One of the more intriguing examples of evangelism that is found in scripture is the experience of the Apostle Paul in Athens. The entire account of it can be found in Acts 17:16-34, which reads as follows: “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.” For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing. Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:
TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.
Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.”
There are a few aspects of this particular moment of evangelism that are particularly notable. Among them is the stark contrast between the outrage that Paul felt at their being given over to idols and the way that he addressed them not from the point of view of an outsider clubbing the scriptures over their heads, as is the manner of some, but rather with his restrained approach in addressing them based on a selective and inventive quotation of their own texts. Although he was incensed by the idolatry of the Athenians in places like the Parthenon, which appears to have been written as the attempt of the Athenian branch of the Babylon mystery religion to demonstrate its decisive rejection of God’s ways , he did not reply to them in anger, but rather sought to demonstrate his premises as to the common origin of mankind as the children of God from their own most respected texts. Although his reference to the resurrection and judgment was a bridge too far for most of his audience, at the same time his efforts to meet his audience on their own ground is a worthwhile technique to acquire for those who wish to speak to those who have different perspectives, if one wishes to reach them successfully.
Yet there is a double layer of meaning in what Paul was saying about our being the offspring of God that is important to recognize. Although Zeus was the chief god of the Greek pantheon, he was still man. In fact, according to the research and analysis of Robert Johnson , Zeus was a deification of Adam, the first man, and also a representation of the enlightenment that came from the serpent. In saying that we are the offspring of Zeus, Paul was making reference to two different layers of truth. On the one hand, his speech commented that we were all created by God and are His children. Yet, simultaneously, Paul is telling his audience on another level that on some level we all live and move in a world that has been corrupted by sin, and that we begin life and many of us for our entire lives remain children of Adam, and of the seed of Satan. This is an unpleasant fact, yet for all that it remains true.
These two seeds are first compared in the Garden of Eden in the time immediately after the fall of mankind through taking the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Rather than providing enlightenment, as has been a consistent lie throughout human history, this act of rebellion brought sin and misery and death to mankind, and all of creation was cursed as a result, and remains so, except where the blessings of God have regenerated lives. The first comparison of the two seeds is in Genesis 3:14-15, which reads as follows: “So the Lord God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”” Here, as is the case later with Abraham, there is the promise of a Seed that would deliver mankind from oppression to Satan, and that there would be hostility between the children of Satan and the children of God as a result of the conflicting loyalties to the giver of life and the bringer of death.
One of the more memorable confrontations between these two seeds took place in John 8:31-47. Here we have a ferocious confrontation between the two seeds, on the one side the Son of Man, and on the other the seed of Satan. This passage deserves a close analysis because it helps explain a great deal of the hostility that results between these two different groups of people: “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.” They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father.” Then they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father—God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.””
It has often been noted that when the Jews claimed that they had always been free that this was manifestly true in the political sense. It may be pointed out without controversy from the biblical record as well as from archaeology and the records of other people that the people of Judah had a lengthy period of slavery. Even a cursory look at biblical history from the time of Abraham to the time of Jesus Christ, some two thousand years, give or take a few centuries, would demonstrate that the Bible claims the Jews (and the rest of the children of Israel) were slaves in Egypt, then under the domination of various peoples as discussed in the book of Judges, to the Moabites and Midianites, to an obscure Mesopotamian ruler, to the Ammonites and the Philistines and the Syrians and Assyrians, to the Babylonians and Persians, to the Greeks and to the Romans. Scattered among the periods of relative strength there were long periods of domination and subjugation as vassal kinds or under the direct rule of governors chosen by heathen monarchs. No, the people of Judah had certainly not been forever free and were not free in a political sense at the moment, and their attempts to gain political freedom a generation or two after the death of Jesus Christ would lead to the destruction of the temple and in great losses for the people of Judah.
Yet that reality, as sobering as it is, was not even the most unpleasant truth, or even the real object of contention between Jesus and his hostile audience of Judeans. It was, and is, the belief of Jews today that they benefit from the accumulated virtue and merit of the patriarchs, like Abraham. In their view, simply being a child of Abraham meant that one was born free from Satan’s rule. Yet this is clearly not the case. When Jesus said, as Paul would later say in Romans 6:15-23 , that those who lived in sins were slaves to sin, he was not merely telling his audience that they were under subjugation to the Romans, which was a historical fact, but that his audience lived in slavery to Satan. It is clear that his audience understood what He was saying, and could not admit that unpleasant truth, because it would have put them in a position where they would have to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and King, and also accept their need for a savior. This they were unwilling to do. So, instead they accused Him of having a demon, told Him that he had been born of fornication because His mother was pregnant when she married His reputed father, and then threatened to stone Him for blasphemy after having committed it themselves. They thought themselves born free by virtue of their ancestry, when Jesus pointed out, accurately and painfully, that they weren’t acting like their father on earth, but their spiritual father, the adversary of God. They thought that birth had granted them automatic citizenship into the Kingdom of God only to be told that they were liars and rebels and murderers who followed after Satan. Since they did not have a heart ready to repent, it is not surprising that they hated Jesus for telling them truths they were unwilling to hear.
Yet we should not be too hard on the Jews without taking a stern look at ourselves. The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau stated that “man is born free but everywhere he is in chains .” Little could be further from the truth. We are not born free at all in any manner. When we are born, we are born not in full command of ourselves but we are born entirely helpless and incapable of self-defense. We are entirely dependent for protection and care on our parents, and cannot even feed or clean ourselves. IF we are born into abusive and dysfunctional families, we are born a prey to their wickedness without any defense or protection. Even after we are capable of putting food into our mouths, we long remain subject to our parents, if only for a time, as our minds grow capable of rational thought and as we grow up under discipline until we are able to control ourselves to such an extent that we are allowed to live in freedom by law or custom. As it is written in Hebrews 12:7-11: ” If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Far from being born free, we are born subject to authority, so that we may develop the self-discipline that allows us to live free of external constraint because we have learned internal restraint. And if we look around us to our overflowing prisons, we will see that even in a society like ours that prides itself on its freedom, that those who do not restrain themselves from wickedness will be forcibly restrained by others.
Not only are we not born free in a political sense, but we are not born free in a moral sense either, just as was the case for the Jews of Jesus’ time. If our parents were addicts to alcohol or other substances, we may be born addicts ourselves, not able to enjoy such things in moderation because of that proclivity to addiction. We are born, through our genes or through our upbringing, under various compulsions, unable to entirely shake ourselves loose from such torments despite the harm that we suffer because of them. We are not born free of torment, free of suffering, free of addiction, in any way. Whether we struggle with darkness and wickedness and our addiction to some sort of sin from childhood, or whether we find ourselves lured into some sort of sin when we are older, we all end up if we do not begin as slaves of one sort of sin or another. We are not born free, rather we are born in bondage to darkness due to the sins of our fathers , even before we fall deeper into slavery as a result of our own sins. Nor is this true of ourselves alone; it is true of every human being who has ever been born. Even our Lord and Savior, who did not commit any sin, suffered the wages of sin so that he could pay the price of our liberty, taking our sins upon Himself because we could not pay for the price of our own freedom, because the price of being forgiven of the debt of our sins would be our demise.
So therefore, if we wish to condemn the Jews for foolishly viewing themselves as born free by their ancestry, we are also condemning ourselves on the exact same grounds. Few people are so proud of their own freedom, and so prone on trumpeting it to the world at large, as we who were born Americans. Reading the political discourse of the American Republic from the time of its founding to today, one will find many examples of our own sayings that we as Americans are born free, that we have never been slaves of anyone, and people will point to the compacts and covenants of our earliest founding as evidence that from the very beginnings of our colonial period we were settled by peoples who had in mind at least ordered liberty for themselves, free from domination by kings and parliaments and aristocrats. Yet we have lost a great deal of our political and social freedoms, we long denied those freedoms we held dear to others in our midst who were the offspring of our common Creator, and we are all no more free from our sins and compulsions than the most degraded people on the face of this earth, which some people consider us as a result of the filth of our culture, of which we ought to be ashamed.
Simply by being born human beings we are subject to death, because we are the offspring of Adam. Our hope and glory is not in our ancestry, but rather in our conversion, for it is only through repentance and regeneration that we have hope of eternal life. As it is written in 1 Corinthians 15:42-49: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.”
It is only once we surrender any claim to have a birthright to freedom that we can be truly free at all. To believe that we have eternal life and glory inherent in ourselves is to place ourselves in a position where we can look down at others who clearly were not born free. We can pity or scorn those who are obviously in the grip of powerful addictions and compulsions that are impossible to hide. We can consider ourselves privileged above the great mass of humanity that we hold in contempt because we see that they are beholden to idols, beholden to the corrupt traditions of their elders, paternalistic or tyrannical governments that never believe that their citizens ever reach the age of maturity or responsibility. We can smile because we were born into a system of beliefs and are therefore more fortunate than others. Yet each of us is born in rebellion against God in some fashion. We must all repent, for to sin in any area is to bring the penalty of breaking the whole law upon ourselves. Because all have sinned, we are all in the same boat, not privileged as a result of our knowledge given our shared shortcomings in our conduct and behavior. Freeing ourselves from the pride and arrogance that allow us to delude ourselves into believing ourselves free and look down on others frees us all to become His offspring, to repent and to be baptized and to enter His kingdom as little children. For it is only as His repentant adopted children that we can enter into His kingdom at all, for there are no other terms by which eternal life can be found, for we cannot claim eternal life or salvation by birthright, only as a result of being called by our Father and of accepting that call, marking ourselves as a chosen people, freed by the grace of God from slavery to sin and death.
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“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
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