With the Independence Day holiday comes not only lots of Red, White, & Blue, and fireworks (I keep telling my friends in other states, you’ve not seen anything like South Carolinians’ love of fireworks!), but also lots of talk about freedom. Of course, as Americans, we love the concept of freedom, but the conventional understanding of freedom is far from the biblical understanding of freedom. So what is true freedom?
To answer that question we should ask another question: What does the Bible say? That’s what we want to consider today. What does the Bible say about true freedom?
Scripture informs us that freedom for the Christian is freedom from some things, freedom for some things, and freedom is found in one place.
First, like a prisoner having been set free from the prison cell is no longer bound to that space, Scripture tells us that as Christians, we are set free from certain things:
First, Scripture tells us that we have been set free from the traditions of a works-based righteousness.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.Galatians 5:1
What is the “yoke of slavery” Paul is writing about? In the verses following this, Paul implores this church to not return to the traditions (namely, circumcision) that some said were necessary for righteousness, or right standing with God. These traditions are what Paul calls “a yoke of slavery.” Don’t return to these works, Paul says, “for you were called to freedom” (Gal. 5:13).
There is no work that you can do to earn your right standing with God. You have been set free from that in Christ. In Paul’s day, that was for the most part the works of Judaism that some were trying to meld together with the message of Christ. For us, today, it might look like, among many other things, the way some strictly mandate KJV-onlyism, or specific applications of certain passages, or absolute prohibitions on alcohol, or even adherence to particular political views. While there may be wisdom in some of these (abstaining from alcohol), and there are certainly some political views that are more aligned with Scripture than others, and the KJV is a beautiful translation, none of these save anyone. Anything that anyone adds to Christ as necessary for salvation is a work from which you have been set from by the death of Christ. Righteousness comes from Christ, and Christ alone.
If works-based righteousness tends to be stricter in terms of external religious actions (though not exclusively), on the opposite end of the spectrum is licentiousness. This would be the group that says—some arguing even because of Christ—you have the license to do as you please. Culturally, this is what most people typically mean by freedom. Live however you want. Do whatever pleases you. As Sheryl Crow sang, If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.
The problem is, it can be that bad, because we often don’t know what will truly make us happy, and what will make us happy temporarily often isn’t what will bring eternal happiness in Christ.
License to live as you please, to indulge your every pleasure, is one of the core beliefs of our time in American history. The truth is, though, like a good father guiding his children away from playing with the electrical outlet, God our Father has told us what is best for us. Those things that differ from what God has told us are called corruptions. To be corrupt is to deviate from the intended purpose. It’s a departure from what is pure.
We’re told by our culture that we have to live a certain way to be free, but in fact, that belief itself is a lie that binds. See what Peter writes about this in 2 Peter 2:
They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.2 Peter 2:19
Peter writes that “whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved,” and we as a culture have been enslaved by the idea that freedom means indulging my personal pleasures. Peter is exposing those who promote this type of teaching (verse 18, those who “entice by sensual passions of the flesh”) as being those who “promise … freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption.”
Christian, you’ve found true freedom in Christ, not a false promise that ends in shackles. You’ve been freed from corruption to live for what is pure and right. Don’t return to corruption.
What are those things that are pure and right that we’ve been freed for? There are many, but let me mention two: serving one another and serving God.
SERVING ONE ANOTHER
Paradoxically, freedom is expressed through serving. In Christ, you have been set free from serving yourself through pursuing your own righteousness and pleasures and, having received righteousness from Christ and the promise of pleasure forevermore at his right hand (Psalm 16:11), you are now free to serve others.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.Galatians 5:13
Since Christ has given you all you need and God the Father has promised to show you all the immeasurable riches of his grace, you no longer need to serve yourself, you are free to serve others. We serve them by meeting their physical and emotional needs, but also by pointing them to what is good and true in Christ to meet their true, eternal, spiritual needs.
We’re not only set free for serving others, we’re also free for serving God. That’s what Peter tells us:
Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.1 Peter 2:16
How do we live as free people? We live as servants of God. We trust that his word is what is best for us, that his way leads to life, that he is a good Father who cares for his children, and we live for him in response.
This is nothing new, of course. Life was designed to live in dependence on God, trusting his word and his ways. You don’t have to turn any further than Genesis 2 and 3 to see that theme, and the consequences of going against that purpose. For us, we’ve been restored to that purpose in Christ. And that’s the key phrase, in Christ.
Where is this freedom found? It’s been mentioned a few times already, but let’s see it from Scripture.
When Paul was fighting for the church at Galatia to embrace true freedom, he noted that some who opposed biblical freedom had entered the church as false brothers, slipping in “to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 2:16). What Paul is assuming there, we need to see clearly: true freedom is found in Christ Jesus.
- In Christ Jesus, who has given us his perfect righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21);
- In Christ Jesus, who promises us fullness of joy and pleasure forever more (Psalm 16:11);
- In Christ Jesus, who was perfectly free and yet lived as a servant of others (Philippians 2:7);
- In Christ Jesus, who found life in doing the will of God (John 6:38; 14:31).
So let us celebrate freedom for our nation! But also, and even more importantly, let’s live as people who are free in Christ.
Bert Watts has served since December 2016 as the Senior Pastor at Mountain Creek Baptist Church, where he has been on staff since 2012.