If you were to take a poll of your friends and relatives, what phrase would they most associate with the word “Christian”? Would it be keeping the rules…religious…being a good person…hypocrite…or something else? Getting it down to one phrase, I think something about “keeping the rules” is one of the world’s most common associations with Christianity.
But if you read the New Testament, the basis for our Christian faith, I think a better word association is “FREEDOM”. Christianity is all about freedom. The powerful connection between Christianity and freedom – so clearly explained in Scripture – is often missed by a world under the enemy’s control and a church stuck in our rule-making ways. Why is this so?
From the world’s viewpoint, they have no interest in accurately portraying one of the greatest positives of our Christian belief. The Bible teaches that the world system lies in the grip of the evil one and as such it is in the world’s interest to paint Christianity in the most negative light possible. The world will always present Christianity as burdensome, narrow-minded, foolish, misguided, angry, and worse. This is to be expected from an entity that literally hates us. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (Jn 15:18-19).
So it is easy to see the world’s motivation for ignoring the freedom message of Christianity. But what about the church? Why do we not highlight the compelling message of freedom found in the New Testament; freedom in Christ, freedom from the power of sin, freedom from the penalty of sin, freedom from besetting sins and habits, freedom from the Law, freedom to love, freedom from status needs, freedom from condemnation, freedom from our own selfishness? Is the freedom promised in the New Covenant a staple of the preaching in your church environment?
I think many times we present a distorted message that actually undermines the freedom promised in the New Testament. We try to squeeze Christianity into an Old Testament framework and come out with a burdensome form of legalism. We struggle to accept that believers – ourselves included – are truly good people, being infused with God’s righteous nature. We think freedom unchecked will lead to increased sin and moral license. We need rules to keep our fellow believers in line. We need rules to give immature leaders a feeling of power and control. And finally, maybe we actually enjoy a “ministry of condemnation”, Paul’s description of the old covenant.
But in Christ, we have been set free; free from condemnation (“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” Rom 8:1), free from rule-keeping (“But now we have been set free from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we may serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” Rom 7:6), free from sin’s power (“Our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with , so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” Rom 6:6,7).
When the New Testament speaks for itself, one of the most powerful promises of Scripture is a life set free in Christ. This freedom is so compelling, and this freedom is so needed in our churches that we will spend the next several posts exploring its depths.
But let me close this time with a riddle to get you thinking. If you have attended church for any length of time or have listened to Christian radio, you have probably heard this phrase from John chapter 8 quoted more than once, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). But have you ever wondered what “free” means in this context? Have you ever asked, “Free from what?”
Ironically, Jesus answers this exact question in the verses immediately following this common quote. But I don’t think I have ever heard them referred to in a sermon. Isn’t that curious? What is the answer? We will discuss it next time.