FREEDOM IN CHRIST
A few years ago I visited Warwick castle. It was very interesting looking around at all the ancient fortifications, climbing towers, visiting the state rooms, trying to understand what life was like back in medieval times.
But the thing I remember most vividly was the dungeon. To reach it you went down steps which took you below ground into a dark, dank, musty passageway with cells on each side. Not very pleasant.
The guide took us to the end of a passage, and in last room there was a trapdoor through which you could look down into the cell where worst criminals were kept. It was a tiny little room, about 6ft x 4ft (2m x 1.3m), pitch dark, with no washing or toilet facilities, and no way out.
It was called “oubliette” from French word “oublier” meaning to forget. And that’s what they did with the people who were put there. If they were lucky, prisoners might see a chink of light once a day as a bit of food was thrown down, but basically they were just left there to die. It was a horrible place. People in there must have longed for freedom so intensely.
Locked into a small dark room, nowhere to go, nothing to do. It challenges your sanity.
Thankfully we don’t have conditions like that today, at least not in western world. But the world we live in not as free as the media would sometimes have us believe. The events in New York on 11th September 2001 show how apparent liberty can be shattered in literally just a few seconds. And personally, individually, we’re not free either – we’re constrained by need to work and to support families, by finances, by health, by other problems, by law, taxes, circumstances, and pressures of work.
We live in a society where there are no perfect people, so people feel can oppressed, boxed in, trapped. Because no one can love other people perfectly, can’t forgive perfectly, and can’t have perfect patience, we get hurt, get trapped by selfishness, wrong emotions, or the things that others say or do.
People make mistakes, then pick themselves up, try something else, and end up falling flat on their face once again. They start looking for way out – a way to escape – to freedom. They turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, violence.
Ever since the Garden of Eden, mankind has been trying to find freedom from sinfulness but has ended up just moving from one form of captivity to another. Prison cells might be different shapes – some may have a bit more light or space – some may even allow you out for few hours a day, but you are still imprisoned.
All mankind’s attempts to find freedom have failed. It doesn’t matter what form of government, how many technological advances, how many peace treaties, how much nuclear disarmament, the world is not really free.
But the kingdom that God has called us to in Jesus Christ, and are hopefully living every day of our lives is one of true freedom, true liberty, true deliverance.
So today let’s spend a few minutes considering this freedom, what it is, how we enter it, how we live in it , and some examples of how we need to apply it, especially at this particular time of year
What is true freedom, and how can we be set free?
Ultimately, what imprisons us is our sinfulness. Ever since Eden we are under a curse – a curse of death. Whatever we do humanly there is nothing that will stop us dying after 70, 80, 90, 100 years. And the only true freedom worth having is a freedom that overturns that curse and sets us free for all eternity.
And the only way to overcome that curse and enter that freedom is in Jesus Christ. John 8:31-32.
31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
And how do we know the truth? John 14:6
6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus himself is the truth. It’s Jesus himself who sets us free by his grace, when we come to him, when we believe in him, trust in him, listen to him. He’s paid that curse for us.
We are freed from sin – not because we’ve stopped sinning – but because Christ in his glorious mercy looks on us as sinless – justified – because of his sacrifice.
“1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”
John 8:36 “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
I think it’s worth saying this as loudly as possible: Are we truly thankful to God for that? Do we fully comprehend the enormity of what Christ has done for us? Do we praise him and celebrate our freedom everyday?
Jesus has flung wide the gates of our prison, and invited us to walk out into a fantastic freedom that will ultimately fill the whole universe and all of eternity. Romans 8:21 calls it “the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
So, if we are freed from sin, does this mean we are free to do what we like?
We are certainly freed from the old covenant law, free from legalistic observances for their own sake. Hebrews 8:13 calls the old covenant “obsolete”. That’s what bound the Jewish people, who were stuck in ritualism without understanding why. In Galatians 5:1 Paul gives strong warning to Christians against going back into legalism.
We do have freedom in Christ – we should not judge one another by what days we worship, what foods we eat, what clothes we wear, what types of worship music we prefer.
But can we really use our freedom to do anything we want? Galatians 5:13-14
13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbour as yourself."
Here is the key – Jesus has set us free, but he has set us free by living in us. And because he lives in us and because he is love, the perfect liberty and freedom we have can only be based on living in love.
So we are free from rules for the sake of rules, but we are certainly not free from a duty of love to everyone all the time. This is the law of Christ. It’s not the rules that are important – it’s the attitude of mind and heart – love actually responds differently depending on the situation.
You know, there’s a very common situation that occurs when young people move away from home for the first time to go to university. The first week is known as “Fresher’s Week”. There are parties, drunkenness – it ends up with lots of people in debt straight away, unwanted pregnancies, and many students actually dropping out by the first Christmas.
People don’t realise that with freedom comes responsibility. That’s why they keep moving from one form of captivity to another – but we need to realise that as mature adults just because we are free it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do anything we like. I Corinthians 10:23-24, 31
23 "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is constructive. 24 Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
So given our freedom in Christ, that our attitude, our heart is most important and that love responds differently depending on the particular situation, let’s think about an example of how we can apply it at this particular time of year.
I was shopping in Wood Green a few days ago and Christmas was everywhere. Decorations, music, food, gifts packaged to try to attract people to spend as much as possible.
But what is our attitude towards Christmas? And given our freedom in Christ, what is our attitude towards someone who has a different view?
Many of us have traditionally avoided Christmas celebrations, primarily because of the pagan history of some of the customs. Clearly, pagan worship is wrong, and the commercialism and materialism of the way many people celebrate Christmas not good either. So if someone is celebrating Christmas as excuse for drunkenness and immorality, then that is not right.
But what if someone with clear conscience wants to worship their Saviour on that day with their whole heart? What if they are using it to give glory to him, and to actually help others hear about him at only time of year many may be prepared to listen? Jesus lives in us every day – we should always want to worship him, not just one day a week. It is never wrong to worship our Saviour.
Jesus had to be born in order for him to be able to die for us. His birth is in the Bible. Angels sang for joy when he was born. He came with the innocence of a baby and a child so that we could relate to him at every age and he could fully identify with every aspect of our lives.
And, surely, it’s never a sin to give gifts to our family in love – because we want to from our hearts, not by obligation. And it’s not inherently a sin to eat turkey or even to bring a conifer tree into the house and put lights on it. Jesus did come to bring light into the world after all.
What matters is our heart, our attitude, our motives. I’m not suggesting that anyone should or should not observe Christmas. But in our freedom in Christ, can we not make room for people who in love and a clear conscience view things differently to the way we do?
Our freedom gives us responsibility – responsibility to act in love to everyone as Christ lives in us.
One more point: Because Christ lives in us, and Christ lives to bring freedom, we are to help bring this freedom, this grace, this love, to everyone.
II Corinthians 3:17 says wherever God’s Spirit is – which means wherever we are – there is freedom. In Luke 4:18-19 Christ said "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."
Because Jesus lives in us, we need to let him take that freedom out to everyone we come into contact with. We need to meet people where they are, with simple practical gestures of kindness and love to help meet their needs. And we need to show how they can have freedom from their captivity and true happiness in Jesus Christ.
How what he has to offer is far more wonderful, more lasting, more liberating and more life-giving than anything this world has to offer.
Better than the greatest high from alcohol or drugs, better than most beautiful view from a mountain top, better than anything we can humanly know. We need to share that and point people to him – Jesus – there with his arms outstretched on the cross ready to welcome them and embrace them with the biggest, most comforting, most reassuring, most loving hug they will ever have.
We can be so thankful to God and Jesus Christ for the wonderful freedom they give us, regardless of what we’ve done, regardless of our background. We’re not trapped in a tiny prison cell but liberated to true life and freedom.
Let’s really celebrate that, and in that freedom let’s be tolerant of others who may choose to exercise it in a slightly different way. That’s what freedom is all about. And let’s help to bring that freedom to others.
Martin Luther King, the famous American civil rights leader, once gave a speech about freedom in which he said: “And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’”
I wanted to finish with Colossians 3:10-15
10 “and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 12 Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”