Jean’s Gospel: Freedom in Christ
The subject of freedom, whether of speech, right to bear arms, marriage, etc., comes up a lot, especially around elections. Americans cherish and defend their civil freedom.
Freedom is also a big deal in the Kingdom of God. Jesus himself said: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) Paul echoes Jesus: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1)
But have you noticed how some church pulpits give only lip service to freedom in Christ? Worse yet, have you noticed how little Christian freedom there actually is in some churches?
Is freedom in Christ just another word for nothin’ left to lose?
Jesus took most of your stuff away from you and into himself on the cross: your sin; your shame; your condemnation; your sentence. You’ve lost them all.
You had accusers: the Law and Satan; but Jesus fulfilled the Law for you and defeated Satan on the cross. You’ve lost your accusers too.
What about your physical body? Your body was declared buried with Christ in baptism. Paul says to consider your body already dead. (Rom 8:10) Paul’s take: “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21) That’s “nothin’ left to lose” language.
What then is freedom in Christ?
You have peace and reconciliation with God, your Father. You don’t work for this; Jesus did all the work for you. “[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Rom 3:23-25)
You have eternal life in Him.
You have His name, so that you may pray directly to the Father. “[W]hatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” (John 16:23b)
You have the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies, comforts and intercedes for you.
You are promised a redeemed, incorruptible body in which to inherit eternal life.
Can you lose any of Christ’s gifts? Absolutely not! “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39)
Why is freedom in Christ so elusive?
Shouldn’t Christians celebrate their freedom in Christ? Absolutely! But too often Christians act like they don’t like or trust Christian freedom. “Will they appreciate something that’s free, he asked?” “What will happen if Christians actually take their freedom seriously, she asked?” We use these and other excuses to under-cut freedom in Christ.
How do we rob ourselves and other Christians of freedom in Christ?
Christians lose their freedom when they cease believing, due to pride or despair, that Christ’s suffering and death for us is effective and wholly sufficient to save sinners. They allow works and/or the Law to creep into the doctrine of justification. It is almost inconceivable to the Protestant work ethic that our efforts get us nowhere with God. So we are tempted to add a little something extra to His grace to seal the deal with God or to harness excess enthusiasm or, God forbid, licentiousness. “Christians need discipline; the world is watching.” “Christians need to grow up; milk is for infants.” However, we must resist this temptation, because it can kill faith and turn Christians away from God’s grace.
A person who views the answer to any of the following questions (or others like them) as being consequential to one’s salvation is not free in Christ and may have even rejected God’s grace:
Are you showing “fruits of repentance”?
- Have you put Christ #1 in your life
- Have you had a born again experience?
- Are you demonstrating improvement against sinning?
- What “gifts” of the Holy Spirit have you been given?
- Are you tithing?
- Are you a member of a weekly small group or Bible study?
- For married Christians, do you use any birth control?
- Are you for a strong military or, conversely, are you a pacifist?
- Are you for or against the death penalty?
- Are you a political conservative or, conversely, are you a progressive?
You can also add adjectives to “Christian” to bind a brother: “authentic”; “biblical”; “born again”; “godly”; and my favorite -“fully committed”. Sometimes you don’t have to say a single word to squelch a brother’s freedom. Actions can speak volumes.
Recall when well respected Apostle Peter withdrew from table fellowship with Gentile Christians in Antioch (see Galatians 2) in response to the arrival of the law keeping Jewish Christians from Jerusalem. In that moment, Peter taught false doctrine without uttering a single word, leading brothers astray. Instead of freedom in Christ, he taught slavery under Moses. Christians today do the same thing when we conflate our own piety with faith in Christ and become pietists.
Unlike the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christians don’t have multiple tiers of believers. Christians are one, royal priesthood of believers. Our righteousness before God is based not on our own piety, but entirely on Christ’s cross. Through faith alone, Christian’s are reconciled to God by what Christ alone did for us.
In the proper context, Christians are free to hold personal opinions on many of the above questions. Christians are free to promote their opinions in the civil realm. However, these questions (and others like them) are not a litmus test to apply to ourselves or others regarding our standing before God. Our faith is in the Good Shepherd. He will bring us home.
Fellow Christians, enjoy and guard your freedom in Christ! He ransomed you to freedom. In Him, you have nothin’ left to lose. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:17) Amen.