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 possess precious freedoms in this country.Freedoms that the majority of people in the world do not have. For example, the freedom to choose any career, marry anyone, express any idea, live anywhere.
The majority of the people Paul was speaking to in the first century did not have any of these freedoms. 75% of the Roman population were slaves without any personal rights or freedoms. But Paul says clearly that - they were set free!
Now, we know that slaves who became Christians in the 1stcentury remained slaves afterwards.
What "freedom" therefore was Paul referring to in this letter? The answer is, the freedom from the "principle" of Law. Paul says that this is the freedom that every person receives and enjoys as a Christian.
Freedom From the Law
"Freedom from the principle of Law..." this is not a concept that people talk about on the radio, or discuss on talk shows, or write about in the editorial section of the newspaper, but is very important for every single human being.
- When I say "Law" I am talking about God's Law and not human laws concerning right or wrong.
- When I say "Principle of Law", I mean all that God says that people should or shouldn't do including the 10 Commandments as well as the directives and teachings of God's Word.
Now the problem with this principle of Law (which I will refer to as just "Law" from here on in).. the problem with the Law is that when it is revealed through God's word, the Bible, instead of empowering us to be good, to live right, to be perfectly in line with God's will… It has the opposite effect!
In Romans ch. 7 Paul describes the three principle effects of the Law when it is revealed to a person:
1. It awakens sinful desire – Romans 7:7-11
Paul says that knowledge of the Law actually produces a greater desire for sin. Sin becomes more desirable once it is seen as "forbidden".
2. It produces guilt – Romans 7:18
Knowledge of the Law produces tremendous guilt because now that we know what right is, we see what we do wrong and that triggers guilty feelings.
3. It produces a sense of hopelessness – Romans 7:24
Knowledge of the Law and seeing how helpless we are to keep it produces a sense of either despair or cynicism.
We can't fully obey God and this makes us feel hopeless, and frightened because of the consequences of this disobedience. And so, when Paul declares to the Galatians that they were free, he meant that as Christians they were now free from the curse of the "Law"
- The curse of desiring sin, even if you didn't want to.
- The curse of feeling guilty, even if you tried your best.
- The curse of despair and fear, because of the judgment and punishment due on account of our sins.
Christians had to obey human laws, taxes, social situations, but they were free from the principle of Law established by God. The question was - How?
The Gift of Freedom
12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.13Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.14For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
- Romans 6:12-14
In the first century, one third to a half of the people were slaves and kept that way through social custom and Roman Laws. A person could gain freedom however in a number of ways.
- Given freedom by his master (adoption).
- Purchase freedom with money.
- Earn freedom through military service (gladiators).
In the same way, the principle of Law keeps men as slaves because when it is revealed to them they are overcome by the power of sin. The more you know the Law through your conscience or through God's word, the more enslaved you are to sin.
Now the thing that breaks that power over us and frees us from the curse of the Law is the revelation of God's grace towards us in Jesus Christ. When the Law is revealed, we are overcome by sin's power. When God's grace is revealed, we are free from the effect of the Law and the power of sin.
In the passage we've just read, Paul is telling the Roman Christians that they are no longer slaves to the power of sin because they are no longer under the rule of Law..
- Which made sin desirable
- Which created guilt
- Which produced despair and fear
They were now under the rule of grace..
- Which makes sin distasteful to us
- Which produces forgiveness and healing in our hearts
- Which gives us hope for a joyful future
Christians are under a new "Law", a Law of Grace, not a Law of Commands. A different ruler administers each of these:
- Law of Commands is ruled by a judge.
- Law of Grace is ruled by a loving father.
The Change from Law to Grace
One question that arises is, "How does the change take place?" How does God bring us from the Law of Commands and judgment to the Law of grace and forgiveness? There are three basic steps to the process.
1. The "Law" reveals man's sinfulness and the terrible condition he truly is in because of sin.
People are guilty of sin, helpless to completely resist it, condemned to be judged and punished. The Law is our teacher, the light that shines on us to reveal our true condition before God, and need for salvation.
2. Now, the same Word that reveals the Law, also reveals the "Good News" or Gospel message of how God has saved us from the curse of the Law.
Jesus Christ, God made man, offers His perfect life (according to the demands of the Law) in order to pay for the moral debt that we have accumulated before God through personal sin. The Law says, "you sin, you die - no exceptions". If a perfect sacrifice is offered then all sin is forgiven - no exceptions. So God sends His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to pay for the sins of all people - according to the terms and conditions of the Law. He suffers our punishment so we don't have to.
3. Jesus resurrects from the dead as proof that the curse of death has been broken once and for all.
His resurrection is the proof that the debt for sin is paid, and that the curse has no effect on Him and on those who become His disciples through repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). The resurrection of Jesus guarantees that ours is possible and if ours is possible then there is no longer any fear of death - part of the curse of the Law. A person is under the curse of the Law by choosing to disobey it, the same person comes under the freedom of grace by choosing to believe and obey Jesus Christ.
- The Law of Commands imprisons us
- The Law of Grace sets us free
What Does Freedom Mean?
I've explained the curse of the Law and the freedom of grace in doctrinal and ideological terms but what does this change actually do for me? In other words what does "Freedom in Christ" or "Freedom from the Law" mean for me in practical, every day terms?
Well, freedom in Christ does not mean that we're free to do what we please or free to disobey Christ. Paul says, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be!" (Romans 6:1-2). For example, a person is released from jail. He receives a pardon and becomes a "free" man. Does this mean he can now do as he pleases and disregard all the rules? No.
In the same way, freedom in Christ means we have a new status with new freedoms and privileges and powers we didn't have before when we were slaves of the Law or imprisoned by the Law and its curse. Here are some practical things we enjoy as Christians who are free from the Law:
1. We are free from the power of sin
The knowledge or "awareness" of the Law gives sin its power (we desire it / we are helpless before it - that's sin's power). Receiving God's grace (forgiveness, mercy) gives the Christian the strength to overcome sin. Under the Law, no one has the ability to overcome sin - Romans 8:7. Under grace we receive help to overpower the sin in our lives, for example:
- We have the assurance that the sacrifice of Christ pays for all sin. Past sins (Acts 2:38). Present and future sins (I John 1:7-9). As a Christian under grace, I don't worry about the past, and if I fail today or tomorrow I have the assurance that I can be forgiven and continue on in hope of heaven. This is not possible under the Law, one mistake and it's over (Galatians 5:3).
- We also have guidance from the Word of God to help us know how to live righteous lives in Christ (II Timothy 3:15-16). Life under the Law is slavery to rules. Life under grace is a process of sanctification and spiritual development with the cross of Christ assuring us we won't be condemned for our failures as we grow.
- God also gives us His Holy Spirit at baptism (Acts 2:38) to help us in our prayer life, strengthen us against temptation, reassure us when we are weak in the faith (Romans 8:9-17)). None of these things were available under the Law, but are now ours to help break the power of sin over us.
Aside from freedom from the power of sin another benefit we have from being under grace is:
2. Freedom from the certainty of condemnation
The Law not only reveals our sins but it also spells out what the punishment for sin is:
It is given to man to die once and then comes the judgment.
- Hebrews 9:27
...all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
- Romans 3:23
According to the Law, all are guilty of sin and all will face judgment and punishment. Condemnation is virtually certain for all persons under the Law! Christians, however, are spared this certain condemnation ([[Romans 8:1).
The reason for this is that by virtue of forgiveness, and not perfect obedience to the Law, Christians are saved from judgment and condemnation. Jesus had no sin because He obeyed the Law perfectly. Therefore there was no condemnation and consequently no death - he resurrected!
We have no sin because we're forgiven. Therefore there will be no condemnation and no death - we will resurrect! Life under grace as a Christian means that you are freed from the absolute certainty of condemnation and eternal death and assured of a merciful and joyful welcome from God at judgment.This frees us from the fear of death and the way that the fear of death and the way that the fear of death affects us throughout our lives.
When people fear death:
- They act selfishly, are self-centered
- They hoard material wealth
- They act immorally
- They fear growing old
If there is nothing after death or only judgment after death you might as well look out for #1 while you're here and put off dying for as long as you can. When people are forgiven for their sins and empowered to overcome temptation; when they know that God will happily welcome them home after they die..
They are no longer afraid of physical death because they see it for what it is - not the end of life, but the beginning of their true life that will never end.
At the beginning of this lesson I said that freedom doesn't mean we are free to do what we want, but rather we are free to now do and want to do what God wants us to do. Here are some things God frees us for:
- Free to offer ourselves as living sacrifices pleasing to God in righteous living and service to others – Romans 12:1-2
- Free to honor others, love our brothers, worship God acceptably, live in this world as honorable people – I Peter 2:16-17
- Free to share with others the amazing story of our liberation from sin and death under the Law to a life of joy and peace under the Law of grace through Jesus Christ – Matthew 28:18-20
I finish this morning with a wonderful story about a nation in slavery that found freedom and how they chose to witness their new found liberty. A True Story.
A Buried Past
On the night of the emancipation of the Jamaica slaves in 1838, a mahogany coffin was made, and a grave was dug. Into that coffin they crowded all the various relics and remnants of their previous bondage and sorrow. The whips, the torture irons, the branding irons, the coarse frocks and shirts, and great hat, fragments of the treadmill, the handcuffs - they placed in the coffin and screwed down the lid. At the stroke of midnight the coffin was lowered into its grave: and then the whole of that throng of thousands celebrated their redemption ("freedom") from slavery.
What is the condition of your soul this morning? Are you free? Have you thrown off the shackles of sin? Have you broken the cords of condemnation? Have you escaped the dread of death? God calls all those who are under the curse of the Law to become free in Jesus Christ - free from the Law, free from sin, free from condemnation and death.
If you want this freedom come to God believing in Jesus Christ, and express your faith in repentance and baptism and you will be free forever more.