On this coming 4th of July, we Americans will recognize our 230th anniversary of independence, our freedom from Great Britain. Most of us will do something to celebrate, though probably few will stop to consider what it’s really all about. There will be picnics, programs, parades, concerts, fireworks, sales at the Wal*Mart and other patriotic activities. Then we will go back to our normal ways with little more thought given to our freedoms or their cost.
Now I’m not complaining or hand-wringing. That’s what freedom is all about: “1. The quality or state of being free as: (a) the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action; (b) liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another: INDEPENDENCE” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary). Perhaps the best thing we can do with our freedom is to enjoy it in whatever fashion we please.
We who are believers in Christ have a greater freedom than the freedom we enjoy as Americans. Jesus said, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). He was speaking to a group of Jews who were at that time under bondage to the Roman Empire and yet who claimed “ … We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33). Jesus’ reply to this thinking was “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (John 8:34).
We were as Jesus says, “slaves of sin.” No matter who we were, whatever our national allegiance or economic status. Paul reiterates this in his writings, “ … you were slaves of sin, … (Romans 6:17), but we have been freed from sin in Christ. He also tells us we have been released from the (Old Testament) Law (Romans 7:6) and that before we knew God we were slaves to “no gods” (demons) (Galatians 4:8). He tells us that Christ “ … delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).
Yet it seems that many Christians do not really enjoy their freedom in Christ. They seem to be still in a sort of bondage. Perhaps even more so than they were as unbelievers. I know, because I spent many years in this condition. Saved by grace – free grace – and then given a list of rules by which I must live. I gave up much of the fun I had had before I came to Christ and began to live my life by man-made rules.
Paul, after arguing with the Galatian Christians that they were free in Christ, warns them “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Though elsewhere he warns about slavery to sin, in this passage, he is warning them against placing themselves under some wrong-headed legalistic method of dealing with sin. He does this elsewhere. “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Corinthians 7:23). ”Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day – things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:16, 17).
And there are plenty of legalists around today, spiritual killjoys who seem to feel that their ministry is to make sure we don’t enjoy our freedom in Christ. You’ve heard them. They warn you that if you don’t conform to a certain standard (sometimes it’s a biblical standard, but usually it’s their own), that you can’t be sure if you’re saved, or that you will lose your salvation, or that you can’t have “victory,” or be an “overcomer” or whatever. They have lists of rules, telling us what we should or shouldn’t eat or drink or do for entertainment, or whom we should and shouldn’t associate with.
These people succeed I believe, because they appeal to our pride. We want to see our salvation, our Christian life, as in some way depending on ourselves. We don’t want to believe that Jesus is the answer to our need. And we often disguise our pride as humility. Paul tells us in Colossians 2:18, “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind.” When we flagellate ourselves and complain that we just don’t measure up, I suspect what we’re saying is that we want to measure up. But we can’t. It’s all Christ. He wants us to be what we are, and to allow His Spirit to change us, and to enjoy the freedom that He obtained for us on the cross.