July 4, 2015.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Independence day is one of my favorite holidays of the year. It is a great time to be with family, without the stress that usually comes with the holiday season, eat together and celebrate the many freedoms that we enjoy in this country (without getting into the political argument of how free we really are as compared to other times or countries). Whether it is technically and completely true or not, there is no denying that Americans value freedom above many other things, and this freedom is a core component to our society. Liberty sets us free from the burden of law that sets restrictions on what we can say or do, and ultimately who we can become. It would be a foreign concept to many Americans to be set under such restrictions, and it is only fitting that the concept of freedom in Christ be lauded by the Christian culture in America, as it is a core concept of Christianity. Christ came to earth to sacrifice Himself for our sins, that we might be set free from the bondage of sin and walk in a new life with Christ (see Romans 6:1-11).
Though we embrace this doctrine of freedom so heartily, do we ever stop to think about what our freedom in Christ Jesus actually means? Sure, we have the concept of freedom down, right? I mean, we are we not Americans, after all? Why would freedom mean anything other than the beautiful status we enjoy in this country? Unfortunately, I think our mindset in American freedom might indeed cloud the concept of freedom in Christ. Let’s consider a few questions in effort to ascertain just what freedom in Christ means, shall we?
What have we been set free from?
One of the most fundamental questions that we must ask ourselves in order to understand freedom is just what we have been set free from. Paul deals with this extensively in his letter to the Romans, as he does in many of his letters (which we will see why in a moment).
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.”
In the beginning, man was created free in the image of God. Man was immortal and sinless, walking with God in the garden. Bondage did not come until the fall of man, when sin and death entered the world through Adam’s choice to transgress the command of the Lord; sin and death are the root of our slavery. However, to know sin, there must be a law, just as Paul says:
“What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”
This concept is a bit difficult to fully grasp, especially for those of us who have been so far removed from the Mosaic Law, but it was the law that defined sin, because where there is no law, there is no sin (Romans 3:20, 5:13). The law was Holy and Righteous, because it told men what sin was, but it also had a secondary effect, as when men learned what the law was, we also learned how to sin, and so it is that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Jesus says something similar to His disciples in the gospel of John:
“Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin”
With all this in mind, we must realize that Christ came to set us free from the Law, because it was the Law that kept the sons of men in bondage to sin. Christ came to fulfill the Law, and set us free from the Law.
Freedom in Christ means the power to overcome sin.
What does our freedom mean?
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The American concept of freedom, though it differs from person to person, is at its core: “No one should be able to tell me what to do. I am free, and I can do what I want, so long as I don’t infringe on another’s right to freedom.” This, however, is not the spiritual concept of freedom. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, speaks a lot about freedom from the law, which we discussed in the section above, but at the end here, he tells the Galatians not to use their freedom as an opportunity to for the flesh. See, if we are set free from the law, through being set free from sin, we must not get entangled there once again. Whatever overcomes us, that is what we are slaves to (II Peter 2:19). We were set free from sin in Christ though His power to wash us from our sins and pull us out of that lifestyle. It is this removal of sin that sets us free. If we, then, go back to serving the flesh, or sin, then we are once again slaves to sin, just as before, as sin has become our master. As we discussed above, we were set free from sin, not set free in the American sense of “I can do whatever I want.” We will always be slaves to something.
“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants[a] of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
(II Peter 2:15-17)
Freedom… to become slaves?
“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”
“Now wait a minute… are you saying that I have been set free… just to be a slave?” Precisely. Our freedom in Christ is a wonderful thing, but we must understand it correctly. The reason this might not sit well with people, however, is our perception of our current condition. The reality of the matter is, we are not able to be free in the sense that we think of the word, at least as is typical in America. There is no such thing as “I can do whatever I want to, as long as I don’t infringe on that right for someone else,” because whatever we choose to do, that will be our master. If we choose to love sports, sports will be our master. If we choose to put a career as the forefront of our person, our job will be our master (or the pursuit of success). We cannot be free from something in the sense of not having a master. What Christ has allowed us to do is to be free from this world, the sins and cares that are held with in, and to put Him on as our master. This is our freedom in Christ Jesus.
We have been set free from sin to be slaves of Christ.
What is the ultimate realization of freedom?
So, what is the end game of this freedom? What is the meaning of this life, so to speak? Paul gives an interesting discourse on the goal of freedom in his letter to the Romans.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Our goal, our freedom in Christ, is pointing back to the beginning. At the opening of this post, we said that man was created free, in the image of God, walking and talking with Him as it was meant to be. There was no bondage to sin, there was no bondage to death. Just man and His creator, together as it was meant to be. This is the goal of our freedom. When sin and death entered the world, this placed a burden not only on us as human beings, but it also brought all creation into bondage with us. This creation, the creation of God, longs to be put back into its right relationship with the Creator, groaning to be like it was in the beginning. This is the promise and hope of Christ. From the onset of the fall, God foretold of His plan to bring everything back to Him, and it was through His Son’s sacrifice that He was going to accomplish this glorious feat:
“The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
This was the first Messianic prophecy given, the promise of the Christ who would come and redeem mankind to God. Christ the Redeemer. Now the promise has been fulfilled for us, though not fully, as we await His return and the ultimate redemption of all creation, bringing all creation back to the relationship as it was in the beginning. We have been given the opportunity to be set free, a free gift from God. But to be free, we must become servants of Christ, and in Him, we can have the ultimate realization of what it means to truly live a full, free life.
Will you be set free today?
“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”