Free to Serve

When we think of the word “freedom”, we often think of autonomy; basically the freedom to do whatever we want without constraint.  When the New Testament speaks about freedom, it relates to our new opportunity and ability to be all that God created and redeemed us to be.  Free to serve, free to love, free to worship, and free to embrace and live out all that became new at our new birth.

In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul addresses the freedom challenge.  Rule-makers had infiltrated the church seeking to limit the believers’ freedom.  “But it was because of the false believers who had sneaked in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into slavery.  But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you” (Gal 2:4-5).

The “truth of the gospel” Paul is referring to is our freedom in Christ.  And Paul later identifies these “false believers” as the Judaizers; a group who have come from the Jerusalem church and stressed the need for the new Gentile believers to keep the Law, including the act of circumcision.  The Law still carried some weight in their eyes both for full acceptance by God as well as a guide for living the Christian life.  Paul sees this form of legalism as so far from the truth that he did not listen to them “for even one hour.”

Paul then goes on to write a treatise on our freedom in Christ.  Paul concludes his defense with, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1).  So what does standing firm in our freedom look like?

First, it is defending our freedom along the lines of the argument Paul lays out in his letter.  But it is also putting that freedom into action.  As Paul continues in chapter 5, he addresses the application part of our freedom with, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13).

The purpose of our freedom is not to indulge the flesh – a danger Paul recognizes and spends the rest of chapter 5 exploring.  (As an aside, we have spent several posts in the past explaining the relationship between defeating the flesh and walking in the Spirit in light of Galatians chapter 5.  See here and here.)  No, the purpose of our freedom is to live into all that God redeemed us to be.  Particular to verse 13, it is the freedom to serve – motivated by love – our brothers and sisters in Christ.  In other words, use your freedom to serve each other; motivated and empowered by love.

Let your freedom from selfishness, freedom from anger, freedom from bitterness, freedom from envy, freedom from always having to win, freedom from always having to have the last word…set you free to serve one another.  It is a freedom from what is essentially our last enemy: ourselves and our selfish ambition.  And it only comes through Jesus Christ.  May you walk in that freedom today.

Sin, Slavery, and True Freedom

“So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free‘ ” (Jn 8:31-32).  What “truth” is Jesus talking about?  And what kind of “freedom” does this truth deliver to us?

The dialogue that immediately follows these verses gives a clue to the freedom offered by Jesus Christ.  The Jews parked on the word “free” and answered Jesus.  “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free?’ ” (Jn 8:33).  The Jews were thinking in terms of political freedom; that is, in specific terms of slaves and masters.  Basically they were saying, “How can you offer us freedom when we are already a free people?”

Now it is ironic that the Jews would strut their freedom at a time they are under Roman rule, but technically they are correct.  Slavery was common throughout the Roman Empire, and the Jews were not slaves in the specific sense of owned by masters.  They had a measure of political freedom.

But Jesus is not talking about political freedom as we continue in the passage.  “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin’ ” (Jn 8:34).  The freedom Christ promises and delivers is the freedom from slavery to sin.  This language is a forerunner to the exact same word picture used by the apostle Paul in Romans chapter 6 regarding sin, slavery, and true freedom.

“Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Rom 6:6-7).  Based on the context, “freed from sin” means freed from sin’s power and control, not from sin’s presence.  And Paul sums up this idea with, “For sin shall not be master over you” (Rom 6:14).

Not only is sin no longer our master, but God has given us the power to choose a new master, Jesus Christ.  “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?  But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Rom 6:16-18).  Notice the time line: you were slaves of sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

Returning to our text in John chapter 8, Jesus concludes, “So if the Son makes you free [free from sin’s power and mastery], you will be free indeed” (Jn 8:36).  The freedom Jesus promised in John 8:32 – the oft quoted, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” – is the freedom from sin’s slave-creating power; freedom from sin as our master.  It is a promise of freedom that should be the hallmark of our gospel message.

We are keen on explaining the gospel message in terms of our deliverance from sin’s penalty as we should be.  But let us never forget the equal part of the gospel, deliverance from sin’s power.  The promise of a heart set free from sin’s power – so eloquently argued by the apostle Paul in Romans chapters 5 through 8 – has its foundation in Jesus proclamation, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”