Are You Slave or Free?
"Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage" (Galatians 5:1).
Many Christians today do not understand the concept of true Christian liberty and confuse license with freedom. They have the idea that to be free is to have the liberty to do as they please without consequence. This could be no further from the truth of the scriptures. As you will see, Christian liberty is a paradox. "For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord's freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ's slave" (1 Corinthians 7:22). True freedom in the kingdom of God can only be found through complete enslavement to Christ.
God created man with free agency or free will meaning that man has been given the power to choose between sin and righteousness. Very simply, righteousness is conformity to God's will and nature and "all unrighteousness is sin" (1 John 5:17). Apart from God there is no sin because God, as our Creator, defines what sin is. This is why Paul tells us, "for where there is no law there is no transgression" (Romans 4:15). Or you could just as easily say, where there is no God there is no transgression because God is the author of the law. So man was created with the power to choose between conformity to God's will and nature or that which is against God's will and nature.
Within the body of Christ today there has been the resurgence of a doctrine from the early first centuries called Universal Reconciliation (Universalism). Very basically, this doctrine says that all of creation (saved, unsaved, angels, demons, good, bad, and even Satan himself) will one day be saved and reconciled to God. They base this doctrine on the belief that man has no free will and therefore cannot be held responsible for his actions. Therefore, God is obligated to save all men. Besides the fact that the entire Bible is written from the viewpoint of free will, there is a serious flaw in this ideology. Sin must have an origin. If man does not have the degree of free will to originate sin then sin must originate with God. For God to be the author of sin is completely contrary to His divine nature. Just a few scriptures make this quite clear:
"He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him" (John 7:18).
"What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!" (Romans 9:14).
"This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all"(1 John 1:5).
Satan, as hard as he tried, could not find any sin in Christ. James tells us that God cannot even tempt man much less be the author of sin (James 1:13). Sin did not originate with God but rather with His created beings. Satan and his angels had the freedom to follow God or rebel against Him. Adam and Eve had the freedom to follow God or to rebel against Him. Again, sin can only be defined in relation to God the Creator and God cannot contradict His own nature. He created us with the power of choice to submit to His will and nature in righteousness or to rebel against His will and nature in unrighteousness. Through submission man would find perfect liberty and through rebellion man would find complete bondage. Biblical freedom or liberty cannot be separated from righteousness. When we understand this concept we can better understand the work of Christ on the cross.
Paul presents us with this paradox of liberty in the book of Romans. "Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?" (Romans 6:16). The word ‘present' used here means to yield. Man has the free will to yield himself to sin leading to death or to obedience leading to righteousness. Both choices are ones of slavery. You either yield yourself to be a slave of sin or you yield yourself to be a slave of righteousness. "And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness" (Romans 6:18). We are all subject to temptation but it is not the temptation that enslaves us but the yielding to the temptation that enslaves us. "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (James 1:14,15). Sin is the result of conception or yielding to the temptation. Once we choose to yield ourselves, sin is brought forth which eventually produces death for the wages of sin is death.
This is what happened to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Satan tempted them to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There was no sin until Eve yielded herself to the temptation resulting in conception of sin. Now sin was brought forth and that sin led to spiritual death. Adam and Eve were no longer free as they became slaves to the one whom they obeyed, Satan. They were enslaved to sin. As long as Adam and Eve yielded themselves in submission to God they walked in perfect liberty. They were free from sin, doubt, worry, death, sickness, and any other evil thing. Their liberty was bound up in their righteousness or their submission or slavery to God. When they rebelled against God, they were no longer slaves of God but became slaves of sin. Unfortunately, that sin defiled the very nature of man and now all mankind is born into the slavery of sin. And this is exactly why we need a Savior, someone to set us free and restore us to the righteousness slavery to God.
Every one of us is born with a nature of sin or a propensity towards sin. Our nature is bent towards sin rather than toward righteousness. This is why God had to intervene on our behalf and as Paul tells us, "but God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Because man does not have a natural desire for God, God had to initiate reconciliation for us and then draw us to Himself and give us everything we need for salvation. That's why Jesus tells us, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44). Before we are reconciled to God, there is a battle going on within our souls between our nature of sin and the moral law of God written within our conscience. "For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish" (Galatians 5:17). As you can see we are not truly free. It is as Paul tells us, "For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. . . For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me" (Romans 7:15,19,20). And this is the battle within many professing Christians today. They are still enslaved to sin and yet claim to be free in Christ.
What we must see in all of this is that as long as the nature of sin is within us we are living in a state of conflict under the enslavement of that sin and we are not truly free in Christ. Christian liberty can only be realized with the elimination of the nature of sin through the sanctifying work of Jesus Christ. This was the purpose of His coming and the true meaning of the cross. "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound" (Isaiah 61:1). Jesus came in the flesh and died on the cross to obtain our deliverance from the power of sin and make us the slaves of righteousness. True liberty is the gift of Christ to all who will believe in Him.
Christian freedom or liberty has to do with only one thing — freedom from sin. It is not the license to sin but rather the deliverance from sin. Every scripture in the New Testament having to do with freedom or liberty is in the context of our deliverance from sin. The reason for this is that all sin has the power of enslavement. It prevents us from doing what is right and thereby destroys our freedom. True liberty is the ability to obey God out of a heart of delight, spontaneously and freely. It is the ability to love God without hindrance or fear. Many Christians don't understand this principle and believe that they are free while still living in willful sin. But Jesus made it a point that as long as we live in sin we are enslaved to sin. "Jesus answered them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed'" (John 8:34-36). He makes three extremely important points in this passage. First, as long as we are still living in willful sin we are slaves of sin. Remember, all unrighteousness is sin. A heart that is not wholly after God is still enslaved to sin. Secondly, a slave is not a son and therefore is not guaranteed a permanent place in the house of God. The wages of sin is always death. And thirdly, if the Son makes you free you are free indeed. In other words, the power of sin has been overcome and the secret desire of your heart is no longer towards sin but towards God. Jesus came to eliminate the nature of sin so that we can be totally free to live completely in the divine life of God.
Paul backs this truth up in his letter to the Romans. "Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin" (Romans 6:6). Notice what he says here. The body or nature of sin is eliminated through crucifixion in order that we should no longer be the slaves of sin. As long as the nature of sin remains we are slaves of sin because its propensity is toward sin instead of righteousness. We are under its power to do what it wants us to do. Liberty can only be realized by the removal of the source of sin — the crucifixion of the body of sin. Then we are free indeed. Paul tells us the same thing in his letter to the Colossians. "In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ" (Colossians 2:11). Again, we are set free by the cutting off or circumcision of the body of sin. Until this takes place we are still enslaved to sin and are not the true sons of God. Paul gives us the requirement for sonship in Romans. "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (Romans 8:14). As long as the nature of sin remains we are not being led by the Spirit of God but rather by the lusts of the flesh. To be led by the Spirit of God requires the removal of its antagonist, the body of sin. "For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish" (Galatians 5:17). True liberty is being free to be led by the Spirit of God. Not only is our sonship found in our liberty from sin but our inheritance in Christ is also. "Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ" (Galatians 4:7). Paul ties all this together in his summary of Romans 6. "But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:22,23). We are set free from sin to become slaves of God and the result is holiness which leads to our inheritance of eternal life. This is the only way it can work because the wages of sin is death. God's gift is liberty through Jesus Christ making us sons and heirs of eternal life.
Permanent sonship requires being made free indeed by Jesus Christ. This is what John's first epistle is all about.
"Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother" (1 John 3:6-10).
To abide in Christ is to be one with Christ. As we have just seen, we cannot be one with Christ until we are first set free by Christ from the nature of sin. As long as we continue in willful sin we have not come into the knowledge of Christ that sets us free. Remember, it is the truth that sets us free. When we are free indeed we are no longer under the power of sin but under the power of the Holy Spirit and therefore we practice righteousness just as He is righteous. To continue in sin is to be under the power of sin thereby manifesting the nature of the devil rather than the nature of God. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil by crucifying the old sin nature and delivering us from the power of sin and the devil. When we are truly free from the nature of sin we can no longer live in willful and habitual sin because it is no longer in our nature to do so. Our new nature is one of righteousness and holiness and our heart's most secret desire is toward God and pleasing Him. The Greek rendering of verse 9 is, whoever has been born of God and continues in it does not continue sinning for the seed of God is remaining in him and he is not able to continue to be sinning because he continues to be born of God. As he tells us in 1 John 1:7, "But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin." To walk in the light as He is in the light is to walk free from the darkness of the sin nature and the blood of Christ keeps us cleansed from all sin. Once we are free from sin we no longer are under the power of sin to make us live in sin.
The greatest freedom we can enjoy is found only in enslavement to God. Being set free from sin allows us to walk in complete submission to God. We become one with God in thought, in word, and in deed. "But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him" (1 Corinthians 6:17). We thereby enter into His rest of righteousness, peace and joy. We are only truly free as we are wholly the bondservants of Christ. This is the liberty that Jesus exemplified for us in His relationship with the Father. He willingly submitted Himself to the will of the Father and did nothing for Himself. Because of this the Father exalted Him to the highest place. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name" (Philippians 2:5-9). Let this same mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus! Are you free or are you still a slave? You are only free if you have died to sin and become alive unto God. "Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord"(Romans 6:11).