To you, what does it mean to be free? Most of us never do in-depth thinking about freedom. In 1980 my father and mother accompanied Joyce and me on a trip to Israel. It was a rich, enjoyable experience. To my Dad it was a unique experience--it was the only time he ever traveled outside the United States.

He enjoyed the experience far more than I expected he would...until we were returning to catch our departing flight. We flew into Amman, Jordan and traveled by bus to Israel. Getting into Israel was relatively simple. Getting out of Israel was very difficult. Suddenly, my father realized that he could not go where he wanted to go. He realized that he was totally controlled by the decisions and orders of others. For the first time in his life, he was not truly free.

It had a chilling effect on him. It made him realize what freedom was. Let me tell you how powerfully this impacted my Dad at that moment. He despised paying taxes. At that moment, he said, "If I ever get home, I will never complain about paying taxes."

Have you ever had an experience that made you realize what freedom is?

  1. Is the greatest gift that any society can receive the gift of freedom?
    1. When communism collapsed in Eastern Europe, many of us immediately assumed that new freedoms would bring great blessings to the peoples of eastern Europe.
      1. Why would we not conclude that?
      2. We associate our greatest blessings with our freedom--our prosperous lifestyle is inseparable from our freedom.
      3. To us it is perfectly logical to assume that freedom will produce the lifestyle and the prosperity that we enjoy.
    2. When those societies were freed from the totalitarian control of atheistic communism, some very interesting things happened.
      1. Some societies immediately resurrected old hatreds and turned on those they hated.
        1. They had not been free to vent their hatreds.
        2. Freedom gave them the liberty to hate.
      2. When the totalitarian control of the superpower collapsed, some smaller groups wanted totalitarian power locally.
        1. They were free to begin civil wars within their own societies.
        2. Their hunger for control was free to fight against and destroy factions within their own society.
      3. Freedom created new opportunities for greed and the abuse of power.
        1. Elections provided people access to power.
        2. They had the freedom to speak and to persuade.
        3. Becoming elected officials created new opportunities, and some abused those opportunities.
      4. In the past civil order was the product of totalitarian control; now civil order depended to a large degree on the responsible choices of individuals.
        1. Organized lawlessness soon became more powerful and advanced than the police.
        2. Crime soared as it exercised a powerful presence within many of those societies.
    3. It was quite evident that freedom is much more than the absence of totalitarian control.
      1. It takes far more than the collapse of dictatorial control for freedom to exist.
      2. If freedom is to exist, some basic essentials must also exist.
        1. A strong foundation of ethics and morals must be accepted and held by the greater majority of the society.
        2. The greater majority in the society must hold a common sense of responsibility that seeks the good of society.
        3. Individuals within the society must understand that selfishness and self-centered existence destroys freedom. (There is a delicate balance that must be maintained between the rights of the individual and the best interest of the society.)
        4. The society itself must be educated in the definition of freedom, the objectives of freedom, and the goals of freedom; the society must know what freedom is, what it accomplishes, and where it is going.
    4. What happens when you free people within a society that:
      1. Has lived for generations under totalitarian control?
      2. Has never experienced individual rights?
      3. Had all systems of religious ethics and morals destroyed?
        1. For generations nothing was done because there was good and evil or right and wrong.
        2. Everything was done because it was the will of the totalitarian system.
        3. The totalitarian system destroyed religious ethics.
      4. What happens? You enter chaos, not freedom.
    5. What happens when people seek to bring freedom into existence:
      1. Where people have lived without freedom in any form for generations?
      2. Where no one has experienced the responsibility of freedom?
      3. Where people had no opportunity to learn or understand the critical links between freedom, rights, and responsibility?
      4. What happens? You enter chaos, not freedom.
    6. People do not step out of totalitarian control into freedom; people make the journey from totalitarian control to freedom.

  2. Because you understand freedom from the political and social perspective, I want to challenge you to understand freedom from a spiritual perspective.
    1. I want you to let Paul, the freedom expert, teach us.
      1. Paul is the freedom expert.
      2. Before he became a Christian, he was an expert in the law of Moses.
        1. He likely was the most scholarly Jew converted in the first century.
        2. His credentials in the Mosaical law were superior and superb.
      3. After he became a Christian, he was an expert in the gospel of Christ.
        1. I sincerely doubt that any Christian had a clearer understanding of the good news of the grace of Christ than Paul had.
        2. The leader of the movement that tried to destroy the church became the leading spokesman for the church.
        3. The man who fought Jesus the impostor became the man who knew that Jesus was the Lord and Christ.
        4. His encounter with Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road turned this expert in the law into the expert in the grace of Jesus Christ.
        5. Both experience and revelation created his understanding of freedom in Christ.
    2. Listen carefully to these statements that Paul made.
      1. To the Christians in Galatia who had turned away from the grace of Christ to accept the law of Moses, Paul wrote:
        1. Galatians 5:1--It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
          1. Please carefully note the statement, "It was for freedom that Christ set us free..."
          2. Christ set the Christian free in order for the Christian to be free.
        2. Galatians 5:13--For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
          1. Carefully note that the Christian was called to be free.
          2. That freedom is not to be perverted to satisfy ungodly desires.
          3. However, Christians are called to be free.
      2. To the Christians in Rome, Paul contrasted life lived according to physical drives with life lived in the Spirit.
        1. Paul contrasted life ruled by the concern for the physical with life lived in the Spirit.
        2. Romans 8:15--For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
          1. Life lived in the spirit cannot produce the mind of a slave, the heart of a slave, the circumstance of a slave, or the fear of a slave.
          2. When you become a Christian, you do not enter a new form of slavery; you are adopted into God's family.
          3. You enter a "Daddy-child" relationship with God.
    3. What does Paul, the freedom expert, want Christians to understand?
      1. What God did for Israel through the law and what God does for Christians in the gospel are two entirely different things.
        1. God's objective in the law was to gain control of an out-of-control people.
        2. God's objective in Christ is to free people who are enslaved to evil and guilt.
        3. The law was an intermediate step toward freedom.
        4. The grace of Christ is the entrance into freedom.
      2. Consider this illustration: Is marriage freedom or slavery?
        1. A wife can declare to her husband, "By law you are responsible to be faithful to me."
          1. "I demand that you abide by that law."
          2. "If you don't, you will pay the price: I will divorce you and you will suffer."
        2. A wife can tell her husband, "In my love for you, I commit to you totally.
          1. "My love for you is unconditional."
          2. "My commitment goes far beyond refusing to be unfaithful."
          3. "I am committed to everything that faithfulness is."
      3. Questions:
        1. Which creates trusts?
        2. Which produces freedom?
        3. Which is the least likely to prevent adultery?
    4. Spiritual law by its nature:
      1. Stresses consequences.
      2. Searches for mistakes.
      3. Condemns when it uncovers mistakes.
    5. The objective of spiritual freedom is to give life and create relationship.
      1. It gives life by forgiving.
      2. It nourishes life with continued grace and unconditional love.
    6. But freedom exists only if:
      1. The Christian understands the concept of freedom.
      2. The Christian accepts the responsibilities of freedom.
      3. The Christian enters a relationship with Christ in order to have freedom.

When Christians see spiritual freedom as opportunity to pursue personal agendas or to live irresponsibly, they have no better understanding of spiritual freedom than Eastern European societies had of political freedom.

What kind of relationship do you have with God?
Are you interested in being free in Christ?
Or are you just trying to live under the controls of the law?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 15 February 1998

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