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?
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: freedom, holiness, Jesus, liberty, sin
Victory In Jesus! A Call to Practical & Spirit-Filled Purity
After being personally challenged and blessed by the recent article on a call to ‘Cleanse Our Eyes!’ by VOR writer Bryan Purtle, I felt led to write a short follow up with some practical principles and suggestions for dealing ruthlessly with sin, and the enemy’s enticements.
Jesus gives this instruction in Matthew 5: 27 – 30:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
What does it mean to ‘gouge’ out your eye, and ‘throw it away…’? Or what does Jesus teach in ‘cutting off…’ your hand and ‘throwing it away…’? Isn’t the Lord being a little too radical? Doesn’t this kind of Christianity sound a little weird or extreme? In response to this I would say, ‘Absolutely!’ He is teaching us how to view sin, and He is instructing us on how to radically deal with it! Only God ultimately knows the darkness, power and destruction sin brings, and thus has sent Jesus into the world to not only deal with its power and effects through the Cross, but also to instruct us in the Spirit filled life of holiness.
Another may say: ‘Surely, grace is available, and He understands our weaknesses, not to mention Christ is our advocate before the Father, and He forgives and cleanses confessed sin’ To which I say in accordance with the Scriptures, ‘absolutely’! (1 John 1: 5 – 2: 2) But also in accordance with the Scriptures I say, that not only has Jesus dealt with our filthy past if we have been truly Born Again, and has made more than adequate provision for our present and future failings as He deals in our lives through our life in the Spirit, but He has also given His glorious Spirit and Word to loose us from the bondage of sin and its dominion! (Romans 6: 14 – 23) As Paul says in Romans 6: 14: ‘For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.’
Grace is there to not only cover but to deliver, empower and bring victory because of His triumphant death and resurrection, through the outpoured Spirit!
Jesus has dealt with sin and the enemy, ‘once for all’, and now we partake in Kingdom life by the Spirit of God. When we receive the Holy Spirit, we then experience His Holy power dwelling within, and also we hear Him taking the Words of Christ and establishing them in our hearts. The affect is purging, refining and establishing. The Word then becomes a living burning Word by the Spirit, and it brings power and grace for a holy life.
So then, we come to the practical issues of Matthew 5. Jesus is using radical terms to cause us to flee from sin, and deal with it ruthlessly in our hearts. In this chapter it is the heart Jesus is primarily concerned about, not just the outward deed (though that too will bring disastrous consequences!) He knows that sin must be dealt with at the root, not just the fruit. This is why He talks of the murderous or adulterous heart. It is the heart of a man which determines his actions.
So below are just some key practical ways of dealing with sin:
· Seek the face of God radically with all your heart through prayer and reading the Word. If the Lord leads, do this with fastings also. Allow in that time the Spirit of God to come in fire and freedom and bring you into the freedom of Christ. Allow Jesus to come to deal thoroughly with the root of the issue in your heart. One man said: “Is sin hounding you; are your old habits re emerging? Do you feel the enemy pulling you back to your old ways? Then the remedy is this: Run to the Risen Christ!”
· Go and find a strong, Godly man or woman of God to be accountable to. Maybe you know of a minister or elder, or a leader of some kind. Ask God about whom, but don’t delay in looking and going to someone. Become accountable to them, and allow them to speak into your life and pray with you through into victory. Confess your failing to them in confidence. Let them ask you frequently how things are going. Trust them, and let God use them to instill discipline, Godliness and humility into you. All sin ultimately is rooted in pride. This is a great Kingdom principle (James 5: 16) and helps bring humility and light into our hearts. Don’t listen to the enemy telling you not to confess and be open. I have proved that there is tremendous liberty and victory in humbling myself to my brothers, under the sight of God!
· Married? Be open with your spouse. It’s amazing to me how often times when I confess my failings to my wife, how much thoroughness, grace and wisdom she has in helping me. This is a gift from God for both men and women. Use it!
· Cut off the offending part. Is the problem TV? Maybe go on a TV fast, or only watch it with someone else, or even get rid of it all together! Is the problem the internet? You can get rid of it or if you must have it for your work, then buy a children’s filter software, and let someone you trust and is Godly, monitor your use. You can never be too final or thorough in these practicalities!
· Don’t isolate yourself or become weary in well doing! One proverb says: He who isolates Himself, seeks His own desire. Remember King David’s falling because He did not go to war with the army of Israel. It is a key thing to plug in to a strong Jesus exalting, Biblical and Spirit filled NT Church, and serve there.
· Read and listen to messages of servants of God who are aflame for God! Holiness is infectious in the Holy Spirit’s presence! Many times I have sensed the flaming arrows of God through another’s ministry, and it sets me aflame even more!
So there are just some of the essential things to be done to gain victory. I’m sure there are many more things some of you may consider worth while, and by all means, please feel free to add some to the comments section below. However, please let’s remember the main thing. Christ has come in the power of the Spirit, and has defeated sin in His body on the Cross! His Blood, His Spirit and His words are the key factors. At the same time don’t let legalistic ‘extras’ come in. Remember, the key issue is always the heart of man. It is there God wants to ultimately work. From there our actions will be righteous, our eyes will be consecrated and our minds free!
May God give you freedom, victory and fullness through His Son, for His glory.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: adultery, Bryan Purtle, Christ, David, holiness, liberty, Matthew, prayer
Editor’s Note: Cross-posted as this week’s Ask Dr. Brown question.
Holiness is beautiful; legalism is binding; holiness brings life; legalism brings death. They are as different as night and day, and yet at first glance, they can seem similar, because they both stand against sinful behavior and call for holy living. How can we distinguish between the two? Let me first present some thoughts on holiness before defining legalism and its dangers.
According to Samuel Logan Brengle, holiness is “pure love.” According to Samuel Lucas, “The essence of true holiness consists in conformity to the nature and will of God.” Stated another way, holiness is becoming like Jesus in thought, word, and deed, in heart, mind, and conduct. Holiness is something beautiful and wonderful!
God is holy, and so His very being reflects the perfection of righteousness and goodness and purity and wholesomeness and compassion and mercy and justice. As expressed by Ralph Finlayson, “The sum of all God’s attributes, the outshining of all that God is, is holiness” – and we are called to emulate that holiness. As is it written in 1 Pet 1:15 (quoting Lev 19:2), “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”
To be holy is to be separated from sin and to be separated to God, which means to be separated from that which is bad and destructive and evil and unclean and polluting and to be separated to that which is like the Lord. Sin is spiritual poison; holiness is spiritual health. As William Jenkyn explained, “There is nothing destroyed by sanctification but that which would destroy us.” In short, everything holy is good; nothing unholy is good. Everything unholy is bad; nothing holy is bad.
And yet there’s more: Holiness is our goal, our destiny, our portion. It expresses the very essence of the nature and character of God and describes the highest level of spirituality attainable by man. Listen to the testimony of the Word:
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Eph 1:4). “Husbands, love your wives, just as Messiah loved the congregation [or, church] and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant congregation [or, church], without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph 5:25-27).
That’s why Joseph Caryl could say, “Perfect holiness is the aim of the saints on earth, and it is the reward of the saints in heaven.” Or, as expressed by John Whitlock, “. . . the Christian’s . . . way is holiness, his end happiness.” Oswald Chambers understood this too, stating that “God has one destined end for mankind – holiness! His one aim is the production of saints. God is not an eternal blessing-machine for men. He did not come to save men out of pity. He came to save men because He had created them to be holy.”
William Gurnall was therefore entirely right when he wrote, “Say not that thou hast royal blood in thy veins, and art born of God, except thou canst prove thy pedigree by daring to be holy.” (You might want to stop for a moment and read that again. What a godly challenge!)
Why then do many believers resist holiness? One major reason is that many of them have been hurt by legalism, and so they immediately associate holiness with legalism.
What then is legalism? Legalism is rules without relationship, emphasizing standards more than the Savior and laws more than love. It is a system based on fear and characterized by joyless judgmentalism, producing futility instead of freedom.
To an unsaved person the legalist preaches justification by works, saying, “You’re a wicked sinner and you need to get rid of all your filthy habits if you want the Lord to accept you.” There is no grace in this message, no exalting of the life-changing, sin-cleansing power of the blood of Jesus, no clear proclamation of mercy.
The declaration of God’s love expressed through the cross is muffled – if it is even heard at all. Consequently, the proof of the new birth is seen almost entirely in what someone no longer does, and this continues to be the pattern for believers within the church: They are judged almost entirely by a few external standards (which, in many cases, are not even expressly mentioned in the Word) and they are monitored by conformity to the particular group’s code of conduct. And the result is external conformity rather than inward transformation – and that means either self-righteousness of self-condemnation (or both!).
Of course, it is absolutely true that God has very high standards, and for anyone honestly reading the Word, there can be no doubt that He calls us to live by very high standards – in our thoughts, words, and deeds; in our attitudes; in our sexuality; in our families; in our relationships; and much, much more. Passages like this are common in the New Testament:
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph 5:1-6).
Tragically, legalists, despite their best intentions, get things tragically wrong. First, they try to change a person from the outside in (whereas God deals with us from the inside out); second, they fail to present a balanced picture of the Lord, putting too little stress on His mercy and too much emphasis on His wrath; third, they do not point the struggling sinner (or believer) to the Lord’s supernatural empowerment, making holiness a matter of human effort alone; and fourth, they add laws, standards, commandments, customs, and traditions that are not found in the Word, making those things even more important than the biblical commandments themselves.
In contrast, true, scriptural holiness begins with the heart and flows from an encounter with God and His Word. It calls for repentance in response to the Lord’s gracious offer of salvation and it offers a way to be holy – the blood of Jesus and the Spirit of God. Biblical holiness is free, although it requires discipline and perseverance. For the legalist, nothing is free. Everything must be earned! That’s why legalism leads to bondage and holiness leads to liberty.
As Ralph Cudworth explained many years ago, “I do not mean by holiness the mere performance of outward duties of religion, coldly acted over, as a task; not our habitual prayings, hearings, fastings, multiplied one upon another (though these be all good, as subservient to a higher end); but I mean an inward soul and principle of divine life (Romans 8:1-5), that spiriteth all these.”
It is that inward spiritual principle that must be cultivated, the principle of intimacy with Jesus, the principle of being renewed in our minds by His Word and Spirit, the principle of being conformed to His image and character, hating what He hates and loving what He loves. As Dr. Kent Hughes expressed in his book Disciplines of a Godly Man, “There is a universe of difference between the motivations behind legalism and discipline. Legalism says, ‘I will do this thing to gain merit with God,’ while discipline says, “I will do this because I love God and want to please him.’ Legalism is man-centered; discipline is God-centered.”
To quote Oswald Chambers again, “A bird flies persistently and easily because the air is its domain and its world. A legal Christian is one who is trying to live in a rarer world than is natural to him. Our Lord said, ‘If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed,’ i.e., free from the inside, born from above, lifted into another world where there is no strenuous effort to live in a world not natural to us, but where we can soar continually higher and higher because we are in the natural domain of spiritual life.”
Unfortunately, the moment you preach biblical holiness, many Christians put their hands over their ears and say, “That’s legalism! That’s condemnation! That’s manmade religion! That’s the dead letter of the law! You won’t put me in bondage! I won’t listen to stuff like that!” As Robert Brimstead observed, “The idea of living strictly by what the Bible says has been branded as legalism.”
And so, these Christians run from the dangerous clutches of legalism and fall into the deadly grasp of license, that self-deceived state of fleshly liberty, catering to their carnality rather than crucifying it. What a terrible error!
Whatever comes naturally to these “liberated” believers is accepted as normal (and “understood,” of course, by the Lord), while biblical commandments are brought down to the level of their own experience, and anything that brings any kind of spiritual pressure to bear on them is rejected as not being the easy yoke and light burden of Jesus. And when the Holy Spirit brings conviction on people like this, they rebuke the devil for trying to condemn them – ultimately at the expense of their own souls.
To quote Oswald Chambers yet again, “The only liberty a saint has is the liberty not to use his liberty. . . . Liberty means ability not to violate the law; license means personal insistence on doing what I like. . . . To be free from the law means that I am the living law of God, there is no independence of God in my make-up. License is rebellion against all law. If my heart does not become the centre of Divine love, it may become the center of diabolical license.”
What then is the antidote? Flee from legalism, stay far away from license, and run to holiness; reject humanly birthed, external religion, give no place to false teaching that excuses carnality, and instead embrace new covenant, heart transformation — and in the power of the Spirit, supernaturally enabled by God’s grace, deal ruthlessly with sin in your life. That is the path to freedom!
Sin is so utterly awful that only the blood of Jesus could pay for it (1 Pet 1:16-19). We dare not trivialize sin in our lives.
In closing, let me bathe you with the truth of God’s liberating Word. (Yes, I know that this has been a long article, but I think you’ll agree that the subject is quite important – really, the difference between life and death.) Listen to the Word of the Lord!
“Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God” (Rom 6:12-13, NLT).
“Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires” (Rom 13:13-14, NLT).
“Because we have these promises [of being sons and daughters of God], dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God” (2 Cor 7:1, NLT).
“For you remember what we taught you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. . . . God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thes 4:2, 7-8, NLT).
“Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation” (Ps 24:3-5, ESV).
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8).
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matt 5:29-30, ESV)
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14, ESV).
“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21, ESV).
What a wonderful Savior!
For more information on holiness and legalism, see Dr. Brown’s mp3 series Go and Sin No More, available at the AskDrBrown Online Bookstore by clicking here.
Go and Sin No More
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: change, discipline, holiness, judgmentalism, legalism, liberty, New Testament, Oswald Chambers, purity, Ralph Cudworth, Samuel Lucas, sanctification, sin