Ever had (or been) a child who used the, “It’s a free country” defense? This is a pretty standard argument (at least in my country), which suggests that parental instruction (whether specifically, or in general) doesn’t have to be followed because of the freedoms granted to citizens of the USA.
Of course, parents know better. They know that freedom in a democracy is freedom to live as a good citizen. In some sense, anyone here is “free” to steal money from a bank, but by doing so, he or she should absolutely expect to be caught, tried, and jailed for this criminal act. We are “free” to lie to the Internal Revenue Service, but the combination of penalties and interest that results from this “freedom” are sobering. In the same way, a teen may be “free” to come home after curfew, with the perfectly legitimate consequences of losing driving privileges (for instance). However, I don’t think that is the sort of freedom under which our country was founded.
Personally, I find the study of Christian freedom interesting, and – while it still includes a level of responsibility for each of us – I have found it to be extremely liberating. While the Law of the previous covenant was based on rules, following Jesus means that we don’t have to check a bunch of boxes in order to earn God’s forgiveness.
So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
John 8:36 NASB
However, when we are “free indeed”, I wonder if we are “free in deed”? Do the actions of those of us who follow Jesus actually demonstrate the freedom that He provides?
This can take a couple of forms:
Do we live as free, or do we keep living as those under the law?
The Old Testament outlined the Law: God’s specific instructions for His chosen people. In my opinion, the Law both, 1) showed God’s people what righteousness looked like (meaning that the definition of right and wrong applied to all people), and 2) provided distinctions to set them apart as a special group (meaning that some prescriptions were meant to show His people – and those around them – what it looked like to be a special people, set apart by God).
Then, when Jesus came, He taught us two things:
- Righteousness is not just a matter of keeping the law, but is rooted in our hearts (see Matthew chapters 5 through 7 for examples). Doing good comes from having our hearts changed for the better, not the other way around (see Luke 6:45, Mark 7:20-22).
- In our fallen state, there’s just no way we can do all of these things good enough to live up to the standard for which we were created (see Romans 3:23, although this verse means even more if you take the time to read the context around it).
So, Jesus paid for all of our bad choices – our rebellion and selfish decisions – so that we no longer had to worry about the eternal consequences of those bad choices, nor about breaking a rule that we might have missed. He called people to follow Him, rather than to follow the Law (since He fulfilled the Law for us).
And, the result is much, much easier than trying to keep up with rules. Right and wrong still exist, and followers of Jesus are absolutely expected to strive to do the right thing, but the massively un-carryable burden of the Law was lifted off of our shoulders.
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1 NASB
Still, when we make extra rules (whether for ourselves or for others) to try and prevent sin, we add burdens to the relatively simple1 principles that Jesus taught. Yes, when we obey Him, and listen to the Holy Spirit that Jesus sent to help us, we are expected to sin less, with a goal of not sinning at all. But, we don’t follow rules in order to try and curry God’s favor or keep ourselves in a good relationship with Him. We obey Jesus because we love Him (John 14:15), and because we want to love others like He loved us (see Matthew 22:36-40).
To paraphrase a comment I heard from a pastor some years ago, “When we follow Jesus, we don’t have to live a life of righteousness. We get to live a life of righteousness.” That’s a bit of an oversimplification on my part, since the fruit of aligning ourselves with Jesus should be evident; however, it is meant to put our following of Jesus into perspective with regards to the source of our salvation.
May we not remain bound to the process, penalty, and paranoia of the Law (once we are free from it). If we have been freed from the Law’s power, let us focus on living a life of righteousness in freedom, not just trying to check a bunch of boxes and follow a lot of human-generated rules that have been added to God’s instructions over the centuries.
In the second part of this series, let’s consider another question about living in freedom, “Do we live as free, or do we keep serving sin?”.
- By “simple” principles, I mean that the concepts are simple (love God, love your neighbor, etc.). As a human being, fully living them out is a lifelong pursuit (challenge?) for even the most devoted follower of Jesus. ↩