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The Gift of Freedom: The Believer’s Declaration of Independence

The Gift of Freedom: The Believer’s Declaration of Independence

Are you a free person? Most likely, you would say that you are. Perhaps you would base your answer on the fact that you can go most anywhere you choose and do what you like without anyone interfering.

Thousands of men and women have died at home and abroad while protecting our country from those who would oppress us, or fighting to liberate other nations. Freedom is always an expensive proposition, and this is especially true in a spiritual sense.

Many people think they have liberty because no one questions their activities or hinders their travel, and yet they are enslaved by all kinds of bondage. Anger, stress, workaholism, bitterness, unforgiveness, depression, anxiety, and fear can imprison anyone.

While a country can experience liberty won on the battlefield, no nation is free until its people are free. And no person is free unless he or she is free on the inside. The truth is, there is only one way for genuine liberation to happen: As John 8:36 says, “If [Jesus Christ] makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

Consider Paul's words from Galatians 5:1: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” To understand Jesus' mission of liberating everyone who follows Him, we must know what freedom means. It is commonly defined as “liberty from any type of enslavement” or “the opportunity and privilege to pursue one's desires and life goals without restraint or coercion from someone else.” But greatest of all is the freedom to live a godly life through the power of the Holy Spirit-we are never truly free until the grace, goodness, and mercy of God become a reality in our personal experience.

Wrong Ideas About Salvation

Why did the apostle Paul write his letter to the Galatians? While the church there had many true believers, unsaved people from pagan backgrounds were mixed into their fellowship-they came from religions with all kinds of requirements for acceptance by their so-called “gods.” Christianity, on the other hand, preached salvation by grace alone, not by any works man can do. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

As these seekers were learning the truth, “Judaizers” were confusing them with the conflicting message that faith in Jesus was not enough. They taught that in order to be saved, a person had to fulfill the Law of Moses in addition to trusting Christ as the Messiah. And along with the Law, they included many extra regulations that the rabbis had added to the original commands. By insisting on circumcision and other rules, Judaizers were imposing a heavy yoke of bondage.

The apostle's challenge was to counter these burdensome, false claims with truth-that salvation is by the grace of God through faith in the atoning, sacrificial, all-sufficient, substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. So Paul's strong letter to the Galatians is essentially the believer's Declaration of Independence. He declares that we are freed from having to work for our salvation or having to measure up to standards, rules, and regulations. It is human nature to want to add to God's simple requirement of faith; we feel better thinking there is something we can do to assure our place in eternity.

However, nothing that we can do has any value whatsoever for salvation-Christ set us free from this yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1) Paul argues that if religious rites could save, then of what benefit is Christ? (v. 2) Besides, we cannot gain God's acceptance by keeping parts of the Law. As James 2:10 says, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” The problem is that no one except Christ could keep all the commandments. Romans 3:20 and Galatians 3:24 tell us that the Law was not given to save us, but to show us how absolutely sinful we are and to point out our need for a Savior.

Galatians 2:16 states, “By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” And yet many people today are trying to do just that. If you ask them, “Are you saved?” they might reply, “I hope so” or “I'm working at it.” Such answers show they are not free: working to earn salvation is a form of enslavement. Genuine faith in God produces good works that are motivated by love rather than by a sense of guilt or an attempt to gain divine favor. Unless you are certain of God's forgiveness and your eternal security, you are still in bondage.

Common attitudes about freedom

It is ironic that the unsaved consider themselves free-they think, I don't have to go to church every week; I don't have to give my money away or carry a Bible. From God's viewpoint, these people are actually in total bondage to sin; they fail to recognize that only the security of salvation can liberate us.

And what about believers? Far too many Christians think they must “perform” in order to keep their right standing before God. They assume that to stay saved, they must read the Bible, pray, give, and help others. Scripture, however, tells us that trusting Jesus as Savior assures us of eternal security (John 10:28-30; 1 John 5:13). We can no more do anything to lose our salvation than we can to earn it in the first place. If this were possible, then we could also do something to regain it; in that case, salvation would be by works, which is a clear contradiction of Ephesians 2:8-9.

Unfortunately, many churches add to the problem by imposing dos and don'ts for believers to follow. I understand this because I became a believer at age 12-I knew then that I was saved not by anything I did, but by the goodness and grace of God. However, the church I attended imposed rules about not listening to music, wearing cufflinks, playing ball, or even reading the comics on the Lord's Day. I was in immediate bondage because I delivered newspapers; I would cut the cord on a bundle of papers, read “Dick Tracy,” and go on with my delivery route. So, I felt guilty every Sunday.

Rules like these only make enslavement worse by increasing feelings of guilt and poor self-image. No wonder Galatians 3:10 tells us, “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse.” Christians need to realize that if it were possible to get to heaven other than by the blood of Jesus Christ, then God made a horrible mistake by needlessly crucifying His own Son.

Why God set us free

It is crystal clear in Scripture that we cannot add one single thing to grace. Our salvation is totally through the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. The question is, What was God's purpose in liberating us? Some people might answer that He set us free so we can go to heaven instead of hell, but that is actually a by-product of His primary purpose: to conform us to the likeness of His Son. His loving design for us has several aspects:

• God wants us to become the persons He has created us to be. This goal can not be realized as long as we are under the yoke of bondage to anything. For example, if we have insecurity, addictions, bitterness, or a critical spirit, we are held captive by these attitudes and habits. We simply cannot become all that the Lord has in mind for us when our thinking is fragmented and hindering our relationships with others.

• God wants us to accomplish the things He has planned for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10) If we are going to minister as the Lord has intended, we must be free. In other words, we cannot be living with resentment, hostility, lust, or a poor self-image if we are to apply the gifts and skills God has given us for His purposes.

•God wants us to live by the power of the Holy Spirit, which results in true freedom. (Galatians 5:22-23) Ask yourself, What might be preventing God from flowing freely in my life? Is some habit or attitude obstructing joy and peace on the inside of me? If you are addicted to anything other than Jesus, you are in bondage.

The paradox of the Christian life

In today's world, people take pride in self-sufficiency and independence. To them, being “free” means having control of their life, and no one can tell them what to do or how to do it. But true freedom has more to do with the state of our souls than the positions we hold in society.

The sad truth is, those who do not know Christ are free only to rely on their own efforts to liberate them from internal bondage-and that isn't freedom at all. There is no way to experience spiritual freedom apart from God.

The book of Romans opens with Paul identifying himself as “a bond-servant of Christ Jesus.” Therein lies the secret: The only way to be genuinely free is to fully surrender your life to the Son of God-to go wherever He leads and do whatever He desires. He came to set us free from the bondage of sin so that you and I could relate to each other in a godly, loving fashion. If you lack joy, peace, and gentleness, something critical is missing from your life: You cannot be free apart from the liberty that comes in total surrender to Christ.

Once you know Jesus as Savior and Master of your life, protect the freedom God has given you. That is, do not let anyone else load you down again with rules and regulations, because that has nothing whatsoever to do with acceptance before God. Stand firm! (Ephesians 6:11, 13, 14) Be on guard so that no one will steal your freedom in Christ. How do you do that? By faith that He who has saved you will keep you, and by believing that you cannot add one single thing to what Christ did to gain your salvation.

Jesus, the only begotten Son of the living God, gave His precious blood to purchase your freedom and mine. Do you know that wonderful liberation? You can make it yours by placing your trust in Christ. If you already know freedom in God's Son, protect your liberty by becoming His obedient servant.