Freedom

“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

I remember watching Mel Gibson’s movie Brave Heart years ago. No one who watched that movie can forget the dramatic ending where, during intense torture, the main character cries out, “Freedom!” Freedom is a yearning within all people. Unfortunately, outside of Christ there is no freedom. Only He can bring the freedom our soul longs for. Sin enslaves all people. And religion without Christ cannot set a single person free. For those who strive to be free in the flesh, seeking freedom through religion, they will receive only weariness, toil, and disappointment. But, for those who come to Christ, a glorious freedom awaits them.

The true Man of the World comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. Satan seeks to lead us into the land of religion and ritual that is devoid of life. He creates rules and generates anxiety. He wants people to think of God as a heavenly IRS agent desperately seeking to find something wrong with you so He can smite you. He wants to create division amongst people by getting them to become suspicious of each other. He wants people to distrust each other, hate each other, judge one another, and hurt one another. He has done a good job. Lifeless religion has been the source of contention and strife for as long as history has been written. The reason there are so many different denominations is because there are no shortage of people hurling contempt upon others in the name of God. Fallen people are always looking for reasons to divide. It takes a spirit filled person to see imperfect people and, knowing they too are sinners in need of a savior, love them as Christ did.

Thankfully, Jesus came to give us the Spirit. He came that we may have life and have it abundantly.[1] He did not come to give us rituals, or generate anxiety by telling how we might fail. He didn’t come to tell us how some are better than others. He isn’t watching over us with a clipboard and writing down everything we ever did wrong. He didn’t come to show us a map and tell us what it is like in the land of the free – if we can make it. No, he came to bring us life – not just a description of it. Through the Holy Spirit, the life of Christ is freedom, and it is available immediately and forever for those who come to Him in Spirit and truth.

When Jesus prayed with His disciples he said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Eternal life is knowing God. It is being, as the older divines said, in communion with God. Today we use a different term, but the meaning is the same. Eternal life is experienced when one is in a relationship with God through Christ.

The key words in Jesus’ prayer are “to know.” They are simple words communicating a profound truth. We can know God. This is the essence of what Christ came to give. Because of sin the door into God’s presence was shut. And it was shut in such a way that we could never, under any circumstance, open the door on our own. It could only be opened from the side of heaven. This is what Jesus did. And now with it open, there is nothing this side of heaven that can close it again. With the door open we can boldly approach the throne of grace. But, more importantly, through the open door God has come to us with His life. When Jesus removed our sin, God ran through the door and embraced His redeemed children with all His might. They were lost, but now are found, and He will not be deprived of them again. He has them in the palm of His hand. And no one can ever take them away again. Because He has them, they can know Him personally and forever.

Knowing isn’t hard. It doesn’t require a special degree. You don’t have to memorize certain words in languages long dead. You’re not required to stand in certain positions, or wear special clothes, or be in the right building at the right time, or in a special land. You just have to want to know Him. When you want to know God in truth, He will not leave you alone. Sure you’ll have to confess you’re a sinner. Sure you’ll have to ask for forgiveness. But, Christ has removed your sin and the Father is eager to forgive. And in confessing our sin we are liberated from the shackles that otherwise keep us chained in darkness, far away from God, dead in sin. With the shackles gone and God present, the darkness flees and His eternal, indestructible life fills us. In that instant we know God. We know Him in a way that words cannot adequately describe. But we know Him. And we are confident that we are known by Him.

Its only when one has experienced the embrace of God through Christ that one really understands what it means to be free. All throughout the New Testament we are introduced to this reality. In this chapter we are going to explore some of the ways that freedom can be experienced.

Freedom from Religion

Religion, as I define the term, is a functional system in which we operate and express our faith. As I mentioned in the opening of this book, I am not anti-religion. I recognize that our faith will be expressed in certain ways, especially as it relates to corporate worship. And I am all for public expressions of worship. The freedom I refer to is the freedom to live in God’s presence without the need to worry that I might have missed a ritual, or didn’t say a prayer in the right way, or didn’t dress right, or sung the wrong song at the wrong time, or am going to be struck down because I messed up, etc. etc. God did not come to give us rituals, rules, and regulations.[2] He came to give us His life. Instead of worrying about rituals and rules, we are given the freedom to love Him and walk with Him

There is a big difference between engaging in rituals because you think a deity might hear you and accept you, and daily walking with the living God who loves you, and, as Francis Schaeffer said, “Is there and is not silent.” God is not a rule book. He is a living being. His desire, indeed, the very purpose He created people, was to love them and be in communion with them. God wants to know you – really know you; and He invites you to know him as well. He promises that that relationship will never, ever, come to an end.

As far as rules are concerned, consider that the first and greatest commandment is that we are to love God above everything else in life.[3] The greatest “rule” God gave was for the purpose of revealing that we were created to know and love God. The rule is relational in nature. God gave the rule so we could know what He desires from us. He also gave the rule, because this reveals what we are lacking. And take note that the command to love God is stated in the positive. It’s the primary goal God has for our lives. Everything points to that reality. That one rule defines everything that God wants for us and helps us understand everything He has done for us.

Even the Ten Commandments point to it. But where the Greatest Commandment is stated in the positive, the Ten Commandments are all stated in the negative. They are stated in the negative because they reveal why we don’t love God the way we should. In short they reveal our sin. The Ten Commandments then, were not given as a stepping stone into God’s presence (do this and you’ll be good). They were given to reveal why we fail to love God and why we don’t have a relationship with Him. The Ten Commandments reveal that we love sin more than God. Therefore each commandment reveals a universe of reasons why our hearts crave something other than fellowship with God.

If the law does its perfect work, then, it does not make us good and therefore acceptable to God. We don’t get into God’s presence as a reward for obeying them. Much of our religion communicates this in subtle, if not in overt ways.  Indeed, the Bible makes it clear that obeying the law is not a possibility. Instead, it reveals how and why we have rejected God. The only way the law brings us to God is by revealing that failure, which then leads us to the cross where we see Jesus being crucified and judged in our place and for our sin. So, the only thing the law can successfully accomplish in our life is to help us understand why we are condemned, and then lead us to the One who can free us from that condemnation.

Once at the cross, recognizing and acknowledging our sin, and recognizing that we cannot get back to God on our own, He takes all of our sin and places it on Jesus who stood under judgment for that sin, and died in our place. He then takes Jesus’ perfect righteousness and gives it to us. Jesus never once sinned. He never broke God’s law. He was never, not in a relationship with God. He lived a perfect life before God. And once we confess Him as our Savior and Lord, God the Father then gives that perfect righteousness to us as a gift. With this done, God then invades our life as a loving Father who has been waiting to lavish us with His love and bestow His life upon us. Through Jesus we are reunited with our Father. Once reunited, we then live in His presence.

So, to review: The law reveals why we don’t have a relationship with God. It does not make us good in the eyes of God. Once we realize why we don’t have that relationship, the law then leads us to Christ where that relationship can be found. Once that relationship is received, the law has nothing more to do with us.[4] We are free from the law.

This is how God liberates us. Once we are enjoying God’s life within us, we are not bound by a religious system, or by religious rules in the hopes that we can “make it.” God has done everything for us so we can know him. It is profoundly simple. But the sad reality is that the religious systems we create can actually hinder our walk with God. There is a great example of this in the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. There we learn of an interesting episode that took place in the early church.

When Paul was visiting them he noticed a disturbing trend. There were a group of Jewish believers who had grown up in the Jewish legalistic system of religion. And though they had believed on Jesus for salvation, they were not willing to put aside their religious rituals or traditions. In addition, they also communicated in some way the need for others to uphold their religious traditions as well. One of these traditions taught that Jews did not associate with non-Jews for the fear that they will become ritually unclean. They apparently stressed that this was an important element of their religion to observe. So much so, that even the eminent apostle Peter became swept up by their influence. When Paul noticed what Peter was going, he publically confronted Peter and essentially told him that his actions were a denial of Christ. He charged these Jewish men with corrupting the gospel, and even called Peter a hypocrite to his face while calling him to repent – which he did.

Paul was upset because he knew this religious observance nullified the grace given through Christ. Paul clearly taught that we are either seeking to earn our salvation through such observances or we are resting in the salvation that Jesus earned for us. There is no middle ground. We either observe law as a means of salvation or we claim the finished work of Christ as a means of salvation. We cannot have a combination of both.

Paul wanted the church to know that they were not bound by such religious traditions. Instead of worrying about breaking the law of ritual cleanliness, Peter was free to associate with whomever he wanted – in fact, the gospel demands we associate with all people because the gospel destroys all such barriers.[5] Because of the gospel, there was no longer a valid command by God that dictated who Peter could or could not associate with. God is no respecter of persons. Peter could fellowship with anyone. His experience with Cornelius also taught Him the same lesson.[6]

Through this event we also learn that God does not limit His love to those who follow such religious observances. In fact, the book of Galatians teaches that such observances can actually train wreck ones relationship with God. The men who wrongly lead Peter astray were dubbed the Judaizers and charged with spreading a false gospel that can only destroy ones soul![7]

We must beware of believing that God shows people favor because of some religious ritual or custom. God shows favor only because of Jesus Christ. This means we are not bound by traditions and rituals. We are free to love God and live before Him.

This incident also reals that we are free from being judged by others in regard to religion. Where the Judaizers rejected people who did not observe the traditions as they did, Peter was reminded that God rejects no one who comes to Him in faith. And while we may develop certain traditions as expressions of our faith, we are never defined by them. Before Peter believed in Jesus for salvation, He was a practicing Jew. As such he was expected by others to observe the traditions of the elders. When he received salvation through Christ, God taught him that such things have no value in helping one come to God. The expectations of others were therefore only a hindrance in Peter’s relationship with God. As we have noted, such things can actually hurt ones relationship with God. The good news is that our relationship with God does not depend upon the judgment of others. It is solely dependent upon Christ.

Freedom from Condemnation

Because we are no longer bound by the law, we are also free from its condemnation. As already mentioned, the law can only accuse as it reveals our sin. It is powerless to generate righteousness within us. And while it is powerful to condemn, when one is in Christ, they are completely free of its grasp.[8] The Bible teaches that once a person confesses Christ, they are then removed from being under the curse of the law and are now free to live in the “newness of the Spirit.” When this occurs we are no longer under the letter of the law (don’t do… etc. etc.), but are now under “the law of the Sprit of Life in Christ Jesus” that has set us “free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).

This is an essential truth that is often neglected. And while we can easily affirm its truth, we often regress into an “I’m good because I did etc., etc.” attitude. Consider, if the apostle Peter can fall into that trap, and he spent three years with Jesus, then how much more can we? We often begin well, but like the Galatian church we fall away. They were seduced by convincing people who made much of their traditions. But Paul startled them with stunning question, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you…?” (Gal 3:1). Their seemingly convincing arguments were in fact an invitation to spiritual death!

We can prevent ourselves from falling into that trap if we will keep an important truth before us at all times. In Jesus Christ there is no condemnation. Period. The Bible says plainly, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). You don’t need to be able to read Greek to understand what that means! There is no condemnation to whose we are in Christ. Notice the important words, “In Christ.” This is the key. Once we come to Him we are “In Christ.” This means that His life is within us. It also means that we have been united with God through Him. The only way we could be condemned is if Christ was condemned. Once in Christ our life is inextricably bound with His. Whatever happens to Christ now happens to us. And, just in case you’re wondering, Christ cannot be condemned! In Christ we are free from all condemnation. With that freedom we don’t have to be married to the law and worry that something was left undone.

When Peter sinned by observing the ritual of staying away from “unclean” people, what he was doing was turning around and taking the hand of the law again. But, by taking hold of the law, Peter had to let go of the hand of Christ. A man can have only one wife. This is what Paul spoke about in the seventh chapter of the book of Romans. We either have the law as our spouse or we have Christ as our spouse. God does not allow a man to be married to both at the same time. He can have only one spouse. If the law is our spouse then we will always hear the voice of the law condemning us. But, if Christ is our spouse, then we will always hear the voice of the Sprit leading us in the life of Christ. And the spirit will never condemn us because of sin, He will always seek to free us from sin!

This does not mean that we will never fail, or be totally free from sin. The sad reality is that we will fail. The reality of sin will not be completely eradicated until the new heaven and new earth are established. At that point all sin and death will be forever exiled in the lake of fire. What makes all the difference in this life is the identity of our spouse. If we do sin, we are not given a pass to continue in it. Instead of being condemned by the law, though, we are disciplined by God through the Spirit. Make no mistake, God does not tolerate sin in the life of His children. Jesus died because of sin. But, instead of condemning us, He seeks to eradicate that sin from us. Instead of having the letter of law to condemn, we now have a loving Father to correct and discipline us as He conforms us into the image of Christ, whose life we now share

As a result, we are now free to live “In Christ.”

Freedom to live

Adam and Eve were created free. Unfortunately, they fell into sin with the tragic result that the entire race was enslaved by sin and plunged into death. But when Christ came, He broke those shackles and set us free forever. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Living before God is the most liberating experience we can have. The Bible teaches that we are created by God, for God, and we are accountable to no one but God. And while, as Christian’s, we work together for the glory of God, we are free from the judgment of all men. We are free to praise and worship God as we feel led. We are free to love God, and be loved by Him. We are free to speak with God when we desire. We are free to be led only by God. We are free to walk with God and enjoy His presence. We are free from deception. We are free from sin’s power. We are free from death’s grasp. We are free from Satan’s power. We are free to come in, and free to go out. We are free to proclaim truth. We are free to obey God when all others rebel. We are free to love others without the guile self-interest. We are free from self. We are free from the need to please others. We are free to please only Him. We are free from the stain of sin. We are free from guilt. We are free from anxiety. We are free from fear. We are free from condemnation. We are free from doubt. We are free from the restraints of religion. We are, in all aspects, set free and liberated. To those who are in Christ we are free to enjoy “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). And that liberty is His life.

One of the great pictures of the Bible is seen in the book of Revelation. For a brief second, John was given a glimpse of heaven. What did He see? He saw God on his throne, and before Him was an innumerable number of people and angels singing praises to God and to the Lamb. Heaven is the true land of free. Those souls were all worshiping God, not because they were told too, but, because in their freedom, there was nothing more glorious, joyful, and fulfilling; and there was nothing they would rather do. True freedom always ends in His praises on our lips, and the overflowing of His Joy in our hearts.

So, we have been set free, and all that is left is to enjoy His life forever. When we realize that we were created for God, and that we have been, in all respects, liberated by God, only then do we really understand what life is all about. The purpose of life is to know Him. In Him we are completely fulfilled. In Him we experience complete satisfaction. In Him there is “joy that is inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). Once sin and fear have been removed, that glorious joy is ours for the taking.

To take it, all we need do is exercise faith. Faith is the hand that reaches for and takes hold of that freedom to live His life. Do you want to be free? Do you want the freedom of His life within you? All the religion in the world cannot unleash the power of God’s life within you. But, were religion fails, faith triumphs.

The true Man of the World, Satan, wants to keep you in the dark. He wants to prevent you from having the joy and freedom that are found in the life of Christ. To reject Satan all you need do is embrace Christ in faith. And to employ faith all you need to do is trust and believe. He will do the rest.

 

 

Questions for reflection:

  1. When has your relationship with God been stymied by the expectations of others?
  2. Has there been times when you were burdened with anxiety and fear believing that God cannot love you?
  3. Have you ever believed that unless you did certain things you cannot be accepted by God?
  4. Have you come to see that Satan lies to us and seeks to prevent us from enjoying God’s life?
  5. Do you believe that God’s life is free for the taking by exercising faith?
  6. Do you believe that Jesus has done everything needed to free us?
  7. Are you enjoying His life today? If not, why not?

 

[1] John 10:10

[2] I recognize that the OT is filled with regulations and rules – 603 of which are civil and ceremonial in nature. Those were not meant to be normative for all people at all times. They were limited to the children of Israel for the purpose of separating them from the surrounding pagan nations. The Ten Commandments certainly apply today as being foundational for understanding the moral nature of God. In that regard the NT teaches that that through the law comes the knowledge sin (Romans 3:20). And we are further taught that those who are under grace and walk in the Spirit do not need the law. The law reveals our sin and teaches us, but when one is in Christ they are no longer judged by the law. Therefore, our lives are not governed by rules that must be observed. Rather, our life is lived in the Spirit.

[3] Deuteronomy 6:4; Matthew 22:36-40

[4] I am not advocating for antinomianism. I simply mean that once we come to Christ, the law has served its purpose in our life. If we sin after coming to Christ, the Spirit will rebuke us and grieve us. We will not be condemned by law at this point, instead we will be disciplined by our loving Father (Hebrews 12:7-8).

[5] Ephesian 2:11-18

[6] Acts 10:9-11:18

[7] Galatians 1:8-9

[8] Romans 7:1-6

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