Freedom

freedom-legsFound in obeying God:

“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – NIV Genesis 3:5

Adam and Eve got what they wanted: an intimate knowledge of both good and evil. But they got it by doing evil, and the results were disastrous.  Sometimes we have the illusion that freedom is doing anything we want.  But God says that true freedom comes from obedience and knowing what not to do.  The restrictions he gives us are for our good, helping us avoid evil.  We have the freedom to walk in front of a speeding car, but we don’t need to be hit to realise it would be foolish to do so.  Don’t listen to Satan’s temptations.  You don’t have to do evil to gain more experience and learn about life.

 

Often results from being trustworthy:

‘My father made me swear an oath and said, “I am about to die; bury me in the tomb I dug for myself in the land of Canaan.” Now let me go up and bury my father; then I will return.’ “ – NIV Genesis 50:5

Joseph had proved himself trustworthy as Pharaoh’s adviser. Because of his good record, Pharaoh had little doubt that he would return to Egypt as promised after burying his father in Canaan.  Privileges and freedom often result when we have demonstrated our trustworthiness.  Since trust must be built gradually over time, take every opportunity to prove your reliability even in minor matters.

 

Finding freedom from sin:

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high. – NIV Leviticus 26:13

Imagine the joy of a slave set free. God took the children of Israel out of bitter slavery and gave them freedom and dignity.  We too are set free when we accept Christ’s payment that redeems us from sin’s slavery.  We no longer need to be bogged down in shame over our past sins; we can walk with dignity because God has forgiven us and forgotten them.  But just as the Israelites were still in danger of returning to a slave mentality, we need to beware of the temptations to return to our former sinful patterns.

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.  – NIV Galatians 5:13

Paul distinguishes between freedom to sin and freedom to serve. Freedom or licence to sin is no freedom at all, because it enslaves you to Satan, others, or your own sinful nature.  Christians, by contrast, should not be slaves to sin, because they are free to do right and to glorify God through loving service to others.

 

Finding freedom within God’s boundaries:

Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;

my eyes grow weak with sorrow,

my soul and my body with grief. – NIV Psalms 31:8

In David’s day, armies needed large areas of land for their military manoeuvres. David praised God for the “spacious place” – the open spaces that gave him the freedom to move within God’s boundaries.  If you feel restrained by God’s moral boundaries, remember that God has given you much freedom, far more than you need, to move within those boundaries.  Use the opportunity he gives you to make wise decisions.  Use them wisely and they will lead to victory.

 

Salvation is freedom from sin & death:

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Saviour,

who daily bears our burdens.

Our God is a God who saves;

from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death.

 

Surely God will crush the heads of his enemies,

the hairy crowns of those who go on in their sins. – NIV Psalms 68:19-21

God sets his people free and crushes his enemies. Salvation is freedom from sin and death.  Those who refuse to turn to God will be crushed by sin and death.  They will be trapped by the sin they loved and destroyed by the death they feared.  How much better it will be for those who love God and fear the consequences of sin.

 

Why sin doesn’t offer it:

“My sins have been bound into a yoke;

by his hands they were woven together.

They have come upon my neck

and the Lord has sapped my strength.

He has handed me over

to those I cannot withstand. – NIV Lamentations 1:14

At first, sin seems to offer freedom. But the liberty to do anything we want gradually becomes a desire to do everything.  Then we become captive to sin, bound by its “yoke”.  Freedom from sin’s captivity comes only from God.  He gives us freedom, not to do anything we want, but to do what he knows is best for us.  Strange as it may seem, true freedom comes in obeying God – following his guidance so that we can receive his best.

 

Jesus’ truth sets us free:

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – NIV John 8:32

Jesus himself is the truth that sets us free (8:36). He is the source of truth, the perfect standard of what is right.  He frees us from the consequences of sin, from self-deception, and from deception by Satan.  He shows us clearly the way to eternal life with God.  Thus Jesus does not give us freedom to do what we want, but freedom to follow God.  As we seek to serve God, Jesus’ perfect truth frees us to be all that God meant us to be.

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.  – NIV Galatians 5:1

Christ died to set us free from sin and from a long list of laws and regulations. Christ came to set us free – not free to do whatever we want because that would lead us back into slavery to our selfish desires.  Rather, thanks to Christ, we are now free and able to do what was impossible before – to live unselfishly.  Those who appeal to their freedom so that they can have their own way or indulge their own desires are falling back into sin.  But it is also wrong to put a burden of lawkeeping on Christians.  We must stand against those who would enslave us with rules, methods, or special conditions for being saved or growing in Christ.

 

Given by Jesus’ death:

With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!”  (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)  – NIV Luke 23:18-19

Who was Barabbas? Jewish men had names that identified them with their fathers.  Simon, Peter, for example, is called Simon son of Jonah (Matthew 16:17).  Barabbas is never identified by his given name, and this name is not much help either – Barabbas means “son of Abba” (or “son of daddy”).  He could have been anybody’s son – and that’s just the point, Barabbas, son of an unnamed father, committed a crime.  Because Jesus died in his place, this man was set free.  We too are sinners and criminals who have broken God’s holy law.  Like Barabbas, we deserve to die.  But Jesus has died in our place, for our sins, and we have been set free.  We don’t have to be “very important people” to accept our freedom in Christ.  In fact, thanks to Jesus Christ, God adopts us all as his own sons and daughters and gives us the right to call him Abba – “daddy” (see Galatians 4:4-6).

 

Finding the freedom to obey:

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.  – NIV Romans 5:20

As a sinner, separated from God, you see his law from below, as a ladder to be climbed to get to God. Perhaps you have repeatedly tried to climb it, only to fall to the ground every time you have advanced one or two rungs.  Or perhaps the sheer height of the ladder seems so overwhelming that you have never even started up.  In either case, what relief you should feel to see Jesus offering with open arms to lift you above the ladder of the law, to take you directly to God!  Once Jesus lifts you into God’s presence, you are free to obey – out of love, not necessity, and through God’s power, not your own.  You know that if you stumble, you will not fall back to the ground.  Instead, you will be caught and held in Christ’s loving arms.

 

Don’t let yours cause weaker Christians to stumble:

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not tp out any stumbling-block or obstacle in your brother’s way.  – NIV Romans 14:13

Both strong and weak Christians can cause their brothers and sisters to stumble. The strong but insensitive Christians may flaunt his or her freedom and intentionally offend others’ consciences.  The scrupulous but weak Christians may try to fence others with petty rules and regulations, thus causing dissension.  Paul wants his readers to be both strong in the faith and sensitive to others’ needs.  Because we are all strong in some areas and weak in others, we need constantly to monitor the effects of our behaviour on others.

“Everything is permissible” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible” – but not everything is constructive.  Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.  – NIV 1 Corinthians 10:23-24

Sometimes it’s hard to know when to defer to the weaker believer. Paul gives a simple rule of thumb to help in making the decision – we should be sensitive and gracious.  While some actions may not be wrong, they may not be in the best interest of others.  While we have freedom in Christ, we shouldn’t exercise our freedom at the cost of hurting a Christian brother or sister.  We are not to consider only ourselves, but we must be sensitive to others.  For more on the proper attitude towards a weaker believer, see the notes on 8:10-13 and Romans 14.

 

What Christian freedom is all about:

For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.  When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.  Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.  – NIV 1 Corinthians 8:10-13

Christian freedom does not mean that anything goes. It means that our salvation is not determined by good deeds or legalistic rules, but by the free gift of God (Ephesians 2:8, 9).  Christian freedom, then, is inseparably tied to Christian responsibility.  New believers are often very sensitive to what is right or wrong, what they should or shouldn’t do.  Some actions may be perfectly all right for us to do, but may harm a Christian brother or sister who is still young in the faith and learning what the Christian life is all about.  We must be careful not to offend a sensitive or younger Christian or, by our example, to cause him or her to sin.  When we love others, our freedom should be less important to us than strengthening the faith of a brother or sister in Christ.

They promised them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. – NIV 2 Peter 2:19

A person is a slave to whatever controls him or her. Many believe that freedom means doing anything we want.  But no-one is ever completely free in that sense.  If we refuse to follow God, we will follow our own sinful desires and become enslaved to what our bodies want.  If we submit our lives to Christ, he will free us from slavery to sin.  Christ frees us to serve him, a freedom that results in our ultimate good.

 

Abusing Christian freedom:

“Everything is permissible for me” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me” – but I will not be mastered by anything.  “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food” – but God will destroy them both.  The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.  – NIV 1 Corinthians 6:12-13

Freedom is a mark of the Christian faith – freedom from sin and guilt, and freedom to use and enjoy anything that comes from God. But Christians should not abuse this freedom and hurt themselves or others.  Drinking too much leads to alcoholism, gluttony leads to obesity.  Be careful that what God has allowed you to enjoy doesn’t grow into a bad habit that controls you.  For more about Christian freedom and everyday behaviour, read chapter 8.

 

How being a slave to Christ gives us freedom:

You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. – NIV 1 Corinthians 7:23

Slavery was common throughout the Roman empire. Some Christians in the Corinthian church were undoubtedly slaves.  Paul said that although the Christian slaves were slaves to other human beings, they were free from the power of sin in their lives.  People today are slaves to sin’s power.  Sin, pride, and fear no longer have any claim over us, just as a slave owner no longer has power over the slaves he has sold.  The Bible says we become Christ’s slaves when we become Christians (Romans 6:18), but this actually means we gain our freedom, because sin no longer controls us.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.  – NIV Galatians 6:18

Paul’s letter to the Galatians boldly declares the freedom of the Christian. Doubtless these early Christians in Galatia wanted to grow in the Christian life, but they were being misled by those who said this could be done only by keeping certain Jewish laws.

How strange it would be for a prisoner who had been set free to walk back into his or her cell and refuse to leave! How strange for an animal, released from a trap, to go back inside it!  How sad for a believer to be freed from the bondage of sin, only to return to rigid conformity to a set of rules and regulations!

 

©Kingsway International 1973.

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