“When the Son sets you free you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). It’s one of the central tenets of our faith. Jesus came to set the captives free. But what does it mean to be free? What are we free from, free for?
The bible speaks of our freedom in a number of ways. Among the most significant things from which Christ has set us free are Satan, sin, the law as a covenant and the commandments of man.
Our freedom is something we sing about and exhort others to embrace and enjoy. We understand how that freedom came about but we don’t often talk about what that freedom looks like.
Freedom from Satan
Unbelief has a father, the devil (John 8:44).
We were once under his roof, but not anymore. Jesus has bound and plundered this strong man.
Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. (Matthew 12:29)
The devil can lie to you and accuse you. But he cannot condemn you. He is a defeated foe and his house has been plundered.
His accusations hold no weight because, as we shall see, he can only bring his accusations into the courts of law, not the courts of mercy. And, having been justified by God through faith, we no longer attend hearings held in the courts of law.
Freedom from Sin
Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are now free from sin’s dominion and sin’s condemnation.
According to Paul in Romans 6:5-7, you died. Therefore, sin can longer have dominion over you; no longer have a controlling influence over your life.
Augustine says that man outside of Christ neither fights for or against sin. He just goes about sinning. Under the law, he fights and is defeated. But under the gospel, he fights and wins.
Before Christ came to rule and reign in our hearts, we were under sin’s dominion. Now, we are at war with sin. We are no longer slaves of sin but soldiers equipped to fight.
Not only are we rescued through the gospel from sin’s dominion, but we are also delivered from its condemnation. Sin cannot condemn you.
Here is the good news of the gospel. If Christ bore your sins, you bear them no more (1 Peter 2:24). If they were condemned in the body of Jesus, they cannot condemn you. (Romans 8:33-34)
We hate the poisonous snake, but we take pity on the man who has been bitten. Likewise, God hates sin, but takes pity on those who have been bitten and forgives all our iniquities.
Freedom from the Law
Fatherhood is inescapable. We all have a father and in the gospel, God becomes our Father. We also have a mother, and in Galatians we get to meet her.
Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. (Galatians 4:25-26)
The law in Galatians is described in two senses. In Galatians 4:21, 24 it is a covenant and in Galatians 5:14, a rule for life. It’s important to know which one is being spoken of, especially when reading Romans and other New Testament letters.
Here, our freedom from the law relates to the law as a covenant: A covenant of life and death.
See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. …I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)
In Romans 6 it was we who died and whose life is now hid with Christ. In Romans 7, the law is depicted as a husband, one who rules over us in marriage, and it is he who dies so that we are free from his obligations and his penalties.
The Jews in Galatia were insisting that the believers all turn up to the courts of the law and present their circumcised selves for approval. But as Paul reiterates in Galatians 3:10, “…all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
This is what the law as a covenant of life demands of those who live under it. Perfect obedience or severe penalties. Those who seek life from the law will be judged by the law.
Samuel Bolton (a 17th century Puritan) says concerning this law, that a man only ever makes an appeal to a higher court after he has been condemned in a lower court.
This is the way it is for us. Unless a man is convicted and condemned in the courts of the law for his sin, he has no reason to appeal to a higher court—the courts of mercy.
The publican in Luke 18:9-14 understood this. While the Pharisee appealed to the courts of the law for his vindication, the publican, seeing himself condemned by the law, appealed to the courts of mercy and found grace and justification there.
Such a man can no longer be condemned by the law. Such a man is not under the law but under grace. For him, the law is still a rule for life (Galatians 5:14), but He is no longer under the law as a covenant of life and death.
He is no longer in the courts of the law and so the law cannot condemn him.
Freedom from Slavery to Man
Finally, the man who has Christ as His Lord is free from the doctrines and commandments of men. In Matthew 23:8-10 we read.
But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ.
The first point is that you and I are not the masters of men. Christ is our Master and we are all brothers. The second point is that we are not to be mastered by men, and so Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7:23, “You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.”
This does not mean we do not have earthly masters to whom we should render honour and obedience. Paul says in Ephesians 6:5, “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.”
But when Paul says not to become the bondservants of men, he means that we are to remain free from the doctrines and commandments of men in all matters touching the life of faith and worship.
God alone is Lord over the conscience and He alone determines our approach to the throne of grace.
For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1)
Freedom from Satan’s power to overthrow our faith or destroy. Freedom from sin’s dominion. Freedom from the law’s condemnation and, Freedom from the doctrines and commandments of men.
In these things says Paul, stand firm. Don’t let yourself be robbed of any of these glorious, blood-bought freedoms that Christ has secured for you through His own death and resurrection.