We live in a world that honours freedom of speech, religion and expression. This is the high ideal of modern democratic societies worldwide.
Yet, in one vital sense, man lies in chains even while he claims to be free. We live in bondage of fear, in enslavement to sin, and in the corruption of our mortal flesh.
Against this background, what do we mean when we talk about ‘Christian liberty’? I suggest that true liberty has at least the following four elements.
Delivered from wrath
Firstly, Christians enjoy liberty because they have been delivered from the righteous anger of God.
With the fall into sin of Adam, our federal head, in the Garden of Eden, the human race is cursed and heading for judgement under the righteous wrath of God.
This coming judgement is averted for some through our Lord Jesus Christ, who came to atone for the sins of his chosen ones and ransom them from eternal death (Matthew 1:21).
The gospel is therefore a liberating message of hope, peace and comfort in the face of eternal condemnation.
Isaiah 61:1 prophesies of Christ: ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound’.
Those who are not saved are imprisoned under the righteous wrath and judgement of God, but those who receive the good tidings of the gospel are gloriously set free.
So the Christian gospel proclaims liberty to the slaves of sin, and provides a new lease of life. This life is eternal and is made possible, not by the works of man but by the vicarious atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross (Romans 3:25-28; Ephesians 2:8-9).
Being justified by faith, we are emancipated and delivered from the wrath of God. We are made free (John 8:36) and gratuitously delivered from all divine condemnation (Romans 8:1).
Delivered from Satan
Secondly, Christian liberty means deliverance from the diabolical bondage of the Evil One.
In his unregenerate state, fallen mankind is under the control and management of the prince of the world. Satan blinds our minds (2 Corinthians 4:4) and directs our ways (Ephesians 2:1-3).
By nature we are subject to the malevolent powers of darkness and spiritual forces in high places (Ephesians 6:12). But the redeemed have been delivered from the power of Satan’s evil regime and into the glorious freedom of submission to Christ.
James 4:7 says: ‘Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you’, and John adds, ‘he who is in you [i.e. the Holy Spirit] is greater than he who is in the world [i.e. Satan]’ (1 John 4:4).
Deliverance from sin
Thirdly, Christian liberty is deliverance from the enslaving power of sin.
Unbelievers are shackled by the corruption of the flesh. Romans tells us: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one’ and ‘you were slaves to sin’ (3:10; 6:17).
But after a person is justified and sanctified, he receives power over the sinful nature. Although the ‘old nature’ is still present, and is tempted to sin, believers now have the power and authority to say ‘no’ to sin and to choose to live a holy life (Romans 6:12-14).
This victory over our depraved nature is wrought by Christ’s death at Calvary on our behalf. Because we have been crucified with him, we are ‘dead to sin’ and can live a life that is abundant and free (Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:7-11).
Deliverance from unrighteousness
Fourthly, and positively, true liberty is freedom to live righteously and worship and glorify the living God. When a man is redeemed by the blood of Christ, he is empowered to walk in the path of righteousness and holiness (Romans 8:2,3).
Romans 6:19-21 says: ‘I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness; so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.
‘For when you were slaves of sin, you were free from righteousness. What fruit did you have then in those things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.’
Believers are called to be separate and holy, just as our Lord is holy (1 Peter 1:16; Leviticus 11:44). Regeneration means a change of masters. Before we were saved, we were slaves of Satan and sin.
Now we are justified, we are, for the first time, free to serve the living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
As servants of righteousness, our obedience to God is spontaneous and voluntary. It is not constrained or coerced by fear or force. The children of God enjoy this spiritual liberty — the freedom to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14).
Paul refers to Christians as the Lord’s freemen (1 Corinthians 7:22). We are not to abuse our freedom nor use our liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but live as willing bondservants of the most high God (1 Peter 2:16).
It is our great honour to serve the living God freely with joy and gratitude.
True freedom is enjoyed by the elect of God who are born again, justified, sanctified and empowered to keep the law of God. They do so out of love and not out of legalism.
It is the law of liberty (James 2:12), the law ofthe Spirit (Romans 8:2) and the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
Let us not take advantage of the grace of God and continue in sin, but wholly surrender ourselves to serve him joyfully in thankful response.
Let us heed the words of the apostle Paul in Galatians 5:13: ‘For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh [the old nature], but through love serve one another’.
True spiritual freedom is not about freedom of the press or speech. It is emancipation from the seducing and enslaving power of sin and Satan, freedom from the condemnation of sin and hell.
The believer is truly liberated to serve, worship and honour God, willingly and from the heart.