Is Freedom a Myth?

Freedom has always been an interesting concept to me. When thinking about physical freedom, people have measured it in three ways: positive, negative, and republican. Positive freedom is the freedom I have to do what I am capable of. I can eat and I can sleep and I can read. I cannot breathe underwater unaided. I cannot teleport myself to wherever I desire to go. I cannot have all knowledge. So, I do not have absolute positive freedom.

Negative freedom is the freedom to act without being hindered by other free-acting individuals. I have the freedom to practice religion and I have to freedom to speak my mind. I do not have the freedom to take everything that I want or to murder. If I did, then someone else would necessarily lose his or her negative freedom. So, I do not have absolute negative freedom. In fact, absolute negative freedom is impossible.

Republican freedom is non-dominance. It is the idea that a state is free to exercise without being dominated by another state. The United States has republican freedom in that it is not dominated by other nations. It does not have republican freedom in that it is subject to treaties and trade agreements. As long as more than one nation exists, absolute republican freedom is impossible for the same reason absolute negative freedom is impossible.

Even though absolute freedom is impossible, we pursue it. For freedom’s sake, there was a Revolutionary War and a Civil War. For freedom’s sake, the Declaration of Independence was signed. For freedom’s sake, we see all sorts of protest and riot. We celebrate our freedom by purchasing regulated fireworks with state-regulated currency. Does anyone else sense the irony?

As people, we have a strong desire for absolute freedom even though absolute freedom measured any of these ways is an impossibility. Why do we have such a strong desire for freedom? Is there actually a way for us to be absolutely free?

In making his argument regarding faith as a gift and what we refer to as imputed righteousness by grace alone, Paul made the statement, “But where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more” (Romans 5:20b). So, he also asks the next logical question:

Romans 6:1-14

What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life. For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin’s claims. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him, because we know that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again. Death no longer rules over Him. For in light of the fact that He died, He died to sin once for all; but in light of the fact that He lives, He lives to God. So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness. For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace.

Sin’s dominion

So, we know that the grace of God is no excuse to live in sin. On the contrary, it gives us every reason to strive to live in God’s righteousness, which is imputed to God’s chosen people. As people, we have an amazing tendency to test boundaries. As a child, I was always trying to see how close I could get to breaking my parents’ rules without actually breaking them. We picture the sister who places her finger millimeters from her brother’s face and says, “I’m not touching you,” while grinning mischievously. Adults are the same. We are always pushing moral boundaries and questioning the law of our land. As an example, I might consider briefly the history of television. In 1930, the first television drama, The Man With a Flower in His Mouth, aired while a law was being signed by Congress that forbade all profanity in films. In 1939, the first curse word was spoken audibly on the television screen in Gone With the Wind. In 1960, fines are introduced for those who air “obscene, indecent, or profane language.”  Profanity was still used and between 2005 and 2010, the use of profanity increased by seventy percent. We really love to push boundaries. Profanity isn’t the only indication. With streaming services, now, television continues on this path. Virtually everything produced by Netflix can be described as pornography and recently Netflix is under fire for including a movie containing child pornography. We are boundary pushers.

This is more evidence that we are not free. If we ask the question, “Shouldn’t we continue in sin so that grace may multiply,” then we prove that we are not free. There is something that has dominion over us. Verse six even states that one of the outcomes of Salvation, the receiving of faith as a gift and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, is so that we would be set free from sin. Why does sin have dominion? Where does sin’s dominion come from?

“But now we have been released from the law, since we have died to what held us, so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old letter of the law.

What should we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin if it were not for the law.For example, I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, Do not covet. And sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind. For apart from the law sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. The commandment that was meant for life resulted in death for me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.

Therefore, did what is good cause my death? Absolutely not! On the contrary, sin, in order to be recognized as sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that through the commandment, sin might become sinful beyond measure” (Romans 7:6-13).

It should be clear for us. God hasn’t held anything back. He wants us to understand. The Law was given by God. Through the Law, I become sinful because of my unrighteousness. Apart from the Law, sin is dead. Two weeks ago, we even read that where there is no Law sin is not credited to a person’s account. Instead of letting sin fulfill its purpose, bringing me to repentance and life in God’s righteousness, because He is the only one who is righteous, I became a slave to sin. What God gave to be good, the Law which brought sin, I twisted and became a slave. According to Paul, it is good to know sin, not to be a slave to it. The reason it is good for us to know sin is because it causes us to realize our insufficiency and our shortfallenness, our need for the gift of faith and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness by grace.

I am a slave to sin.

Christ’s freedom

When we arrive in verse seven of chapter six, we read that Christ has freed us from sin. In our unrighteousness, we not only sinned but became slaves to sin. Christ, by the gifting of faith and the imputing of His own righteousness actually frees His people from sin.

What does it mean that we would be free from sin? Sin is this thing that has power in our lives. Paul has even described us as being slaves to it and it having dominion over us. Then Paul writes that those who have died with Christ are freed from sin. We can think in terms of Paul’s argument thus far in his letter to the Romans. He has made the claim already that people cannot be righteous. People are unrighteous. Unrighteousness is likened to people’s self-righteousness. What Christ does in salvation is gift faith, giving the person eyes to see and ears to hear. He also imputes His righteousness so that we are no longer measured or bound by our self-righteousness, but arrested and seen in the very righteousness of Christ. It is by our self-righteousness that we have broken the good Law and sinned. It is by that same self-righteousness that we become slaves to sin.

Sin, then, has power over us because we are unrighteous. When we try to break away from our own sin, we do so by our own work and prove that we are truly slaves to that sin. Christ comes and frees us from this slavery, a slavery that we cannot escape or outrun and that always gets the best of us because we are unrighteous.

I hope we heard this rightly. Christ does not simply free us from the consequence of sin. He frees us from our bondage under sin. We are not only free of the consequence. We are free from the power of sin in our lives! This is awesome! It is awe-inspiring.

Christ frees me from sin.

Living as free people

I see you reading. That is not quite the reaction I was hoping for. You should have dropped your device and uncontrollably jumped up and down due to the sheer excitement of what I have just written. Let’s bring this concept to life. For a moment, please imagine a circle drawn around you.

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The circle’s border represents the Law that God has given. To keep the Law is to remain inside the circle. To break the Law is to step outside the circle. We have discovered that God’s purpose for the Law is to increase the trespass or, according to Romans 7, to cause us to know our sin because it reveals our unrighteousness. We are under the Law. There are those who see religion or righteousness as us trying to stay in this circle. This is called legalism and can be reflected in traditionalism (things need to stay the way they are because the way we have done things is the right way to do things) and in Conservatism (morality must be defined according to tradition). Trying to stay in the circle assumes that we can be found righteous or somehow become righteous. Paul has already made the argument that this is impossible. We are unrighteous people. The Law has revealed that unrighteousness.

On the other side, there are those who take advantage of God’s grace and try to redraw the line. The Law to them is obsolete. Boundaries are to be purposefully pushed. In order to push boundaries, our attention has to be on those boundaries. New boundaries are attempted. We are still proving our unrighteousness and sin is still ruling over us.

God gave the Law for this purpose: that we would be exposed for who we are. After the Law accomplished its purpose, Christ came and fulfilled the Law in imputing His righteousness to His people. Those who receive the righteousness of Christ are no longer under the Law, but under grace. God has done all of this to lead us into His grace!

This paradigm has served and serves its purpose. For those who are in Christ, we see something different:

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These categories have all disappeared. The Law is not done away with (Matthew 5:17). We are the ones who have been changed! If faith is a gift and righteousness is imputed, then I am free. I am free from legalism. I am free from thinking that I can now somehow get away with sin. Those terms don’t make sense to me anymore. I am no longer under the Law! In fact, I am no longer measured by the Law because it has served its purpose. I have received Christ’s righteousness! There is no condemnation, ever, for those who are in Christ! Because I am in Christ, my desire is to please Him. I am no longer legalistic. I am no longer a boundary pusher. Be sure not to read something that is not here. Don’t assume that I have said that anything goes. If I have been brought into Christ, my attention is no longer on trying to perfectly keep the Law. My attention is on Christ and nothing else will do.

This is freedom like we can never experience by the methods of the world. No government, no religion, no set of religious texts, no relationship, nothing can offer freedom like this. Our desire for freedom is satisfied only in the person of Christ!

There are those who say that religion has too many rules and there is no way they can keep those rules, so why even try? The goal of the Law is to prove that very point. In Christ we are no longer under the Law. The organized church in our day has gotten really good at worshipping rules and traditions and methods. That’s idolatry. In that we live as slaves to the Law. We are no longer under the Law. Overtly religious people are really good at making things way more complicated than they need to be. The Christian faith is so simple. We are unrighteous. Christ imputes His righteousness so that we can have life.

If God’s rules were given to show our unrighteousness and our need for Him, then we cannot rightly expect others to keep those rules or the extra rules that we have invented as we have drawn new boundaries. That is why it is so important for us to understand both faith and righteousness- without understanding these things, the people in the organized church become like the Pharisees. There is a reason Paul wrote:

“If you died with the Messiah to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations: ‘Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch’? All these regulations refer to what is destroyed by being used up; they are commands and doctrines of men. Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence.

So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God. When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Colossians 2:20-3:4).

If we are no longer under the Law but under grace, there are huge implications for the way that we operate as local churches. There are huge implications as we manage our households. This means something as we live and as we relate to others. We can breathe. What kind of grace is this? All of the sudden it means something more profound when we think about seeking things that are above rather than things that are below. Keeping our eyes fixed on Christ, nothing less, let us live by the faith God has gracefully given us.

“He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As usual, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him, and unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written:

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 to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to set free the oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled’” (Luke 4:16-21).

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