We hear a lot of discussion today about personal freedom, as we are so blessed to live in a country, and at a time, when so many civic and political freedoms have been extended to us. It is good and proper to understand the civic freedoms we do and do not have. It’s also valuable to understand the history and context of those who fought for the freedoms we presently enjoy as citizens of our country. However, such a consideration and study of civic freedom should pale in comparison to our understanding of the spiritual freedom we do, and do not have, in Christ, and appreciate the history of those who fought for the spiritual freedom that is available to all today.

The freedom that should mean the most to a Christian should be the freedom from sin and death. This is the freedom Jesus spoke of in John 8:31-32, 36, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” The Jews always focused on political freedom as illustrated by their claim in John 8:33, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” Their claim was most assuredly untrue as Jesus responded in John 8:36, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Thayer defines the word “indeed” as “truly, in reality, in point of fact, as opposed to what is pretended, fictitious, false, conjectural.” True, real freedom is found through Christ and not through any political leader or government body.

The history of our spiritual freedom goes back to before God created the world when He planned how He would redeem us from our sins through the sacrifice and shed blood of His Son (Eph. 1:3-7). Paul later described his preaching of the gospel as “in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:8). The history of our spiritual freedom is carried forward through the Old Testament prophets who pointed to the time in which the Messiah would set us free from the condemnation of sin. One example is in Isaiah 61:1: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners.” Also note the language of Psalms 102:18-22: “This will be written for the generation to come, that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord. For He looked down from His holy height; from heaven the Lord gazed upon the earth, to hear the groaning of the prisoner, to set free those who were doomed to death, that men may tell of the name of the Lord in Zion and His praise in Jerusalem, when the peoples are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the Lord.” Many of those prophets who spoke of the freedom to come gave their lives (1 Kings 19:10; Matt. 5:12; Acts 7:52) so that we might be set free and enjoy “something better” (note Heb. 11:40 and the verses that precede it) than they experienced. I enjoy reading the history of our country and those who fought and sacrificed so we could enjoy the freedom we enjoy today. How much more should we value reading and studying of those who sacrificed to bring about our spiritual freedom?

The Hebrew writer spoke of the cost of our freedom from sin and eternal death: “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives (Heb. 2:14-15). Our spiritual freedom required that God send His Son to this earth, to take “the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7-8) and to lay down His life (John 10:17-18) and “give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Do we appreciate the price that was paid for our freedom? Through His death, Jesus set us free from the Old Law by which no one could be made righteous (Rom. 3:23; Acts 13:39). Paul wrote, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death (Rom. 8:1-2). Paul thus persistently urged Christians not to go back to that which enslaved them — “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).

Having been set free from our sin and the requirement of perfect law-keeping, we need to ensure we use our spiritual freedom appropriately and scripturally. For example, in the first century church, the issue of the eating of meat often caused serious problems among Jews and Gentiles. Paul addressed this, clearly stating that “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable,” and, “All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (1 Cor. 10:23). That is, a Christian may have the freedom to eat meat but it may not be profitable or edify our brethren in Christ. He then went on to say, “But if anyone says to you, ‘This is meat sacrificed to idols,’ do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience?” (1 Cor. 10:28-29). The reason is because the exercising of personal freedom can have a detrimental impact on the spiritual condition of a brother or sister in Christ or on my ability to teach the lost. It’s because we love one another as He has loved us (John 13:34-35) and we take caution with our liberties or freedom for the sake of the salvation of the souls of others and for the sake of the gospel (note 1 Cor. 9:22-23). When we truly understand what it means to “regard one another as more important than yourselves” and to “not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3, 4), we will note that these “interests” Paul speaks of cannot be applied to matters of faith and truth, but apply only to matters of freedom or liberty, and I will consider the exercising of my freedom in such matters with the Lord and my brethren first, and self, last. To insist on my personal freedom at the expense of my brethren is to walk according to the flesh and not the Spirit. As a precursor to Paul’s discussion of the “works of the flesh” versus the “fruit of the Spirit,” he wrote, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:13-15). I worry about the application of that passage in the church today.

Finally, as Peter writes to Christians scattered about who are not only being persecuted by the Jews, but by the Roman authorities, he wrote of the need of Christians to submit to civil government (“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution”; 1 Pet. 2:13), and then cautioned Christians about abusing their freedom in Christ: “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:16, 17). By inspiration, Peter warns Christians that their freedom from sin and death and their citizenship in heaven are not to be used as an exemption from our duty to “honor the king.” When considering both the physical and spiritual freedom we enjoy as children of God and citizens of the United States of America, can we honestly say that we have used our freedom “as bondslaves of God” or as an opportunity to serve self?

I have a poster with the inscription: “Cherish the gifts of freedom every day.” As much as I cherish the civic freedoms that I am blessed with as a citizen of this country, I need to cherish even more, and commit myself to, the freedom Christ offers men from the condemnation of sin through the preaching of the gospel. Chris Simmons