Finding True Freedom
Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. (John 8:34)
Freedom is an essential element of joy. None of us would be happy if we were not free from what we hate and free for what we love. And where do we find true freedom? Psalm 119:45 says, “I shall walk in freedom, for I sought your precepts”(author’s translation). The picture is one of open spaces. The Word free us from smallness of mind(1Kings 4:29) and from threatening confinements(Psalm 18:19)
Jesus says,”You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”(John 8:32). The freedom He has in mind is freedom from the slavery of sin(John 8:34). Or to put it positively, it is freedom for holiness. The promises of God’s grace provide the power that makes the demands of God’s holiness an experience of freedom rather than fear. Peter described the freeing power of God’s promises like this: “Through his precious and very great promises, you may become partakes of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”(2 Peter 1:4) In other words, when we trust the promises of God, we sever the root of corruption by the power of a superior promise.
Therefore we should pray for each other the way Jesus prays for us in John 17: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” There is no abiding joy without holiness, for the Scriptures says, “Strive….for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord”(Hebrews 12:14). How important, then, is the truth that sanctifies! How crucial is the Word that breaks the power of counterfeit pleasures! And how vigilant we should be to light our paths and load our hearts with the Word of God! “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”(Psalm 119:105). “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11)
The contradiction we see in the world is the vain attempt to become free by throwing off all restraints and overriding the commandments of God. What is interesting is that those who do so find themselves much of the time in more bondage than ever before. Think, for example, of runaways who leave home and its “restrictions” only to find themselves becoming more enslaved by those they run to. In the story of the prodigal son we find a boy living in his father’s house, enjoying the benefits and provisions that his father was providing and yet unhappy with having to subject himself to any of the father’s control. So he goes to his father and demands what is his so that he can leave home and indulge in his “freedom.” What’s interesting is that in reality he had nothing for Jesus said he demanded his inheritance. And we know that an inheritance is something that is handed down to us from someone who had accumulated it and we ourselves have had no part in producing it. What we see in this story is the father’s love who gives the son what he demands without hesitation. Only true love could respond this way for any other feeling would have kept and not given or would have given with strings and conditions. The self-centered son grasped the father’s gift as though he had the right to have it and went his way. For a season, he lived it up but soon came to the end of his father’s gift. Those whom he was with, as soon as he ran out of resources, ran out on him leaving him to literally starve. Gone was the pleasure, gone was the so-called friends and confronting him was famine and starvation and death. He had foolishly traded the father’s house of plenty and security for a short season of sinful unrestricted pleasure and now it was time to pay the price. Having no means to do so this boy who resisted the restrictions of his father now put himself into service-one might call it slavery- to a pig farmer. It is apparent that he was not treated well nor paid well for we read that he was so hungry that he was prepared to eat the garbage being fed to the pigs. O how the slavery of sin drags us down our souls and puts us into the prison of want and lack. The beauty of this story is that this son comes to his senses and decides that he would rather be his father’s servant rather than the servant of some other uncaring master, so he heads home expecting to find only a servant’s place for himself. When he meets his father, his words are powerful: “Father I have sinned against God and you!” What a revelation for us! What this son is teaching us is that sin brings slavery. It teaches that when we throw off the commandments of God and become rebels to righteousness the result is that we place ourselves into deeper slavery. We may be free to leave God’s house whenever we wish but we cannot become free from sin unless Christ makes us free. Though we may push against the rules of holiness, if we throw them off we will find ourselves putting ourselves under the harsh taskmaster Satan who will drain every ounce of our freedom and we will find ourselves beaten down and broken and tossed aside as useless trash. The power of Christ’s story is that He tells us of a Father who receives us back home, who washes the stench of sin from us, who changes our filthy slave garments for the garments of a child, who kills the fatted calf and feeds our starving soul and who places a ring on our finger acknowledging that we are no longer slaves but children.
The only question we really have is whose servant we will be? God’s or the devil’s? There is no third choice, no thing of being my own master, no independence to be the master of our destiny. These are the enticing falsehoods of Satan for he knows if somehow he can persuade us to leave the Father it won’t be long before we belong to him. He knows that in the commandments of the Father there is life and good and blessing and if he can ever persuade us as he did Eve to ignore them and disobey them and see them as too restrictive then he will seize our souls and like the runaway who often becomes the property of those they run to, he will use us until we have no more use and then he will leave us to die in our helpless and hopeless condition.
Yes, God requires us to live in righteousness and holiness. But I ask you to think about all His laws for a moment. Which one of them brings harm to you? Which one of them is there that is not for your good and the good for others? Which one of them is not for your benefit rather than His? Often like little children we think that God takes pleasure in restricting us, that in some way He takes joy in withholding from us the pleasures of sin. Jesus said the if we as being evil knew how to give good things to our children, how much more the Heavenly Father loves us. So my final question is this: what parent do you know that loves their children would not restrict them from destructive behavior? Once you discover God as your loving Father, then you begin to see the freedom the righteousness and holy living brings. There is no joy that is beyond the joy of knowing you are in right relationship with God and that your life is pleasing to Him. O the blessedness of living a godly life.
“By this we know [without any doubt] that we love the children of God: [expressing that love] when we love God and obey His commandments. For the [true] love of God is this: that we habitually keep His commandments and remain focused on His precepts. And His commandments and His precepts are not difficult [to obey]. For everyone born of God is victorious and overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has conquered and overcome the world—our [continuing, persistent] faith [in Jesus the Son of God]. This is the [remarkable degree of] confidence which we [as believers are entitled to] have before Him: that if we ask anything according to His will, [that is, consistent with His plan and purpose] He hears us. And if we know [for a fact, as indeed we do] that He hears and listens to us in whatever we ask, we [also] know [with settled and absolute knowledge] that we have [granted to us] the requests which we have asked from Him. We know [with confidence] that anyone born of God does not habitually sin; but He (Jesus) who was born of God [carefully] keeps and protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.”
1 John 5:2-4,14-15,18
May we humble our hearts and bow our will and enter into servant-ship to the Lord Jesus Christ and in doing so become free from the mastery of sin. May we come home to the Father, no more the arrogant son demanding our freedom that ends in slavery but in humility as a servant who is received as a son.
Dr. John Thompson