When any slave left his master, contrary to Roman law or any other law of slavery, and he fled to another, God’s law made provision that the one with whom the slave sought refuge was not to return him again to his master. The slave was to be allowed to stay with his new protector and refuge. This law gives, sinners who are slaves to the law, grounds for seeking refuge in Christ. This law is illustrated in Paul's letter to Philemon regarding Philemon's slave Onesimus, who had run away from his master and on whose behalf Paul wrote to Philemon.
Christ is our dwelling place in all generations (Psalm 90:1). He is our refuge from eternity from the awful slavery of our sins, our flesh, the devil, death, the world and the curse of God’s own law. These all held us as slaves. We sold ourselves. But in Deuteronomy 23:15-16, we are given warrant by Christ Himself, the Surety to His Father for His people, that in Christ Jesus our Lord we have a refuge from our former slave master. Listen to this promise reiterated and confirmed in the words of our Lord:
“All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” John 6:37
O, the blessedness of this promise! In ourselves, we are slaves to the guilt of our own sins and slaves to our sin nature; we are slaves to God’s just law and under the sentence of death; we are slaves to Satan’s deception and we are slaves to this world's philosophy and religion. But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us in Christ, even loved us from before the foundation of the world with an everlasting and unchanging love, and loved us when we were slaves to these, has made us alive in Christ and has raised us up together with Him! He has set us free. We are no longer under the law, but are free-born sons of God in Christ! See Ephesians 1:3-7; 2:1-10; Jeremiah 31:3; Galatians 3:13; 4:3-5.
In our rebellion and in our revolt, we were under the sentence of death. We were as runaway slaves. By law, we must be held to account for our revolt. But we are exhorted and warranted to trust all that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has said and done. We are warranted by His Suretyship engagements with God the Father in the everlasting covenant, to take His words to our hearts in simple faith, to take His word in prayer, to flee to Him for refuge from our oppressive slave master, and to never fear that we will be cast out to face our former slave master who sought our death, and who sought our death according to the law of the land.
We are given warrant to trust Christ's Suretyship obligations to His Father for us: "If you count me a partner, receive him as myself. If he hath wronged thee or oweth thee ought, put that on my account; ...I will repay." Philemon 17-19. We are given warrant to trust Christ's intercession, “Receive him as Myself," Philemon 1:17, and to rely on the certainty that His intercession is heard. We are given warrant to trust Christ's intercession because He lawfully freed us by Himself coming under the curse of the law for us (Galatians 3:13), and now it is just and right that God receive us according to His law because He has received full payment from Him for every debt of every sin we ever committed. (Philemon 1:18-19). Because Christ promised to pay and actually did pay all that His people owed, God now forgives us for Christ's sake. (Ephesians 4:32). He does not forgive without regard to the justice of the law, but forgives us out of His faithfulness and according to His justice (Psalm 85:10;Daniel 9:16;1 John 1:9). He intercedes for us as our Advocate to the Father (1John 2:1-2).
We are not only forgiven, but we are received even as God receives the Lord Jesus Christ, His own dear Son. In receiving us, God does not consider our experience, our sincerity, or anything about us at any time. In Christ we are loved with everlasting love, even as God loves His only begotten Son (John 17:23-24). Our blessed Lord prays that His Father would receive us as Himself: receive us as those loved from the foundation of the world; receive us as those loved without beginning and without end; receive us as His own dear Son who has done His Father's will from the heart; receive us as the Lord Jesus Christ who always does those things that please the Father (John 8:29). In Christ we are given access and we are heard entirely and only because our Surety made payment, and because His payment was accepted in full compensation for our sins, and because He now pleads His own merit and blood to His Father, "Receive him, that is, mine own bowels." And again, "Receive him as Me!" Philemon 1:12,17. See also Romans 8:31-39.
Let our souls go in confidence to God with the promises of Christ in our hand, as Onesimus returned to Philemon with Paul's letter in his hand. And let us be refreshed by this portrait of Christ's substitution and intercession as the church in Philemon's home was refreshed by his obedience to Paul's pleadings for Christ's sake. Let our souls take our ease and rest in our Surety for His prayers based on His covenant obligations that made Him God's debtor on our behalf. And finally, let us be refreshed for the echo from heaven in response to all that Jesus did and prayed for His own: “God has received us for Christ’s sake.” Ephesians 4:32
-- Rick Warta