Freedom! It is one of the most cherished ideals of humankind. Throughout the ages men and women have fought and died for it. Songwriters and poets have glorified it. Film makers have capitalized on it – who could ever forget the final scene of Braveheart? Statesmen have enshrined it in the constitutions of their nations, and politicians have cynically used it to promote their own agendas. A person can face the loss of all possessions, of reputation, of social standing, even of family and friends, as long as he can cling to freedom, even if it is only in his own heart and soul.
Yet for all our idealization of freedom, in the world no-one is truly free. Even if we live in a “free” nation, with the liberty to live and work where we please, to associate with whomever we please, and to practice or not practice any religion as we please, there are other, more subtle things which restrict and limit us.
One of the greatest promises Jesus gives is freedom. John records, “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (Jn 8:31-32, NIV) Paul takes up the message, adding a warning, “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, NIV). Unlike worldly “freedom”, this liberty cannot
be quenched by political oppression, imprisonment, beatings, persecution or even death.
First, it is freedom from the guilt of sin. Seven hundred years before Jesus died, Isaiah had prophesied about Him “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa 53:6, NIV) Every one of us has failed to measure up to God’s standards. We know that we are guilty. Every religion ever devised by humankind has tried to assuage that guilt by some form of sacrifice, yet none of it could ever be sufficient to deal with the problem of guilt. It needed One who was great enough to bear the sin of the whole of humankind, and the only one who has ever met that criterion was Jesus. Are you still struggling with guilt, trying to do enough good to offset your sin, hoping that somehow, maybe you’ll scrape in? Jesus died for your freedom. He bore the full burden of your guilt: you don’t have to bear it any longer.
More than freedom from the guilt of sin, Jesus also offers us freedom from the power of sin. Are there habits in your life that you know are wrong, yet you feel yourself drawn back into them again and again? Wrong relationships, perhaps, or pornography, or anger and violence, or alcohol or substance abuse? These and many other similar things are what really steal our freedom. When the Pharisees responded to Jesus’ offer of freedom by saying that they had never been slaves to anyone, Jesus responded, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (Jn 8:34 NIV) However, when we accept Jesus’ gift of freedom, He gives us the means to break free of that slavery. Sometimes that freedom comes miraculously – God instantaneously takes the desire for that particular sin out of our hearts. More frequently, it is a matter of us learning to walk in the freedom He has given us. By surrendering our life to Him, we receive a new nature, a nature that has both the desire and the ability to live as God wants us to live. We now must choose to live according to that new nature, rather than according to the old nature which wanted to do things our way. That can be as simple as, when faced with a temptation, saying something like: “My spirit (my new nature) knows that this is not what God wants for my life. I choose to respond out of my spirit rather than out of my flesh (my old nature).” If you fail, don’t fall back into guilt. Simply repent and accept God’s forgiveness, and determine that next time your new nature will prevail.
Jesus also gives us freedom from the oppressive demands of religious legalism. In the Old Testament (Old Covenant) the people did not have the Spirit of God living within them. The only way God had to communicate His standards to them was externally, through a written code. Over the years the religious leaders, zealous that the Law not be broken, codified a whole spectrum of lesser laws to define and protect the Law of God. What they achieved was a system of total bondage. Now God has placed the Holy Spirit within the heart of every born-again believer. There is no longer need for an external code of rules and regulations, for the Spirit is able to show us how God wants us to live. Yet still people try to tie us up with rules – wear a hat, don’t wear a hat, don’t use make-up, don’t dance, don’t watch movies, don’t, don’t, don’t… If you have accepted Jesus gift of freedom, then you are free. If there is something which the Holy Spirit does not want you to do, then as long as you are listening, He is well able to make that clear to you.
Are you standing in the freedom which Jesus has bought for you? Or have you allowed yourself to be brought back into the bondage of guilt, sin, or religious legalism? If you have, then rise up in your spirit today and break out of the shackles. For freedom Christ has set you free!