom from judgment beyond the grave; repentance means immediate freedom from frustration, from loss of self-respect, moral weakness, and estrangement from God. Repentance brings an immediate sense of freedom that is real. This was Paul’s teaching. It is well stated by Amulek in the Book of Mormon:

Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you. (Alma 34:31)

4. Faith in Jesus Christ is a bond of good will among men. If we understand his tolerance, love, and unselfishness, and use them with his Spirit, we will learn to live with others. True we will make enemies, as he did, but we will also make friends, as he did. He was one; we are many. A great deal of tragic history has been made between his day and ours. People are hungry for good will.

In marriage, in family life, in the neighborhood, in industry, in government – wherever good will is present, there is freedom. Cooperation multiplies our choices and increases power and achievement. Where good will is lacking, freedom is lacking also. hate, distrust, sabotage, and war destroy freedom among men.

Jesus Christ not only helps us to gain freedom in the particular ways and situations illustrated in this chapter, but he makes the whole moral and religious life one of the utmost freedom. For one who has faith in Christ no longer lives by fear, nor does he calculate reward. He follows the Master through “faith which worketh by love.” (Gal. 5:6)

And,

Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fears in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. (I John 4:17, 18)



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