Freedom. The very word arouses strong political passion and conjures up a collage of patriotic imagery. We all agree that it is something worth fighting for, and many have laid down their lives to defend it. In his letter to the Galatians, however, the apostle Paul was concerned about an issue of even greater consequence; our freedom in Christ.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1)
In recent years Christians have began to mobilize politically to counteract the secular forces that have steadily eroded our religious freedom in America. And that is all well and good. Nevertheless the apostle Paul’s warning should give us a reason to pause before we jump on the bandwagon: the greatest threat to our freedom as Christians is not external but internal.
The central theme of the Gospel is freedom (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18). Our freedom in Christ involves two aspects: (1) Freedom from the guilt of sin (Col 2:13-14, Heb 10:11-18) and (2) Freedom from the power of sin (Rom 8:2,12; 6:17-18;8:15). Both aspects of this truth are foundational to our Christian experience.
Freedom from guilt.
Forgiveness is an issue many stumble over. Long after we have come to Christ by faith, some of us continue to struggle with assurance of salvation because of a failure to recognize the fact that Jesus paid the full penalty for all our sins past, present and future (Heb 10:12-14). Failure to integrate this truth into our understanding of why God accepts us is also at the root of much of our driven behavior. There is nothing we can add to what Christ has already accomplished on the cross. Dick Halverson, former chaplain of the U.S. Senate, said it well: “There is nothing I can do to make God love me more; there is nothing I can do to make God love me less!” This is liberating truth which must be personalized and internalized if we want to move on to maturity in Christ.
Freedom from the power of sin. Before we came to Christ, our old self was dominated by the flesh and we were slaves to sin. When we came to Christ, this old self was crucified and buried with Christ (Rom 6:6-8), we put on the new self (Col 3:10) and became a new creation (II Cor 5:17). We also received His Spirit, who was given to fill (control) and empower us, and who works to conform us to the Image of Christ.
It is important to realize that even though we have become a new creation in Christ, we still have the flesh whose innate desires are in opposition to life in the Spirit (Gal 5:17). The BIG difference is that we no longer have to be controlled or enslaved by it. By His Spirit, we have been set free from its power. However, the practical experience of freedom from the control of the flesh requires a daily choice to walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:16).
The apostle Paul points out that it is possible for us to become enslaved again after we have been set free. How does that happen? Whenever we add an element of self-effort (works or faith plus works) as a basis for gaining God’s acceptance (the essence of legalism), we subject ourselves again to the yoke of slavery. And any time we choose to gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16), we are offering ourselves as an instrument of unrighteousness and this always leads to slavery (Rom 6:13,16).
Perhaps a more subtle form of slavery occurs when we make the pursuit of personal ambition a focal point of our life. In fact, some of our seemingly inescapable “obligations” in life may stem from a need to protect our self-interests. Life becomes a game of contortions; we strive to hold on to all the cards by stretching and twisting ourselves into the most awkward and compromising positions. Eventually we find ourselves totally immobilized for fear of dropping one of the many pieces. This is one of the Enemy’s most effective strategies for neutralizing the Christian.
Like Saul, we may rationalize (or “rational lies”, as a friend put it) our disobedience by claiming that we fully intend to offer what we have obtained as a sacrifice to the Lord. But God’s reply echoes through the centuries: “To obey is better than sacrifice.” (I Sam 15:22).
I’m sure no sincere Christian starts out wanting to become one with the world. It is an intimacy that would make most of us cringe if it were to happen all at once. Instead, we gradually become attached to the world by initially presenting just a part of ourselves in exchange for what it has to offer. We tell ourselves that it is only a small part, that we are in control of the situation, that it is possible to romance the world without being overcome by it. But the Bible warns us otherwise (Rom 6:16).
Once we recognize what is truly happening to us, we are immediately confronted with a crisis of the will: What are we going to do about it? Perhaps we see ourselves as a victim of circumstances beyond our control; e.g., the nature of our practice. But we must be careful not to buy into the “victim mentality” in spiritual matters. Whatever may have kept us from first seeking His Kingdom and His righteousness, God never intended for us to live that way.
The truth is that He has set us free, and this freedom is ours to claim regardless of our situation in life. Don’t wait for a moment of great inspiration, or for God’s supernatural intervention to extricate you from a bondage of your own making. Take a bold step of faith, turn away from whatever may have captured your heart and bound you to the world, and from here on out make a holy determination to walk in the light of freedom!
“You were bought with a price, do not become slaves of men”
The Apostle Paul