The past two weeks I have been reading chapter 8 of John over and over. Though I have been a student of the Bible for my entire life, very often certain things I read in the Bible still stump me and I find myself ‘hanging out’ in certain verses for weeks and weeks at a time trying to wrap my mind around the eternal significance of the words I read in the Bible.
Last week I studied and began thinking about what it means to have freedom in Christ as describe in John 8:31-32 (NLT) Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
One of the benefits of memorizing Scripture is that when you read a verse like that you can immediately have verses stored in your head that help you to understand other verses you read in the Bible. As a child I memorized John 14:6 (NLT) Jesus told him (his disciple Thomas), “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
So when I read John 8 I know that when Jesus speaks of knowing the truth, He is speaking of knowing Himself. Essentially in John 8:31-32 Jesus is offering freedom to those who remain faithful to His teachings.
The concept of freedom in Christ is one of the teachings of Jesus that can cause bitter disputes among those with different theological interpretations of what is meant by freedom. Some believe that when you live in the freedom of Christ, you have secured your salvation and place in heaven, and gained freedom to enjoy all that this world has to offer with very few limitations. You sometimes hear these people claim, “I’m just living in grace (in contrast to living under God’s laws).”
Others teach that it is possible to gain freedom and salvation in Christ and later lose that salvation because of sinful choices. Sometimes you might hear comments like “He fell from grace.”
When I started this Bible study on John, I decided that when I blogged about my thoughts I would try to keep it as simple as possible because I know some reading this are studying the Bible for the first time. Let me say this before I give my thoughts and beliefs on freedom in Christ….here’s the honest truth…to this day I have a difficult time wrapping my mortal brain around it. So, I’ll do my best to express my thoughts here…
What I am about to write is my personal beliefs concerning freedom in Christ based on two things. 1. My own study of the Bible (not what others have taught me ….I love you daddy but I still had to search it out myself!) 2. My own personal experiences in my life and the lives of those around me.
A definition that I put together… Freedom. = the life you experience when you abide in the truth of the Word of God (which teaches that Jesus is the way to salvation) and daily lean on the power of the Holy Spirit to guide your decisions. True freedom comes when you turn to Him for your joy and acceptance and purpose instead of turning to yourself, other people, and earthly possessions.
Freedom in Christ is NOT….a ‘get out of hell free’ card that you received when you walked down an aisle at church or a revival or because you attend confession each week. Many people I have met in my life have offered ‘I am living in grace and freedom in Christ’ as a justification to continue in actions and habits that are obviously against the teaching of God’s Word.
My first thought when I hear someone use this as an excuse to remain in sin and yet claim to be a follower of Christ is…”they must have missed the Sunday when the preacher preached on the words of Jesus in the gospels that say that to be a disciple you must deny yourself to follow Him and Matthew 5:17 where Jesus claims that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.”
Freedom does not mean that we do not have to follow the ten commandments or the other ‘rules’ found in the Bible. Instead it is something more spectacular than permission to sin as much as you want! That line of thinking significantly diminishes the true power of the cross.
Romans 6:15-18 (NIV)
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey–whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?
17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.
18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
Jesus died on the cross because we are sinners and could never obtain the righteousness that is required to enter heaven. It is my belief that we did nothing ‘good’ enough to earn the salvation and freedom offered through the cross, and there is nothing ‘bad’ enough that would cause Jesus to take the gift of salvation away from someone that He has already given it to.
When I became a follower of Christ, Christ did not offer me a freedom to sin. What he did give me is a power through the Holy Spirit to say ‘no’ to the desires of my flesh and ‘yes’ to the pursuit of holiness (which does not come naturally to any human). I am no longer a ‘slave’ to my body and mind.
So everything I go through in my life should be filtered through that pursuit. Does that mean I don’t struggle with sin? Of course not! However, I am not bound and shackled to the guilt, bitterness, anger, hate, and fear that comes along with a life of sin. Instead, I am free because I CHOOSE to release guilt. I work to rid my mind and heart of anger and replace it with joy. Through Christ I have the power to love instead of hate. When someone does wrong against me, I CHOOSE to forgive instead of being shackled to bitterness. Through the power and freedom offered on the cross, I can find hope in the future instead of fearing what tomorrow holds.
This past Sunday morning as I was worshipping at my church…(I LOVE MY CHURCH, www.tcabc.com, ) I closed my eyes as I sang and I had an image in my mind of the cross and many of the people I know running to it with broken shackles on their hands and feet.
Friends…that’s my prayer for you. That the shackles that bind you to sin will be broken and that you will run to the freedom that comes from pursuing righteousness.
John 8:36 (NIV) So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.