We often hear Christians use the phrase freedom in Christ, but not to speak of the freedoms we have examined thus far: the freedom from having to obey man-made laws and the freedom from the ill effects of each other’s sins. Instead, they refer to either freedom from sin or freedom from the law. That’s because the word freedom is most often used in the New Testament to describe these aspects of the Christian life. Using the Every-Verse Method, let’s examine the concept of freedom (sometimes translated as “liberty”) in Christ as it occurs throughout the New Testament.
Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my load is light.”
Context: This quote appears to be unrelated to the preceding passage directed toward unrepentant cities or to the Sabbath day issues which follow.
Analysis: Just as the burdens imposed by the Pharisees were not physical but spiritual, the rest which Jesus promises is spiritual as well. He is not offering freedom from manual labor, nor is He promising rest in heaven. His easy yoke is one which is free of man-made religious rules.
Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden.”
Context: Jesus opens a speech in a synagogue with a quote from Isaiah, the prophet, and uses this verse to speak of Himself as He says, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Analysis: “To set free those who are downtrodden” cannot refer to monetary oppression or slavery, since Jesus’ ministry was not an economic one. When an economically impoverished person becomes a Christian, their poverty does not disappear. The freedom here has to be spiritual.
John 8:31-36, “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. If, therefore, the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.’”
Context: Jesus addresses Jews who had not believed Him and who questioned how He could make them free when they had never been slaves.
Analysis: This is the first Bible verse in which Jesus speaks of freedom from sin. God’s rules are not only for the sake of those we may hurt, but some are for our own good, as well. We all know the destructive power of addictions, but other sins, like pride, vengeance, and overall selfishness also diminish our freedom. In Christ, we are free from being controlled by sin, because we are now controlled by the Holy Spirit, who we receive as believers in Jesus.
Acts 15:28-29, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourself free from these things, you will do well.”
Context: As the Apostles meet at the Council of Jerusalem, they decide to avoid laying unnecessary burdens upon the Gentile (non-Jewish) converts. The greatest of these is circumcision, which had been required for the Jews since the days of Abraham.
Analysis: Here the Holy Spirit frees the Gentile converts from pointless man-made rules, and He even frees them from having to be circumcised, as the Old Testament required. The only acts forbidden in this quote were the worship service rituals of the Greco-Roman religion from which the Gentile believers had converted. The Gentile Christians were given this freedom for the sake of growing the church. Had circumcision been required, Christianity may not have spread as successfully as it did throughout the Roman Empire.
Romans 6:7, “…for he who has died is free from sin.”
Romans 6:18, “And having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”
Romans 6:22, “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.”
Context: The Apostle Paul describes how Christians are to die to sin and live for Christ.
Analysis: A few verses later, in verse 14, Paul summarizes by stating, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.” Sin is not to control us. God is.
Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”
Context: The Apostle Paul explains the difference between being under the law and under control of the flesh, versus living life through the Holy Spirit and through the grace of Christ.
Analysis: This is the first Bible verse that speaks of freedom from the law. We are free from having to live up to the impossible standards of the Old Testament law, which no person can perfectly obey. Therefore, we are justified by believing in Jesus rather than by earning points before God through obedience to the law.
1 Corinthians 8:9, “But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”
Context: Paul addresses a church controversy regarding the eating of meat that had been offered in sacrificial ceremonies to Roman or Greek gods.
Analysis: This verse implies that Paul (and perhaps other Apostles) had been preaching a message of freedom from man-made rules. This freedom was apparently extended to defy the command in Acts 15:28-29 (see above) to abstain from meat that had been sacrificed to idols. A problem resulted, which I will explore in the Alcohol study.
1 Corinthians 10:28-30, “But if anyone should say to you, ‘This meat is sacrificed to idols,’ do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s, for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?”
Context: Once again, Paul discusses meat offered to idols.
Analysis: Apparently, some Christians were slandering others who ate meat that had been offered to idols. Paul argues that nobody has the right to pass judgment on another person’s freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:15-17, “But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
Context: Paul again compares the letter of the law given through Moses in the Old Testament to the grace of the new covenant given through Jesus Christ.
Analysis: The liberty to which Paul refers is our freedom from having to live or die by the letter of the Mosaic Law, now that we are covered by Christ’s sacrifice and the grace that goes with it.
Galatians 2:4, “But it was because of the false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.”
Context: Paul describes his involvement in the council at Jerusalem in which the Apostles decided that Gentile (non-Jewish) converts could remain uncircumcised upon becoming Christians.
Analysis: The liberty to which Paul refers is the freedom from the ritual of circumcision that had subjected the Jews to the letter of the Old Testament law. Under Christ, this ritual no longer needed to be followed, because Jesus brought about a new covenant, the sign of which was baptism rather than circumcision.
Galatians 5:1, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”
Context: Paul continues to address the circumcision issue.
Analysis: Paul promotes freedom as a central theme in Christianity. It’s one of the main reasons Christ came to earth. According to this verse, Christ not only set us free, but He came to earth with the intent to do so. He set us free for no other reason than that God desires to us to be free. Thanks to this freedom, we no longer need to obsess over every little possibility that we might sin. The Old Testament law still applies to us (“How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Romans 6:2), but we no longer have to be perfect in it to be saved from God’s wrath on Judgment Day. The Jews, who were under the burden of the Old Testament law, had to worry over such things. That’s why the Pharisees added so many man-made rules to God’s law. But we are free from the bondage of the man-made rules, thanks to Jesus.
James 1:25, “But the one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become an effectual hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does.”
Context: James calls Christians to perform God’s will and not merely listen to good preaching.
Analysis: The “perfect law, the law of liberty” is consistent with Paul’s theology of being free from the law through Christ.
Hebrews 2:14-15, “Since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver [‘free’ in the NRSV] those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all of their lives.”
Context: The writer explains how Jesus was rendered lower than angels by coming to earth and then became our high priest, “to make propitiation for the sins of the people [verse 17].”
Analysis: What does it mean to be “subject to slavery” due to “fear of death?” Since everybody on earth dies sooner or later, this verse cannot address death on earth. It can only address eternal death. How are we then “subject to slavery” by fearing eternal death? We are enslaved by barely being able to move without chancing sin. James 2:10 says, “Whoever keeps the whole law yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” And we know from Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death.” So if committing one sin leads to eternal death, then anyone aspiring to eternal life must be paralyzed with fear, knowing that they can’t screw up even once. But thanks to Jesus bearing that punishment for us through His death on the cross, our sins no longer bring about eternal death if we believe in Him. Since that is the case, we no longer have to fear sin and no longer have to follow man-made rules designed to keep us from sin.
1 Peter 2:16, “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.”
Context: Peter urges Christians to submit to the authority of the government and to others who hold earthly authority over them.
Analysis: Even though Christians are free from man-made religious rules, they are still to obey the government and other earthly authority in order to set a good example.