A good friend of mine is married to a woman who grew up in a very religious, legalistic family. She discovered the gospel of the grace of God through my friend before they were married. She loves her new relationship with God, but often, in crunch time, she reverts back to her old way of life—trying, with diligent effort, furrowed brow, and seemingly with the weight of the world on her shoulders, to please God by doing her very best to obey Him.
My friend told me over lunch the other day that when this happens, he takes her in his arms, hugs her close and asks her, “Sweetheart, don’t you want to be free?” That is the question Paul asked the Galatians in his letter to them and the one that God asks each of us today.
Jesus taught that that freedom would be ours at some time in the future. Notice the future tense in these verses: “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Paul, on the other hand, thirty years later, taught that what was in the future in Jesus’ day had now already come, and his readers (including us in the 21st century) were already set free. Notice the past tense in these verses: “Having been set free from sin, (we) have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18), “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2), “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).
What significant event happened between Jesus’ time and Paul’s to bring about that freedom? Bingo! The most significant event in all history—the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus foretold that this event was “the truth that will set you free” and “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” This was the event that Paul, looking back, could now say we were “set free from sin,” “set…free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” and we can now “stand firm therefore, and not submit again to a yoke of bondage.“
These are familiar ideas, but we can easily miss the life-altering implications of this history-changing event that is the cross of Jesus Christ. What difference does this event make in my daily life? I have isolated four results of the cross I want to shout from the rooftops to all who will listen.
1. My sin and the sin of the whole world is forever “put away.”
What else can the following verses mean? “Now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:27). “And He Himself is the propitiation (satisfaction) for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
Sin is no longer an issue of any kind with God. Do we still sin experientially? Of course we do, with every breath we draw, but He remembers those sins against us no more (Jeremiah 31:34). He has removed those transgressions from us as far as the East is from the West, so we are free from them and all the associated guilt and shame (Psalm 103:12). We are, already, free from sin!
2. Therefore, God is no longer a God of judgment but only a God of unconditional love for me.
We have learned, as is so often taught, that God is a now still god of both judgement and love, but if the cross really did do away with sin forever, how can this be true? Did not the cross do its work? Was not God fully satisfied there as He poured out all His righteous wrath and judgment that we so justly deserve on His Son? Did not Jesus die for all my sins, every one, because He loves me with a love that makes no demands whatsoever? That is the definition of agape love, the love God has for me.
3. He has given me His Holy Spirit who is currently at work in my life changing me as I renounce living by obedience to God’s law and live by faith (trusting Daddy completely).
To us, who have lived our lives based on right and wrong, good and evil, numbers 1 and 2 are ridiculous. Isn’t God still interested in how I live my life—my obedience, my holiness and my testimony?—and of course that is true. He is very concerned about all those things.
However, the problem is my inability to ever fully perform them, to really be righteous, and I don’t even realize that I am such a failure. I think I am doing fine, and I am deceived for two reasons, both of which I am completely unaware: 1.) I compare myself with others around me instead of God’s standard, and 2.) I cover for myself, always seeing all problems as somebody else’s fault. I am unknowingly blind to my own sin.
When I try to be good, I am trying to do a job that is not mine to do. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to sanctify me, to produce obedience in me, to make me holy, and He alone can do that; He has a monopoly on holiness production. My job is solely to live by faith in Him who lives within me for the express purpose of making me holy without my knowledge. It is time for me to quit trying to be good and get out of His way, trusting Him to do His job. That is living by faith.
4. I am now completely free to live by my want-tos, trusting that the Holy Spirit is changing my desires as He promises to do.
Many teach that, yes, we are free from sin, but free only to now keep God’s law, and that is certainly true. But, they teach, we are not free to disobey it without incurring God’s displeasure. What kind of freedom is that? That sounds suspiciously like these teachers don’t really trust the Holy Spirit to do His job in our lives, and are smuggling in the law so we can help Him! Paul says we are now “…delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by” (Romans 7:6). The way we know what the Spirit is leading us to do is by doing what we want to do! If it is sin, can we not trust Him to do what He says He will do: “For it is God (the Holy Spirit within us) who is producing in you both the desire and the ability to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13)? Yes, we can trust Him to change our desires! That’s what faith is.
If this gospel is true, and the Bible says it is, I can’t wait to tell all whom I meet, “You are free!”