Freedom is a multi-faceted concept in the Bible. The story of man begins with freedom gone awry. In His generosity, God tells Adam in the Garden of Eden, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden”; there was one restriction: “But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:16–17). However, even with all that freedom and all those blessings, mankind misused freedom, rebelled against God, and brought death into the world.
God desires that His people be free. Seven times in the book of Exodus, God’s direct message to pharaoh through Moses was, “Let My people go” (Exodus 5:1; 7:16; 8:1, 20; 9:1, 13; 10:3, NKJV). God redeemed His people out of Egypt and out of slavery “with a mighty hand and outstretched arm” (Psalm 136:12). The national freedom God granted Israel becomes a fitting picture of the spiritual freedom God grants us in Christ, who is “worthy of greater honor than Moses” (Hebrews 3:3).
Man’s ultimate problem has always been sin. God, in His benevolence, offers us the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ based on Christ’s atoning death on the cross (John 3:16). Those who are in Christ have been freed from the punishment of their sin (see 1 Thessalonians 5:9 and Revelation 20:6).
Isaiah foretold the mission of Christ and the freedom He would bring: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1). Those whom Jesus sets free are free indeed (John 8:36). They will never be condemned by God (Romans 8:1).
This idea of freedom from the penalty of sin must have been music to the ears of those who tried unsuccessfully to meet the demands of the Mosaic Law. Paul, speaking to those gathered in an Antioch synagogue, said about Jesus, “Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39).
The regenerate, forgiven sinner not only enjoys the promise of eternal life in Christ, but he also has the power to live free from sin. Sin’s dominion has been broken. “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25). Paul uses the struggle between slavery and freedom to illustrate the believer’s transformation: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin may be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:6–7). Our sin was imputed to Christ, and Christ’s righteousness was imputed to us (2 Corinthians 5:21). In this way, we have freedom from the power of sin.
One of Jesus’ condemnations of the religious leaders of His day was, “You load people down with burdens they can hardly carry” (Luke 11:46). In contrast, Jesus promised “rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29), and He said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).
“The law brings wrath” (Romans 4:15), because no one can keep the law. Before Christ came, “we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed” (Galatians 3:23). Paul likened our responsibility under the law to a child’s responsibility to a guardian: “So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian” (Galatians 3:24–25). And Paul warns us not to return to that bondage: “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” (Galatians 5:1).
We have a propensity to go to extremes, and the Bible cautions us about our freedom: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13). So our freedom from the rule of law is tempered by our service to and love of others. We must also exercise self-control (1 Corinthians 6:12). And our freedom in Christ never provides an excuse for sin: “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves” (1 Peter 2:16).
We have a responsibility to use the freedom Christ gives to choose what is right. “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:14). When Jesus forgave the woman taken in adultery, He told her, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11, NLT). Go is freedom; sin no more is responsibility.
Clearly, God wants His children to experience the joy of freedom. The believer is free from the power and penalty of sin and is promised eternity with Him. That fact should stir immense joy in the heart of the believer. This freedom of the redeemed in Christ will also be shared by the natural world: “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
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