As a new year begins, our thoughts often turn to what we’d like to do with our fresh start. Of course, that’s assuming we have the freedom to choose and to make changes. Do you consider yourself a free person? Your answer depends on your understanding of freedom. One definition might be the liberty to pursue a gratifying life without being held back by the limitations or unhealthy demands of others. But there’s an even greater freedom available through Jesus Christ.
Social or political freedom provides external liberties, but it can never give us internal freedom from sin. Paul wrote to the early church, “you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness” (Rom. 6:16). The question is, which master are you serving?
We’re all born into the world as slaves to sin, and there is nothing we can do to change this. But Jesus Christ can. Once we trust in Him as Savior, He becomes our new Lord and Master. And there is no better master than the One who loved us enough to die for us. According to Galatians 5:1, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free.” So what does liberty in Christ look like?
First of all, His freedom is a gift of grace. Most of us know that we can’t earn salvation with good works. We only receive it as a gracious gift from God through faith in His Son. But sometimes Christians think it’s their job to keep themselves saved by following rules.
This is exactly what I thought after being saved at the age of 12. I went to a church that had all sorts of legalistic rules to follow. One of them was that I couldn’t read the comics on Sunday. This was a real problem for me because I delivered newspapers, and the temptation to pull out the comics and read the latest Dick Tracy episode proved too strong to resist. So every Sunday, I had to confess my sin and beg God to forgive me. I constantly worried that I wasn’t saved because I couldn’t keep all the rules.
Paul wrote to the Galatians because they were becoming enslaved to legalism just like I had been. He said, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3). He warned them to stand firm in their freedom and not “be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). Keeping rules won’t save us and it certainly won’t keep us saved. God alone does that, and nothing can ever separate us from His love in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:38-39).
Second, Christ’s freedom enables us to live righteously. One of the wrong views of Christian freedom is that once we’re saved, we can do whatever we want. It won’t matter if we sin, because we’re forgiven. Paul also dealt with this issue in the Galatian church, saying, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh” (Gal. 5:13).
Christian liberty isn’t a license to sin. Jesus set us free from sin’s domination so we could live victorious, godly lives. He gave us the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to resist sins that threaten to bring us back into bondage. When we obey and depend on Him, we won’t fall prey to sinful desires, attitudes, and habits (vv. 16-17). Even though we’ll sometimes stumble, our progress will be toward righteousness—isn’t that good news?
Walking in the Spirit means we seek to please Him rather than clinging to sins in opposition to His desire for us. But at times, some Christians find themselves holding onto bitterness, anger, or unforgiveness. They become comfortable with areas of bondage and might feel it’s their right to keep these sinful attitudes alive. But they’re only hurting themselves and grieving God. Freedom could be theirs if they’d surrender to Him and walk in the Spirit.
Third, Christ’s freedom produces His character within us. One of the easiest ways to evaluate how free you are in Christ is to ask yourself if the fruit of the Spirit is visible in your life. Are you characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-24)? Or do the deeds of the flesh more accurately describe you (Gal. 5:19-21)?
Now go back to my opening question. Are you a free person? Is there evidence in your life that Jesus is releasing you from legalism and sin’s domination and producing His righteousness in you?
No Christian needs to be helplessly enslaved to sinful attitudes, emotions, or habits, because Jesus has set us free from sin’s power. In Him, you can look forward to a new year of choosing godliness. You’re not under the harsh taskmaster of sin or the Law. But, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Charles F. Stanley
P.S. I pray our ministry is a source of hope and encouragement for you. May I suggest that in 2021, you ask the Lord to reveal any areas of bondage in your life and lead you further into His freedom? You’ll be amazed at the joy, peace, and security that await you.