Freedom in Christ

Everyone is a slave in the spiritual sense. We are either slaves to sin, which is our natural state, or we are slaves to Christ.

Romans 6:16(HCSB)16 Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey—either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness?

John 8:34(HCSB)34 Jesus responded, “I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.

The writers of the New Testament willingly declared their status as slaves of Christ. Paul opens his letter to the Romans by referring to himself as a “slave of Jesus Christ” Romans 1:1(HCSB)Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news— and his letter to Titus by calling himself a “slave of God” Titus 1:1(HCSB)Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to build up the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness,. James opens his epistle the same way, “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” James 1:1(HCSB)James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ: To the 12 tribes in the Dispersion.Greetings..

We read about freedom, dream about freedom, rejoice in the notion of freedom, teach, advocate, and hope for freedom, but what do we mean by freedom?

Freedom means many things to many people.  We can view freedom politically, as having the opportunity to vote for particular ideas, people, or parties which best represent our views.  Closely tied to this is the notion of freedom of speech, where one has the liberty to voice their personal opinion or perspective. Others understand freedom in a financial context, where people seek to free themselves of financial debt, outstanding credit, and burdensome loans.

What does true freedom look like?  Does it look like a voter’s ballot or someone walking out of prison?  Is it seen in being able to buy anything I want or in the fact that I don’t owe a thing to anyone?  Of course, it’s crucial to define what we mean by freedom so that we know what we’re looking for, what we’re hoping to attain.

Say a child runs outside and climbs a tree because he wants to get away and be free.  In his effort to be free, the boy wanders out onto a tree limb, turns around, and begins severing the last connection he has with the world — the limb.  Having sawed through the limb, the boy quickly realizes that he not only failed in achieving his goal of complete freedom, but discovers that what he was seeking wasn’t true freedom at all.  In his effort to achieve freedom, the boy finds himself in a worse situation then before — broken limbs and all!

Two sides of the freedom coin

Freedom is a basic human desire, so we would expect to read about it in the Bible. While the Bible speaks often of freedom, its focus is most frequently related to the spiritual freedom a person can experience in Christ.

Not surprisingly, the Bible says quite a bit about freedom, despite any impressions we might have about it being merely a book of restrictive rules. In reality, if we are willing to consider it, the Bible can help us distinguish between what it means for us to be free from something and to be free to do or be something. Freedom from and freedom to are two sides of the freedom coin.

It is interesting that many of the freedoms we seek today are seen as ends in themselves, as a final goal to be attained.  It’s as though we think that once our particular freedom is achieved, all our problems will be solved.  Why?  Because we’ll have freedom!  But freedom from what?  And freedom to do or be what?

For example, let’s say that we’re in deep financial debt.  We realize our desperate state and begin to strategically work our way out of financial bondage.  It may take months, years, or even decades, but eventually we hope to balance our budget and move from being in the red to black.  But, even if we accomplish our goal and attain financial freedom, particularly freedom from debt, have we really attained true freedom?  In other words, does having no financial debt necessarily mean that we have attained financial freedom?

Not really.  See, our hearts, which drove us into debt in the first place, remain unchanged.  It may be the case, and unfortunately it often is, that as soon as we get out of debt, we plunge right back into it.  Why?  Because our hearts see and desire something it cannot live without.  So we buy it, and Bam!  We’re in debt again.  So, if our hearts are not changed, neither will our behavior change.  That’s why the Bible says that true freedom begins in the heart. We act on our thoughts and behave according to our desires. Psalms 51:10(HCSB)God, create a clean heart for me

and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Ezekiel 11:19-21(HCSB)And I will give them one heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove their heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh, 20 so they may follow My statutes, keep My ordinances, and practice them. Then they will be My people, and I will be their God. 21 But as for those whose hearts pursue their desire for detestable things and practices, I will bring their actions down on their own heads.” This is the declaration of the Lord God.

Interestingly, the Bible likens the human heart to a tree, in which,
Matthew 7:17-18(HCSB)17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit.;

Matthew 12:33-35(HCSB)33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. 35 A good man produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil man produces evil things from his storeroom of evil..  The source of our actions is the heart.  If it’s bad, the fruit (our actions) is bad too.

Of course, it’s always good to be out of debt, but to simply balance the books is only a outer remedy.  It is merely treating the symptoms rather than dealing with the disease. True freedom is only achieved when our hearts are changed, not when the books are balanced.

The same can be said for political and verbal freedom.  Both are significantly good and should be advocated and protected, but they are outer freedoms in comparison to true freedom.  True freedom occurs only in the heart when it is changed and made new. 

2 Corinthians 5:17(HCSB) 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.

What then is this “true” freedom?

There is a debt that every human has, a disease that we all suffer from, which no human strategy can ever conquer or cure. It is not a bondage to external things primarily, though it does work its way out in external expressions.  No, our problem is much deeper.  It is bondage of the will, a captivity of the soul, a deadness of heart.

The Bible tells us that we were made by God to honor Him and delight in Him forever.  Yet, we chose to sin and rebel against God by abandoning our created purpose of worshiping Him in order to do our own thing and pridefully make a name for ourselves.  This rebellion against God, known as the Fall, caused mankind to fall from the innocence in which they were created and become corrupted by sin.

Due to our sin, we have all received the consequential penalty of sin, namely spiritual and physical death.  Death reigns in all of us so every one of us is spiritual dead (separated from God) and will also die physically one day.  Not only this, but throughout our life, the effects of sin infect everything we do.  The stains of sin are permeate through each one of us, distorting the way we think, what we desire, and how we behave.  All of our thoughts, feelings, and actions are tainted by our sin.

Yet, in all of this, the human heart remains free.  Free to choose whatever it desires. But here’s the catch — the human heart is corrupted and enslaved by evil.  So, the only thing it desires is evil.  All our thoughts, words, and actions are tainted in various degrees with prideful sin and rebellion against God.  So even though we are free to choose, we only freely choose sin all the time. Jeremiah 17:9-10(HCSB)The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?10 I, Yahweh, examine the mind,I test the heart to give to each according to his way, according to what his actions deserve

Ultimately, the final consequence of our sin against God is hell, a state of total and unending disconnection and separation from God, a place of unhindered and perpetual bondage to unrestrained evil, horror, and suffering resulting from everyone doing all their selfish and sinful hearts desire, no matter what harm it may cause to others.

Yet, God in His love sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to come to earth and willingly die in the place of sinful humans like us to absorb all our sin, rebellion and wrongdoing.  Therefore, all who entrust their complete life to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins will be saved from their bondage to sin and given eternal life in Him and enjoy an intimate and personal connection and relationship with God himself.

This is true freedom.   And true freedom only exists in Jesus Christ.  How does it happen?  God changes our heart by His Holy Spirit.  God makes us spiritually alive by giving us a new heart. This heart desires to love God.  Jeremiah 24:7(HCSB)7 I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am Yahweh. They will be My people, and I will be their God because they will return to Me with all their heart. It sees Jesus Christ as beautiful and desires to love Him as the Lord and Savior of our life.  By faith, we give our life to Jesus and receive His forgiveness and freedom from sin. Ephesians 2:8-9(HCSB)8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast. 

First, freedom in Christ is seen in contrast to the bondage of sin.

Romans 6:20-23(ESV)  “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In other words, sin enslaves people for spiritual death and eternity apart from God. Knowing Christ provides freedom from the control of sin and eternal life with Him.

A person who has experienced true freedom in Christ is called to live as His servant. The apostle Paul was an example of this, as many of his letters began with the introduction of himself as a “servant of Christ Jesus” (Romans 1:1). We are set free to serve Christ. This seems like a paradox to the non-believer, yet the freedom found in Christ gives the believer a desire to live for Christ as a servant.

Yet this freedom does not mean sin is completely removed. Paul spoke of his ongoing struggle with sin (Romans 7:15-20(HCSB)15 For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. 19 For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but it is the sin that lives in me., yet also noted that sin no longer controlled him.

He was now a person who sought to live a transformed life because of his new life in Christ. This included put off old habits and developing new patterns that honored God (Ephesians 4:22-32(HCSB)22 You took off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires; 23 you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; 24 you put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth. 25 Since you put away lying, Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another. 26 Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and don’t give the Devil an opportunity. 28 The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need. 29 No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. 30 And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by Him[h] for the day of redemption. 31 All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. 32 And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ..

In short, we experience true freedom in Christ by knowing Him, walking in His ways, and engaging with the changes He makes in and through our lives as we focus on service to Him and to others. This freedom transcends the human freedoms desired in this world, providing peace in this life and freedom with Christ forevermore. Not only this, but we are now free to do the very thing we were created to do — to honor and enjoy God forever.  And this joy in God is from our heart — our new heart given to us by God.

This is true freedom.  This is grace.

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