I find myself navigating a particular problem; I am naturally opposed to freedom. And based on the testimony of countless others, I’m not alone. This problem, though common, is peculiar because logic dictates it shouldn’t be something we struggle with at all. It’s a paradox that becomes even stranger when we realize the more determined we are to remedy this thorn, the more painful it becomes.
I’m confused because fighting freedom seems to contradict all dimensions of rational thought. That’s my problem; as a Christian, I know I'm free (Galatians 5:1), but I often act as though I'm not. Such a struggle seems completely irrational. Every man wants freedom, no? Every woman wants freedom, does she not? So why do we resist liberty before we have it and neglect it after we receive it?
Before we continue, we must clarify that we are not, of course, describing the freedom that men have fought and died for. Neither are we going to fall into the trap of the world that thinks “freedom” is the ability to do whatever one wants. That’s not freedom at all. A child who is allowed to do anything isn't free, but abused.
Instead, we are concerned about a much more fundamental liberty. It is something so powerful that not even the strongest emperor can take it away. The human is two separate entities, body and spirit, married as one. In a perfect life, the two live in harmony and complement each other. What my spirit would want to do, my body would want to do as well. My difficulty as a Christian is that my body and spirit are not acting as one. My spirit, alive in Christ, wants to do one thing, my body, still dead in sin, wants to do the opposite.
It feels like the two are locked in combat, engaged in perpetual civil war, and it frequently seems impossible to do what I want to do, leading to my cry that I’m still a slave to sin. I might want to tell the truth, but in a moment of weakness, my body gains control over the man, Tanner, and instead, I lie. Even the most elementary logic would conclude we should want rescue from this pain. Sin leaves us (hopefully) in anguish; who wouldn’t want to be free of it?
Our Lord Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, died on a cross as a substitute to God for our sin, and was raised to life three days later to guarantee the believer’s eternal salvation and eventual resurrection. Christ endured all of these things in the name of our freedom (Galatians 5:1), but freedom from what exactly?
Subsequent to our first disobedience and disgrace from the Garden of Eden, we handed ourselves over to sin and pledged to become its slave. Because we’re descended from Adam, now we’re naturally slaves to sin, captured and bound by an overwhelming desire to abstain from even the slightest influence of God. It’s a terrible disease that forces us to suffer through our own dehumanization. We were not created to endure something so carnal, barbaric, and contrary to our nature as sin. We were designed for much more than that— to serve God.
As already mentioned, the only key to unlocking our freedom from this sinful dungeon is the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. Only by believing in Him and his atonement can we be saved and set free from evil. As a Christian who puts his entire faith in Christ and His payment for my sin, I should be confident that I am freed from the penalty of sin (death). I should therefore live as a free man.
So then why do I still live as though I’m slave to sin? Why is it that I want to do good and yet do bad? Quite simply, it’s my nature, and it won’t be changed until Heaven. This present struggle is most clearly demonstrated when I live by the Law. That is, in weakness, I begin acting like a Non-Christian:
Before I was a Christian, I tried to do “good” and be a “good person” by upholding the Law (The Ten Commandments, etc.). The level of adherence I thought I achieved determined how good I thought I was. I was slave to the Law—it was a harsh taskmaster that forced me to uphold its values with the (futile) hope that I would be saved under my own power.
Now, as a Christian, I realize the Law cannot save. Its purpose is to tell me I’m a sinner. It shows me where I’ve violated God’s standard of righteousness. Thus, I rely on Jesus for salvation.
Putting my faith in Christ, I depend on Him to make me good by washing me clean of sin.
Though I know faith in Christ saves me, sometimes I revert and depend on the Law for salvation. My spirit tells me to trust in Christ; my body tells me to trust in myself.
When I live by the Law, I act as though I am slave to the Law once again. I try to find favour in God’s eyes by keeping the Law. As a consequence, I do not experience the freedom from the Law granted by Christ. This leads to my suffering as I fail to uphold perfection.
What’s the solution? Our earlier statement must be redacted. I said that I, along with countless other Christians, “often feel like walking civil wars.” And in one sense, that’s true. If a man could see the Christian’s spirit and body, he would witness a terrific battle raging within. But in another sense, it’s false. The war is already won. It might be that my flesh struggles against my spirit, but God only sees my righteousness in Christ Jesus. That’s the secret; we are already fully free in Christ (Romans 8:1-4). Our mistake is believing the flesh to be so powerful that one foul-up will rip us away from Christ until we earn our position as a child of God back. Yet a child is not a child by virtue of his actions, but as a product of his creation (Ephesians 1:4-5).
I could drink a gallon of alcohol every day for the rest of my life, live in a perpetual state of drunken stupor, and still be as righteous as Moses or Paul (Galatians 3:2-6). In fact, it might be that without Christ, I would drink two gallons every day. The point being, my actions do not save me; Christ does (Galatians 2:15-21). Does this give reason to sin? Of course not (Romans 6:1-12). God isn’t mocked (Galatians 6:7), and the Christian hates sin (Romans 7). Our earnest hope is to mortify sin entirely, but we cannot go about it by trying to procure righteousness from within the self. On the contrary, the wondrous thing about being saved by Christ is that it alleviates all pressure to be perfect according to the Law. The Christian is fully free. His debt to God has been paid, and the way to stop sinning is to realize we don’t have to.
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