Many who have not experienced it will balk at the idea that in Christ we have freedom. Like the Jews challenged by Jesus they would say, “We…have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”1 Is it possible to be enslaved and not know it?
Most of us when we think of slavery envision physical chains, marauding pirates, or 19th century slave traders and the dehumanizing beliefs and laws that allowed them to conduct their despicable business. But we can be enslaved to something other than a person or group of people and such that we may not even recognize it. Whatever has a controlling influence on us effectively constitutes enslavement.
Those who suffer from addictions like drugs, alcohol, and nicotine know what I’m talking about. But there are other more insidious oppressors that virtually every human being is subject to, and it is from these existential tormentors primarily that Jesus redeems us.
The first is sin. Some have the notion that real freedom would mean being able to do whatever you want, including submerging yourself in a life of immorality with no restrictions. But whether or not one approves of immoral behavior, the reality is that it is sin and it exercises power and control over us, though we may be willing slaves. But Christ’s death on the cross as payment for our sin cleanses us from it, and his Spirit which we are given when we believe empowers us to have victory over it.
The second taskmaster is in one sense a counter-balance to the first, but only as they are vying against each other for primary control. Without Christ we are enslaved to the law, God’s commandments as revealed to the Jews and written on our hearts2, as we struggle to do what we know is right and avoid doing what we know is wrong, but find that we can’t. Certainly not consistently. Read Romans 6 and 7 for Paul’s description of the law’s power to actually produce sin in us.3 But when we respond to God’s redeeming work by faith, “the law of the Spirit of life [sets us] free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”4
Sin and the law and our bondage to them leave us at the mercy of another controlling influence – the curse and fear of death. We know that no matter how hard we try, our failure to faithfully obey God’s law makes us culpable before him. What we don’t know is what surprises may await us on the other side when our days on earth are over, and we have a nagging sense that it’s not going to be good. But through Christ’s death we no longer need to fear our own because he has promised that those who belong to him will be with him forever.5 Hebrews 2:14-15 says it this way, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
Contrary to some people’s impression of God as being all about restrictions, he wants freedom for us, and he has said so in no uncertain terms. Let us believe what he has said and thank him for this gift of freedom in Christ.
Galatians 5:13 – For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
2Corinthians 3:17 – Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
1Peter 2:16 – Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
Galatians 5:1 – For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
John 8:32 – and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
John 8:36 – So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
1 John 8:33 2 Romans 2:15 3 Romans 7:8 4 Romans 8:2 5 John 14:3
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