Liberty From Sin, Not Liberty To Sin
Jesus came to set us free! This is one of the fundamental truths of the gospel, repeated over and again in the New Testament. As expressed by Paul, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1a). In the words of Jesus himself, “. . . if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
But what kind of freedom do we have in the Lord? The New Testament speaks of different aspects to our liberty, including these:
- We have been released from serving God through an external legal system “so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (Rom 7:6)
- We have been delivered from slavery to Satan and the fear of death (Heb 2:15)
- We have been set free from condemnation and guilt (Rom 8:1-4); in fact, the primary NT word for forgiveness (aphesis) means “release from debt,” in this case the debt of our sin against God.
In Jesus, we are no longer prisoners, and when the Lord announced his mission in what is often called his “platform speech” in Nazareth, he declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
There is another aspect to our freedom in the Lord, however, one that is stressed more than any other in the NT: In Jesus we have been set free from sin. Look at this well-known passage from John:
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-36).
The ultimate bondage is bondage to sin. That’s why the root of our freedom is freedom from sin. Jesus is our liberator!
When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he was very concerned because they had fallen into a Judaistic-based legalism, one that taught these Gentile believers that unless they observed the Law of Moses and were circumcised, they could not be saved. Paul confronted this error head on, emphasizing the freedom they had in Jesus. But it was a freedom that could be abused, and Paul confronted this dangerous error as well: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13; see also 5:19-5:21, where Paul lists some of the works of the flesh, closing with this warning: “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”)
In similar fashion (but in a very different context), Peter wrote, “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God” (1 Pet 2:16; this follows on the heels of 2:11, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul”; and this builds on the foundational call to be holy because the Lord is holy in 1:13-16).
Look at how Paul opens this up to the Romans:
You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life (Rom 6:18-22).
All this is quite clear and, for the most part, quite obvious. Really, how could Paul or others in the New Testament made it any more clear? And yet in recent years, a very strange message has been gaining momentum, one that claims that Jesus has set us free to sin rather than from sin. To be sure, believers who embrace this concept don’t flatly say that the Lord has set them free to sin – but they say everything other than that. For example, a friend tells you excitedly about a movie he just saw, one which is laced with profanity, nudity, and sexual scenes. You say to your friend in surprise, “But I hear that’s a really filthy movie. Why in the world did you see it?” He replies, “I’m free in the Lord, man. You’re not going to put me under some old legal system. I’m been liberated from that kind of bondage.” What a bizarre concept!
When you are liberated from prison, you don’t go back to live in your prison cell. When the shackles are taken off of your wrists, you don’t put them back on. Why would you? What kind of liberty is that? And who would ever think of saying, “Hey man, I’m free! If I want to put the shackles back on, that’s my right.” Only a demented person says to the doctors who pumped her stomach after a massive drug overdose, sparing her life, “Thanks so much! You pumped my stomach and saved my life so I can overdose again.”
Sin is our mortal enemy, and there is nothing good in sin, only evil and death and deception and bondage. And sin is so ugly that it cost Jesus his very blood. Why in the world would we want to indulge in the very thing from which Jesus delivered us? It not only makes no sense, it also undermines a foundational truth of the gospel, namely that Jesus sets us free from both the penalty of sin and the power of sin. We really have been liberated!
How odd it is that many believers today boast of their freedom in Jesus as if it provided a license to sin – the very thing Paul warned the Galatians about. I would recommend that the next time someone abuses the concept of liberty in Jesus and liberty in the Spirit (“Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom” 2 Cor 3:17b), throwing around the “I’m free” mantra, just ask them: Then why are you making yourself a slave again? If he cleansed you, why are making yourself dirty again? Jesus died to give you a brand new nature, not a license to indulge the old nature that brings only destruction and death.
It’s really pretty simple, isn’t it?
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