Have you ever read (or heard read) the entire “Declaration of Independence”? We attended a Sunday service yesterday at Elohim Bible Camp and Retreat Center and people shared various stories or poems regarding freedom and our independence as a nation. It was the first time we had heard the entire “Declaration of Independence” read. It was very moving. We also heard an exciting and humorous rendition of the battle at Baltimore harbor and the writing of our national anthem. Today we celebrate our 235th birthday as a free nation. On July 4, 1776, the 13 English colonies in America, protesting the limitation placed upon them by England, engaged in a revolutionary struggle which resulted in the establishment of a brand new nation. Soon this infant nation adopted the now famous document known as the “Declaration of Independence,” formulated by Thomas Jefferson. It included this statement with respect to their newly won freedom: “That these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent colonies.”
But what, really, is freedom? It is defined as “personal liberty as opposed to bondage or slavery; unrestrained, exempt from external control; independence, lack of restrictions; ability to stand alone, unrestrained by anything else; without obligations.” We live in a land of “freedom” but are we free in the ultimate sense of the word? Wordsworth spoke of being “free as a bird,” but is a bird really free? Actually it lives its entire life in a cage made of fears, hungers and instincts. It is limited by weather conditions, local food supply, predatory beasts and even the strange, irresistible compulsion to stay within the confines of the small plot of land and air assigned it by the bird community.
We see that by the definition of freedom, only God is ultimately and completely free. God’s sovereignty is the attribute by which He rules His entire creation, and to be sovereign, God must be all-knowing, all-powerful, and absolutely free. God is totally free to do whatever He wills to do anywhere and at any time to carry out His eternal purposes in every single detail without interference. No one and nothing can hinder Him or stop Him. He is able to do as He pleases–always, everywhere, forever, as we read in Scripture: “Even from eternity, I am He; and there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?” (Isa. 43:13); “My purpose will be established; and I will accomplish all My good pleasure…Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it” (Isa. 46:10,11); “But He is unique and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, that He does” (Job 23:13); “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all the deeps” (Psa. 135:6).
We cannot really fathom complete freedom, for our concepts of freedom have been shaped in a world where no absolute freedom exists. For example, Bobby wanted to play in a nearby abandoned mineshaft, but his mother said he couldn’t because it was too dangerous. Bobby raised a terrible fuss, so she punished him by making him sit on a chair in the kitchen. After a long period of silence he asked: “Mommy, can God do anything He wants to?” The mother replied, “Yes, Bobby, He can.” Again, he was quiet. Then he said, “God doesn’t have parents does He?” You see Bobby was thinking that he would be perfectly free if it were not for his mother. He was associating freedom with having no authorities over him–no restrictions–exempt from external control–unrestrained by anything.
Hey! That’s the definition above for freedom. Bobby wasn’t so dumb! But, what Bobby didn’t realize was that what he wanted to do was foolish and could cause him harm. Nor did he realize that when he became an adult he still wouldn’t be able to do everything he desired and if he did, he would have to live with the consequences if he did. The lesson that Bobby’s mother was teaching him was that he could enjoy freedom only to the extent he wants to do what is right; but since he was born with a sinful nature, he’ll never be perfect in his “wants” here on earth. He’ll always need people and laws to keep him from doing something dangerous or wrong. But, if he’s a Christian, he can look forward to a time of perfect freedom in heaven, for then he’ll always want to do what’s right and good.
So, what did Jesus mean by His statement recorded in John 8:31,32,36… “…and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…free indeed” ?
From what is a Christian free? Three things: sin, self, Satan.
1) Sin: We are free from the penalty of sin (II Cor. 5:21; I Pet. 2:24; Ro. 8:1), from the power of sin (Ro. 6:6,7,11,14) and one day will be free from its presence (I Cor. 15: 44). When Jesus cried out from the cross, “It is finished,” He uttered the believer’s “Declaration of Independence.” All who receive Christ as personal Savior appropriate that freedom from guilt and the penalty of sin, for “In Him we have redemption, even the forgiveness of sin” Col. 1:14).
2) Self: Man without Christ is self-centered, in a self-prison, ruled by the old sinful flesh. But Ro. 6:3-6 tells us we have been crucified with Christ (cf Gal. 2:20), the old self is rendered inoperative in Christ, and we are no longer in bondage to it.
3) Satan: Finally, we are also set free from the dominance of Satan and his kingdom of darkness and are transferred to the kingdom of God (Col. 1:13). If you have invited Christ into your life, then, “Greater is He that is in you than He that is in the world” (I Jn. 4:4), for “Jesus took on human flesh that He might, through death, render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might deliver those who were in bondage to him” (Heb. 2:14,15).
Why is it then that we Christians still struggle with sin and self and Satan? And how can we experience the freedom Jesus provided at the cross and through the resurrection? One reason is that we abuse our freedom by seeing it as a “license to sin.” But, according to Gal. 5:13-18, I Pet. 2:16 and Tit. 2:12,13, our Christ-bought liberty is not to be used as an opportunity for fleshly indulgence or as a covering for sin, but for love manifested in service. We are free, not to do what we want to do, but what we ought to do. We are freed from sin so that we can walk in newness of life (Ro. 5:1,19-21; 6:1,2,10-18). Freedom is not cheap. It meant our Redeemer giving His very life . Let’s not abuse it. The freedom of our nation was also costly and we must not take it for granted or abuse it. As Woodrow Wilson put it, “Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence is a practical document for the use of practical men–it is more than a theory of government, it is a program for action!” The warning of abolitionist Wendell Phillips is still a challenge to every American: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
Another reason we often do not experience freedom from sin, self and Satan is that we fail to live in the grace by which we are saved (Gal. 3:1-5; 5:1-8). We put ourselves back under the law and the bondage of sin. Christ fulfilled the Law. We are no longer under the Law but under grace (Ro. 6:14; 8:1-8). To continue expecting our eternal destiny to be based on our works or performance is to discredit the finality of Christ’s death on the cross. It is to discredit what Christ accomplished. It’s blasphemy. Let’s accept what Christ did as being sufficient and our position as being secure and use that freedom to serve Christ, not self.
The Christian is indeed free from the guilt and power of sin, free from the old sinful self, and free from the wiles of Satan; but we are not to abuse that freedom by using it as a license to sin or by placing ourselves back under the law instead of living by grace. To bring our freedom into balance, we must remember what a statesman said about our political freedom: “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” Along with Christian freedom comes responsibility to God (I Cor. 6:19,20; II Cor. 5:15), to the unsaved (Acts 1:8; II Cor. 5:18-20; I Cor. 9:19-23), and to our weaker brother in Christ (Ro. 14:13,19,21). But, I thought freedom meant independence, lack of restrictions and obligations, exempt from control? Well, herein lies a paradox–it is only as we become a slave of God that we are really free! You see, we have a sinful nature and when we are free to do as we please, we end up in bondage to sin, self and Satan. True freedom comes only when, first of all we trust Christ as Savior, and then moment by moment abide in Him and in His Word to do His will. It is then that the power of the Holy Spirit enables us to carry out its principles and commands–and experience true freedom as it says in Jn. 8:31-36. Only as we make a “Declaration of Dependence” do we experience freedom to become what God wants us to be. “Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.”