July 4th in the United States of America is celebration of our "Independence day." It was on this day in 1776 that the original 13 colonies signed the Declaration of Independence declaring their unwillingness to live under the rule of Great Britain. Today, it is a time to remind us of the great freedom that we are blessed with in this country, and the many sacrifices that people in the past have made so that we might continue to enjoy this freedom. This day also ought to remind us of the continued sacrifices that our military people and their families are making today in the war on terrorism.
We ought to be exceedingly grateful for the
freedom we have in this country, and we should never take it for granted. God
has richly blessed America in so many ways.
FREEDOM DOES NOT MEAN LICENSE
Some people seem to think that freedom comes without restraints. They confuse freedom with license. They believe that because we live in a country where freedom exists that must mean we can do what we want to do, when we want to do it, and how we want to do it.
But, in order to see this is not true, I challenge you to drive down the highway past a policeman at 85 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour speed zone. You will find out quickly that you are not free to do what you want to do, when you want to do it, and how you want to do it. When you stand before the judge you are going to find out that freedom has restraints. We must learn that any free society absolutely requires control and restraint. We must learn that there is law to be respected and obeyed for the good of society. Without law there would be chaos and destruction.
Freedom does not mean that there are no
restraints. It does not mean that no one is in authority. It does not mean that
no one has the right to restrict us in doing certain things.
FREEDOM IN RELIGION
Some who are reading this article are Christians. Christians must realize that in becoming children of God we have freedom - a freedom that very few people in the world know. There is true liberty in Christ! In fact, that's the only real liberty that one can enjoy forever. Jesus said, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). "Knowing the truth" is more than just coming to a mental awareness of the truth. It means one who comes to a saving knowledge - a knowledge that prompts one to obey the truth. By obeying the gospel of Christ one becomes free from sin and it's consequences.
But, we also recognize that God teaches in His word that freedom in Christ does not come without restraints. We are not free to do what we want to, when we want to do it, and how we want to do it in religion any more than we are in American society. We must exercise restraint and self-control. There is law to be respected and obeyed. There is authority to submit to.
Paul wrote, "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). The "yoke of bondage" in the immediate context of this verse was referring to the Law of Moses. Some of the Jewish Christians were teaching that the Gentile Christians had to obey the law of Moses in order to be saved. Paul wrote the books of Galatians and Romans largely to deal with this false teaching and to show that it was not true. But the yoke of bondage in our lives could be a sinful way of life also. We have been made free in Christ. But that freedom means freedom from the habitual practice of sin. In other words, sin is not to be a part of our lives. We must restrain ourselves -- we must control ourselves in order to maintain freedom in Christ.
Paul further wrote, "For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another" (Galatians 5:13). An opportunity for the flesh would be an occasion to give into the sinful desires and temptations of the flesh. We cannot claim that because we have liberty in Christ we are free to continue to sin (Romans 6:1-2). God's grace forgives sin, but not when we fail to repent or turn away from sin and meet His conditions of forgiveness (1 John 1:7-9). The doctrine of "once saved always saved" results in this very thing - that is, that freedom in Christ allows one to continue to live in sin. It teaches that once a person is saved he is always saved and it makes no difference how much he sins - from murder to adultery - that he will still be saved when Jesus comes again. There could be nothing further from the truth! Freedom in Christ does not mean that we can continue to sin. There are restraints to the freedom we have in Christ. There is law to be obeyed - there is authority to submit to - there are rules to live by!
Peter wrote, "As free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God" (1 Peter 2:16). A cloak was used to cover one's body - when you put on the cloak your body was hidden. When Peter said "not using your liberty as a cloak," he is saying don't try to hide behind the freedom you have in Christ thinking that allows you to be involved in wickedness and sin. It is interesting that Peter speaks of the fact that our liberty in Christ is not to be used to cover up vice, but that our liberty is to be used as "bondservants of God." The word "bondservants" literally means "bond-slaves." A bond-slave is one who willingly becomes the slave of another. When you obey the gospel, you willingly became a slave of Christ. This is the paradox of being a Christian. On the one hand you gain freedom and liberty. On the other hand you willingly become a slave.
PEOPLE WILL TRY TO DECEIVE YOU
There are people who will try to deceive you in this matter of freedom. All over the country there are people who are teaching that we are not under any law and that the Bible is just a collection of "love letters" and does not in any way bind on us a certain way to live, worship, and serve God.
But that is a lie! The Bible gives us a blueprint or a pattern for what one must do to be saved and what one must do to worship, serve and please God. It does bind upon us a certain way to live. The people that promise us freedom from law - freedom from restraint - are spoken of by Peter in these words: "For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption: for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage" (2 Peter 2:18-19). Peter here refers to those who use "great swelling words of emptiness." This simply refers to empty, useless words. These are words that make a great impression on people, but they really mean nothing. These people will allure through the lusts of the flesh. They will try to appeal to you through the desires of the flesh, and through lewdness - which means they will tell you that there is no reason for self-restraint - that freedom in Christ means you can do what you want to do, when you want to do it, and how you want to do it. They will promise you freedom, but Peter says, "while they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption." They are bond-slaves of corruption because they have been overcome by corruption. This kind of person, although he may promise you liberty, is in the worst slavery of all and he will lead you into that slavery too. We know that a slave can't give you freedom. If he could he would not be a slave. These people who are saying there is no pattern for us to follow today are themselves "slaves of corruption."
Here's something we all need to understand - there is no true liberty and freedom apart from law. This is true both in a nation and in Christianity. Why are there speeding laws? Is it not to provide protection for us all? If everyone drove as fast as they wanted, there would probably be more people killed on our highways than there are now. It places everyone in danger. Of course, most of the time it seems like that's exactly what people are doing. Very few people obey the speed limit laws, but a Christian must if he is to please God.
Why does God prohibit some things? Is it not to protect us? He knows if we participate in some things we will be deeply hurt and maybe destroyed. Every time God says "you shall not" He's saying: "I am concerned about you." "I love you." "I don't want you to get hurt." This is why the New Testament, which is the law we live under today, is called the "perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25). You see, true liberty and law must go together.
Let me address the young people who may read this article. I know that sometimes when your parents say "no" to something you want to do, you can't see the reasoning behind it. But the same principle is involved. Why do your parents put restrictions on you? Because they love you. Because they are concerned about you. Because they don't want you to get hurt. And believe me, when you get married and have children of your own, you are going to be able to understand why your parents restricted you more than you do now.
Why do your parents insist that you attend the services of the church? Because they love you. Because they are concerned about you. Because they want what is best for you and they realize that the Christian life is the best and safest life on earth to live and the only life that will result in eternal life in Heaven.
Freedom does not mean we live without restraints. Young people, you must respect and obey the restraints your parents put on you even though you may not understand everything that's involved. Paul wrote, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right" (Ephesians 6:1). I want to point out that Paul did not say that you are to obey your parents when you want to, or only if you understand why they are restricting you from doing something. He said, Obey your parents PERIOD! Why? "For this is right." Look at verses 2, and 3. "'Honor your father and mother,' which is the first commandment with promise: that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth." (Ephesians 6:2-3). Why obey your parents? "That it may be well with you."
All of us must respect and obey the restraints put upon us by the laws of the land. Paul wrote, "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God." (Romans 13:1). Christians must obey all the laws of the land unless they conflict with God's law. If they do conflict with His laws then we must humbly but courageously let those in authority know that we cannot obey. The apostles faced this situation in Acts 5:29 when they said, "We ought to obey God rather than men." When there is a conflict between the laws of the land and the law of God, we ought to obey God rather than men. Otherwise we are obligated to obey all the laws of the state and nation. And, we must respect and obey the restraints put upon us by the law of God as revealed in the New Testament.
We are not free to do what we want to do, when we want to do it, and how we want to do it, whether that be in young people's relationships to their parents; the citizens relationship to civil government; or our relationship to God. When we come to respect authority and law then we find out what true freedom is.
If you are not a Christian you have not experienced true freedom. Jesus said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30). The "rest" that Jesus speaks of is the peace and contentment that comes from being free from sin. Sin causes hurt, heartache, and destruction. However, obedience to the gospel by believing that Jesus is the Son of God, repenting of your sins, confessing your faith in Jesus and being immersed into Christ, frees you from that burden - from that load you carry on your shoulders. Your burden can be light and you can find that rest, contentment and peace that we all seek.
As a Christian, have you been using your freedom in Christ as a cloak of wickedness? If so, you need to repent of your sin, confess it before God and ask His forgiveness in prayer (1 John 1:7-9; Acts 8:22).
When we truly understand the basic principles involved in true freedom, we will seek that freedom at all costs. We will be willing to give up all that we have in order to gain that freedom. Many have done that in trying to keep the freedom we have in this country by giving their very lives to defend that freedom. They have paid the supreme sacrifice. But there is a far greater freedom to be desired, sought for, and defended, and that's the spiritual freedom we have in Christ Jesus.