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Free At Last
03/05/95 and 11/14/04
I invite you now to turn in your bibles to the letter to the Galatians, chapter 5 and follow along as I read verse 1. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
Amen. The word of God, thanks be to God.
.According to a story in the Wichita Eagle (March 14, 2003), Wesley Fitzpatrick went before a judge in Kansas City and asked for a temporary restraining order against a woman that he said was making him “scared, depressed and in fear for my freedom.” The judge initially granted the restraining order. After all, we do not want Mr. Fitzpatrick to live in fear for his freedom. Then the judge rescinded the order when he discovered that Fitzpatrick’s “stalker” was his parole officer, who was trying to verify that Fitzpatrick was meeting the terms of his parole.
Limitations of Freedom
Freedom is one of the most beloved words in our vocabulary. We speak with pride of living in a free country, and we all agree that everyone ought to be free. The problem is in defining what we mean by that, and as soon as we start defining freedom, we start limiting freedom. We have freedom of speech, we say, but we do not have the right to advocate the overthrow of the government, or to cry "Fire" in a crowded theater, or to slander other people. Sometimes, in a burst of patriotism, we say that we are free in this country to do whatever we want. Oh really, tell the IRS that what you want is not to pay taxes, and you will discover just how free you are.
When the British left India in 1947, and India became the world's largest democracy, the Indian government made a big production out of telling all the people that now they were free. Hearing that, millions of Indians assumed that “freedom” meant that they could now ride the railroads for free. In the first year of independence, Indian railway police caught six million people trying to ride trains without tickets. Now the Indian peasants were not foolish. The government said that they were free to do what they wanted to do. What they wanted to do was ride the train for free. It took the Indian government several years to explain that political freedom is a very limited thing. That is not to say that political freedom is not valuable, but we should not expect too much of it or make too much of it.
Since the 1980s, the Russians have been learning the same thing about economic freedom. They abandoned Communism for free-market capitalism. Then, they discovered the risks of capitalism. Not all businesses succeed, and people who are involved in the failure of a business can quickly be out of a job and out on the street. Back in the late sixties, I worked for the computer division of RCA. RCA sold its computer division. You know what they said to me? Bye. During the seventies when the Cold War with the old Soviet Union was in full swing, we told the Russians over Radio Free Europe how great capitalism is, we never told them about unemployment and business failures. Recently, they have been learning about that downside of capitalism the hard way, by experience.
Capitalism also fails us in other ways. It tends to create warped, frustrated people. We have a great consumer-oriented society in the USA that provides us with many useful and needful things, but this society operates to a large degree upon dissatisfaction. Advertising is the basis of a consumer-oriented society; but before the advertiser can sell us something, he must create in us a frustration with a certain product or situation. He creates a need. We are told constantly that if we eat this breakfast cereal, we will be great athletes, if we buy that perfume, we will be desirable. We are overwhelmed with advertising, and in the very nature of things, we cannot buy many of the products that are advertised. That means then that a lot of unhappiness is generated in our society. We must have this, and we must have that, and when we do not have this and that, we have this ongoing sense of disappointment.
Freedom In Christ
The Apostle Paul tells us that the reason for our unhappiness and frustration is that our whole society is looking for the wrong kind of freedom. In Galatians 5:1, Paul speaks of the "liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free;" Or, we could translate it, "With freedom Christ has made us free." Now you might say that sounds a little repetitive. It sounds as if it is saying that Jesus made us free so that we might be free, but, in the Bible, repetition of words and phrases is often done for emphasis. The emphasis in Galatians 5:1 is freedom.
But what kind of freedom do we have in Jesus? Is it economic freedom? Is it political freedom? Neither. Under Josef Stalin, the people of the Soviet Union had no political or economic freedom at all. Moreover, the Stalinist regime was bent upon destroying every vestige of a thousand years of Russian Christianity. So we might say that Christians in Russia had no freedom at all during the seventy years of Communism.
The Apostle Paul says the opposite. A Christian living under the worst of Stalinist oppression was more free than any unbeliever living in the freest nation in the world—because Christian liberty is not material but spiritual.
Jesus has set us free not with regard to government, for many Christians have lived under oppressive governments and still been free. Jesus has set us free not with regard to our bodies, for our bodies are limited by the laws of nature. Jesus has set us free in our souls by bringing our souls to God. Jesus has set us free by freeing our will from the domination of the devil. To say that a person's will is enslaved is to say that a person's soul is enslaved, and that is absolute slavery. You can arm a person with an assault rifle. You can clothe him in a bulletproof helmet and vest, but if his will is enslaved, then all that he can do is use his armaments to serve his master.
You can give a person the right to vote, you can give her a bill of rights, but if her will is enslaved, she will just use her rights to serve her master.
That is why freedom of the soul, freedom of the will, is the only freedom that matters. Thus, Jesus is the great liberator because Jesus sets us free not from earthly bondage but from the bondage of the soul.
To be more specific, the bondage of the soul is the state of being separated from God. To the biblical way of thinking no one apart from God is a whole person. Without God, it is as if the best part of our being were bound in chains and kept in darkness. The only way this best part of our being can be set free is to be united with God. This is what Jesus does. He brings us to God and sets us free to be a whole person.
Now unlike physical liberty, the more we define spiritual liberty, the more unbounded and unlimited it becomes. Our spiritual freedom is a freedom from the law, sin, death, the power of the devil, and hell. That is quite a list of things to be free from. Jesus has delivered us from the wrath of God and united us to God. Thus, we no longer live in fear of God. God is no longer going to accuse us and condemn us.
That being true then, nothing else can accuse us and condemn us. Coming out of Judaism as he did, the Apostle Paul was much aware of the way the law of Moses was manipulated to accuse God's people. He says the law can no longer be used in that way. Very often, our own conscience accuses us for our sins. Paul says that when we have forgiveness in Jesus, our conscience can no longer be used in that way. The greatest fear that all of us face is the fear of death. Fear is the slavemaster. Death is his whip. But the Easter message of the risen Christ is that the slavemaster has lost his whip, and, therefore, is no longer our master.
Thus, when we feel the accusation of the law, the terrors of sin, the horror of death, the wrath of God, we can turn our minds from these fearful fantasies and set our hearts instead upon the righteousness that we have in Jesus. We can claim the promise of Romans 6:18, "Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness." The incredible truth of the Bible is not only that we are not enslaved, we are children of God and rulers of the universe.
Now I know that sometimes we do not feel like universal rulers; Sometimes we feel like the lowest field hand in Pharaoh's slavocracy, but we must realize that this comes from us and not from God. When we are down and depressed, we must take hold of ourselves and claim the liberty that Jesus has purchased for us. John 8:36: "If the Son therefore make you free, ye shall be free indeed."
The Yoke of Bondage
Now as we read Galatians, we realize that Paul was afraid that the Galatian church was unable to receive the liberty of Jesus, so he urged them not to be "entangled again with the yoke of bondage." The tendency of every church is always to "improve" the gospel, to say, "Yes if you believe on Jesus you are free, but there are certain conditions to your spiritual freedom," and the conditions that churches invent have to do with what our culture calls "acceptable behavior." For example, much preaching was done in the sixties and seventies against short hair on women and long hair and beards on men. That kind of preaching was not about the gospel. It was about what our culture deems to be an acceptable way of wearing hair. We need not to get caught up in that kind of thing. We should not confuse the gospel with cultural standards. It is true that believers behave differently than non-believers, but believers behave in a loving gentle way because they believe. Their lifestyle is the consequence of their belief, but their lifestyle does not make them acceptable to God.
We are not saved by our works. Jesus saves us.
In the Apostle Paul's day many people said, If you would be free from sin and death and obtain righteousness and life, then fulfill the law, be circumcised, keep the Sabbath and the festivals, offer sacrifices and do those kinds of things. Thus, you will be justified by what you do. This is what Paul calls "the yoke of bondage." Paul compares those that seek righteousness by rules and regulations to oxen that are tied to the yoke. The oxen pull in the yoke with great labor and receive nothing for all their labor but grass and fodder, and eventually they are led off to the slaughterhouse. That Paul says is the destiny of those who seek righteousness by things that they do. They spend great labor and toil upon keeping their rules, and, in the end, it all avails them nothing, for they are still just as much slaves of the devil as they ever were.
Now we should keep in mind that the issue of Galatians 5:1 is our eternal destiny. If we were physical slaves, then that would be only for a time and place, and that might be endurable, but what Paul is talking about is far more than that. He is talking about everlasting liberty or everlasting bondage. The bondage of the devil is not physical or material, but spiritual and everlasting, and so is the freedom that we have in Christ. Therefore, all those who stand upon their righteousness and their works are rightly called "the devil's martyrs." They take more pains and punish themselves more in purchasing hell than the martyrs of Christ ever do to receive heaven. Thus, the devil’s martyrs are miserable both in this life and in the life to come, but the people of Jesus have peace and freedom both now and forever.
Let us conclude then with the beginning of our verse. In the beginning, Paul said, "Stand fast." He said, be alert and determined, lest we lose our freedom. I Peter 5:8 says, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour." Satan hates the gospel. Satan is of the darkness and hates the light. As soon as you begin to seize upon the freedom of the gospel, Satan will bring all his powers to bear against you. He will tempt you. He will seek to defeat you and destroy your soul. He will not win. If we bring the power of Jesus into our life, all the power of Satan will not prevail against us. Seek Jesus then, and live in the freedom that Jesus brings. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 12/10/04