Taking Liberty For Granted

After many Americans just wrapped up a celebration of our country’s 245th year of its independence from the British Empire, it just may be that many still undervalue the freedoms that we have. Those who have escaped the oppressive governments of other countries, or even just those who fled severe poverty and no hope of providing for their families, could tell us how good we have it here, and how blessed we are to have such freedoms and so many opportunities to improve ourselves financially, educationally, and -— yes — spiritually. Some people still come to this country for religious freedoms they do not have in their home countries.

       Worse, still, is the reality that many who profess to be Christians do not value the freedom they have in Christ! What do I mean by that? Consider:

      Our Previous Condition. Especially in this country, we love to think of ourselves as ‘free,’ and many go further and proclaim they are under no obligation to any form of rule or authority. [Despite the reality we all live under some form of authority.] In religious and spiritual matters, many Americans also believe themselves to be either under no obligation to any higher spiritual authority than self, or seem to think and act as if they are the only ones who are truly ‘free’ because they refuse to submit to God’s authority. [They see Christians as the ones who have foolishly put themselves under the authority of some invisible being who, many will add, does not even exist.] The reality, though, is quite different than their great misconception.

      When Jesus walked this earth, He once spoke with the religious leaders who, for the most part, refused to accept that He was who He claimed to be — the Christ and Son of God. But to those who did believe, He said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31, 32). Upon hearing this, some replied to Jesus, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” (John 8:33). [They conveniently forgot they were under Roman rule!] But Jesus pointed out a fact they did not acknowledge, saying to them in response, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:34-36).

      The fact was, they were not free because they were still under bondage to sin, outside of Christ; that was true for them, and it is true even today for all who are outside of Christ. The apostle Paul reminded the disciples at Ephesus, “you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air,” and admitted, “we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:1-3). Outside of Christ, we all followed after our own desires, but we were not, or are not, free. Paul also reminds us that those who have yet to come to Christ are still bound in “the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:26). Those who are outside of Christ are not free, by any stretch of the imagination; they are simply deceived by the one who holds them captive!

      Free in Christ. In contrast to the life lived outside of Christ as servants of sin and the devil, those who are in Christ [i.e., those who have been baptized into Christ, having believed in Him (cf. Gal. 3:26, 27)] are now servants of righteousness and of Christ; but they are now free, as Jesus said. Paul reminded the disciples in Rome, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:16-18). Now, you might be thinking, “I thought you said the one in Christ was free!” Ah, but they are! Earlier, he told those same disciples that when they believed and were baptized into Christ, they were then “dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:3-11). They had “been set free from sin” because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and because they had believed and obeyed. They were no longer enslaved to sin, and free from condemnation (cf. Rom. 8:1)!

      Grateful for the Liberty. As ones who have been made free because of the precious blood of Jesus Christ, those who are now His disciples should not take that liberty for granted, or undervalue it. Or devalue it. When Peter wrote the early disciples — who lived under that oppressive Roman government — he reminded them that being free in Christ did not mean they were free to live however they wanted, and neither were they free from responsibilities to the ruling government. He admonished them to abstain from living that fleshly-minded life they had lived outside of Christ and to, instead, have their “conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God” (1 Pet. 2:11, 12). He would also remind them that this ‘freedom’ had the further responsibility of submitting  “to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors…For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God” (1 Pet. 2:13-16). In other words, their ‘freedom’ did not mean they could live however they wanted or that they were no longer obligated to submit to human, earthly authorities.

      As Christians and servants of Jesus Christ, we do recognize Him as our King and highest authority, but that also means we recognize earthly authorities as having been given by God Himself and, therefore, obligated to them, too, as long as they do not direct us to do anything in conflict with God’s will (cf. Rom. 14:1-7). At the same time, though we are free from bondage to sin, that does not mean we are free to live however we want; if anything, Paul made this clear when he asked, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” and then answered, “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom. 6:1, 2). As he would admonish these same brethren later, a Christian is to “not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom. 6:13). Freedom in Christ means we live righteous lives now, instead of the unrighteous lives we once lived; it does not mean we are free from the consequences of sin.

      A life lived in gratefulness for the freedom made possible by the blood of Jesus Christ is one that honors that sacrifice by a righteous life, a respectful life, and a life that points others to God. Let us never take this liberty for granted, nor abuse it, but rather use it for the furtherance of the gospel and the enlargement of His Kingdom.

            Let us not forget our freedom had a high price; live accordingly.     — Steven Harper