What Does It Mean to Have Freedom in Christ?
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With the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent lifting of the iron curtain, Eastern Europeans jubilantly celebrated the freedom they had long been denied.
However, some of the first "freedoms" to be exercised in these formerly communist countries were indulgence in pornography, prostitution, drug abuse and organized crime.
Some people, needless to say, have erroneous concepts of freedom.
Theologically, some feel a similar sense of freedom in not observing what they feel are "Old Covenant" practices. They feel free from the law. They feel that the burden of the law has been lifted, and they are no longer under bondage. They believe they are free from "Jewish ordinances" and that Christ did everything for them, setting them free from any practices except a nebulous obligation to "love" God and their fellowman.
False freedom prophesied
Scripture warns about false promises of freedom. One such warning comes from Peter: "For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.
"For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: 'A dog returns to his own vomit,' and, 'a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire'" (2 Peter 2:18-22).
No one argues that Christ didn't come to bring freedom. Luke writes that Jesus traveled to Nazareth, "where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: 'The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD" (Luke 4:16-19, emphasis added throughout).
Jesus Christ brings true freedom
Christ came to free us from sin through His atoning sacrifice. Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us that Jesus "shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil-and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (New International Version).
The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Christ paid the death penalty for us, freeing us from death row through His sacrifice. We have been set free, but, as Paul wrote, this freedom does not give us license or permission to continue to do the very things that brought on the death penalty (Romans 6:11-22). Paul wrote in Galatians 5:13, "For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another" (Galatians 5:13).
God's calling frees us from wrong spiritual concepts. Galatians 4:3-7 says: "Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father!' Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ."
A Christian is called away from superstition, error, bondage, deception, guilt, depravity, ignorance and a destructive life, from being a captive of Satan and facing eternal death. He is called to liberty in Christ, receiving forgiveness of sins through His shed blood, now knowing freedom from guilt, an awareness of the truth of God and, as a free gift, the hope of eternal life.
The Scriptures do show, however, that real spiritual freedom has to include the following criteria, which are tied to Jesus' sacrifice for our sins. Let's briefly review these.
Freedom through God's truth
Christ engaged in a discussion with a group of people who were deluding themselves into thinking they were free. "As He spoke these words, many believed in Him. 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"?'" (John 8:31-33).
Clearly, they were deceiving themselves, not admitting that even then their land was little more than an occupied territory under the subjugation of the mighty Roman Empire. All were well aware that they were a captive people.
In the next three verses Jesus replied, "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."
According to Christ, a person can't be spiritually free unless he has the truth, which is God's Word (John 17:17). Obviously, that person must understand that truth. Many have a Bible in their homes but either don't read it or can't comprehend it. Few have realized the freedom that comes from understanding God's Word.
Freedom through the Holy Spirit
The Scriptures point out that God's Spirit guides us to truth (John 16:13). It helps us to understand the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 2:10-14). This spiritual understanding leads to freedom.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:17, "Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
We know that the Holy Spirit is a precious gift that God grants based on repentance, the acceptance of Christ, water baptism, a willingness to obey and the laying on of hands (Acts 2:38; 5:32; 8:14-17).
Freedom through the law of God
Everyone craves freedom, but we quickly realize that freedom has its price. One person jokingly said, "Absolute freedom is being able to do what you please without considering anyone except your spouse and your kids, the company and the boss, neighbors and friends, the police and the government, the doctor and the church."
In a human society, chaos results if we consider just our own interests. Laws are necessary to guarantee freedom. This is also true with the spiritual law of God. Psalm 119 is a beautiful tribute to the freedoms that come through obedience to God's law. Notice verses 44 and 45: "So shall I keep Your law continually, forever and ever. And I will walk at liberty, for I seek Your precepts" (Psalm 119:44-45)
James calls God's law a "law of liberty," or freedom, when he says that "he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:25). He continues in the next chapter: "So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty" (James 2:12).
Unfortunately, some claim religious freedom through Christ while denigrating His law and refusing to submit to it. Jesus Christ, as the perfect example of freedom, kept God's commands (John 15:10). True freedom cannot come apart from, but must come from harmony with, God's commandments. As Christ asks in Luke 6:46, "why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do the things which I say?" Also: "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17).
Loving obedience to God's law is not an effort to attain salvation by works, but an honest, heartfelt response to want to serve and please the great God of the universe who gave His spiritual laws for our own well-being. It's not a matter of what's convenient, but of what pleases God. It is an irony that, as we gain freedom through Christ, we become His slaves, as stated in 1 Corinthians 7:22: "For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord's freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ's slave."
Ultimately, true freedom comes through the resurrection at Christ's return. As Paul explains in Romans 8:21, "the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God."
God speed that day!