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The Struggle for Freedom
Four months ago, Sam Morris, twenty-three, was a militant atheist. He associated himself with the teachings of Richard Dawkins and other fervent opponents of faith and religion. One evening, he went online and discovered that an Alpha Course was about to start within easy access of his home, which brought him to our London church. He turned up thinking, 'I'm going to take down a few irrational Christians here.'
But his encounter with the teachings and person of Jesus Christ was not what he expected.
On his questionnaire at the end of the course, he wrote, 'I found the draw of Jesus irresistible and have gone from [being] someone with no faith to someone with an immense hope. To live in a state of non-truth to living in truth is, to me, the difference between being bound to complete freedom.'
Six weeks ago, he was baptised. He told me, ‘I'm free of my previous life. I was a slave to a lot of things. I was a slave to society, a slave to my peers ... But now I'm free to live my life. I'm excited to see what God's got in store for me.’
Salvation means freedom. Sam had an experience of how Jesus Christ sets us free. St Paul writes in Galatians, ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free’ (Galatians 5:1). Jesus has set us free from sin, guilt, addiction and fear.
Our freedom was won at a great cost. Jesus ‘gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age’ (Galatians 1:4). Galatians was written against a background where the freedom of the gospel was under threat. It is one of Paul’s earliest letters, possibly written as early as AD 48. Paul is burning with indignation because the freedom of the gospel is under threat. Freedom is hard won and easily lost.
The struggle for freedom, and for the freedom of the gospel, has continued throughout history. As with so many of the great New Testament themes, it is also foreshadowed in the Old Testament.
1. Know freedom from the pastPsalm 107:10-22
The psalmist continues to give thanks to God for the many times he has saved his people when they have cried out to him in their trouble (vv.13,19). Each time, he set them free.
In this section we see two examples:
- Freedom from chains of sin
Here we see the people sitting in ‘deepest gloom’, prisoners suffering in iron chains (v.10). ‘When they cried out to the Lord in their trouble he saved them from their distress’ (v.13).
‘He led you out of your dark, dark cell,
broke open the jail and led you out ...
He shattered the heavy jailhouse doors,
he snapped the prison bars like matchsticks!’
Often what happened to people physically in the Old Testament is a picture of what happens to us spiritually in the New Testament.
Sin leads to darkness and deepest gloom. It is addictive. It chains our hearts. On the cross, Jesus rescued us. He broke the chains. He sets us free. We, like John Wesley, can declare, ‘My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth and followed thee.’
- Freedom from fear of death
The psalmist goes on to say that again they rebelled and drew near the gates of death. Again they cried out to the Lord and he saved them. ‘He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave’ (v.20).
Again, this foreshadows what Jesus did for us. Through his death and resurrection he rescues us from the grave. We are freed from death – from the fear of death and all the fears that go with it. No wonder the psalmist wrote:
‘So thank God for his marvellous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves;
Offer thanksgiving sacrifices,
tell the world what he’s done – sing it out!’
Lord, how can we ever thank you enough for setting us free from the chains of sin and addiction? Thank you for setting us free from the grave. Thank you that we never fear death because you, Jesus, have conquered death through your death and resurrection for us.
2. Enjoy freedom in the presentGalatians 1:1-24
Religion can be used as a means of controlling people. That is how Saul of Tarsus had used it. Then he encountered Jesus and experienced something radically different. He was set free to live a life of freedom – a freedom that comes from within.
The message of the gospel is one of freedom. We are freed from sin, guilt, addiction and death. We are also set free from justification by works of the law. We do not have to be circumcised. We do not first have to become a Jewish Christian before we can become a Gentile Christian. Paul’s passionate indignation in this letter is explained by the fact that the freedom of the gospel was at stake.
In his early travels he had founded a series of churches in the Roman province of Galatia. He had told them about this Jesus who sets us free. They had experienced this freedom. A few years later some religious leaders had come along questioning Paul’s views and authority and trying to introduce rules and regulations that would have taken away the new-found freedom of the Galatians.
Paul’s opponents were questioning his credentials. That is why Paul was so keen to assert his apostleship (1:1). He was not just an apostle in a general sense: Paul, like the twelve apostles, had experienced a unique encounter with Jesus. They were unique in their sighting of the risen Lord and in their commission by Christ’s authority. Paul underlines the fact that he received his revelation directly from Jesus Christ himself (v.12).
He was therefore in a position to oppose those who were ‘trying to pervert the gospel of Christ’ (v.7). They were taking away people’s freedom. They were saying it was not enough to put your faith in Jesus. You had to be circumcised as well. They were drawing the boundaries of what it meant to be a true Christian far too restrictively.
Paul testifies to his own experience of finding this freedom in Jesus and how it changed him from someone who was, ‘all out in persecuting God’s church’ and ‘systematically destroying it’ to ‘preaching the very message he had tried to destroy’ (vv.13–24, MSG).
Have you ever wondered whether God could use you? Have you ever thought that something you have done in the past might disqualify you? Paul’s testimony is evidence that God not only forgives, he sets free and can use us greatly – no matter what we have done in the past.
This testimony was powerful: ‘Their response was to recognise and worship God because of me!’ (v.24, MSG). Any testimony, even one seemingly far less spectacular than Paul’s, will have an impact on those who hear it.
Lord, thank you for the freedom of Jesus. Thank you that the moment we put our faith in Jesus we find freedom. Thank you that the gospel is all embracing – that we do not have to be a particular type of Christian in order to be a Christian. Thank you that you gave yourself for our sins in order to rescue us from the present evil age (v.4). Thank you that if the Son sets us free, we will be free indeed.
3. Anticipate freedom in the futureIsaiah 33:1-35:10
We are still anticipating a future freedom from the struggles of this life when we will know everlasting joy, and sorrow and sighing being removed.
Isaiah paints the picture of a scorched desert (ch.34) – but then he anticipates how the desert will be transformed into a lush garden – with bubbling springs and blossoming crocuses and grass and reeds and flowing rivers (ch.35).
For God’s people, as they were being taken into exile in Babylon, they could look forward with anticipation and expectation to being rescued by God and brought back to the freedom of Jerusalem.
Yet, this picture in Isaiah 35 is something far bigger than just a return to a physical homeland. This is a picture of God’s people returning to their eternal homeland.
Isaiah writes of how ‘The ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away’ (v.10).
And, just like the people of Israel, as we are in anticipation of future freedom, how should we wait? In frustration? In anger? In disbelief? In denial? In rejection?
Isaiah gives us two commands as to how to wait:
1. Be strong
‘Strengthen the feeble hands, and steady the knees that give way. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, do not fear, your God will come’ (vv.3–4).
2. Be Holy
‘A highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way;… Only the redeemed will walk there and the ransomed of the Lord will return’ (vv.8–9).
Whatever the highs and lows of life are for us, we must allow ourselves to lift up our heads and look forward. We can look forward through struggles, through challenges, even through our own death, until we come in our mind’s eye all the way to heaven. It is right to anticipate our freedom from our present struggles.
It is having this amazing certain future in mind that will enable us to live now as those who are strong and are holy – even when there are times of sorrow and sighing right now.
‘The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens’ (Romans 8:19–21, MSG).
Lord, thank you for this amazing picture of salvation and freedom. Thank you that because of your victory on the cross we are freed from sin, guilt, addiction and the fear of death. Thank you that one day all creation will be liberated. As we await this day help us to walk righteously and speak what is right. Help us to guard what we do with our hands, what we listen to with our ears and what our eyes look at. Help us to fix our eyes on the beauty of Jesus.
‘… I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.’
It’s amazing when someone encounters God with no human intervention. We must keep praying for people to be woken in the night with a vision of Jesus, particularly if they come from a part of the world where they are unlikely to hear about Jesus.
Many, however, become Christians after hearing someone talk about their faith. We have a great opportunity to invite friends to guest services on 23rd September and Alpha starting the following week.