God’s Plan for Freedom
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” (Isaiah 61:1).
The above prophecy is often applied to the work of God’s Kingdom. However, when reading this passage in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus said, “this day, is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21).
The work described by Isaiah had its beginning with the anointing of Jesus. He would proclaim the good tidings and begin the process of healing the brokenhearted. The proclamation of liberty and the opening of prisons began with his own disciples. This will be extended to the world in God’s kingdom. But Jesus’ ministry brought liberty to his followers before it will be made available to the world. But what does liberty mean to his people?
The Greek word translated “liberty” in Luke 4:18 means, “release from bondage or imprisonment forgiveness, or pardon of sins” (Thayer’s definition for Strong’s G859).
The Apostle Paul uses a different word to describe freedom from bondage under the Law. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty (Strong’s G1657) wherewith Christ hath made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1). By using a different word, Paul means that being set free from the yoke of the Law results in liberty from its condemnation. The typical animal sacrifices were unable to release them from this bondage. These animal sacrifices were prophetic of the real human sacrifices that would bring actual freedom from all condemnation.
Another Definition for Liberty An English dictionary offers a secondary definition for the word liberty. It is “the right to act, believe, or express oneself in a manner of one’s own choosing.” This sounds harmless. But it falls short of the scriptural concept of liberty. The right to do whatever someone wants has caused many problems in the world. Liberty in Christ is more complex and meaningful.
Observing the world’s cry for rights, Bro. Russell wrote: “The entire civilized world has, in the past few years, been studying political economy, civil rights, and social liberties, as never before in the annals of history and men are encouraging each other and being encouraged as never before to probe these subjects to the very foundation. Men are banding themselves together, encouraged and assisted by men of brain and genius to contend and strive for both real and fancied rights and liberties. And as their organizations increase and multiply, the shout grows louder and longer” (Volume Two, page 146). Written about 130 years ago, these words are even more fitting today.
In the United States the 4th of July has been designated as “Independence Day.” It was designed to remember this country’s origin and freedom from British rule. The Declaration of Independence claimed the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It demanded freedom from foreign domination and listed 27 acts of oppression by the British Empire. It summarized the American objection by saying, “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” This pronouncement brought many new responsibilities to the citizens and leaders of this country. Its stand for freedom has been a beacon to the world.
The scriptures provide an even better testimony of what freedom does, and does not, mean. Paul describes man’s condition, saying, he is under the “bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:21). But God has designed a plan to free him from the corruption of sin, an oppressor far greater than any other. For the consecrated Christian, the process has already begun.
The Basis of Christian Liberty
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1, 2). Those who come into a covenant relationship with God during this age are freed from the condemnation first placed upon our race. This is justification to life in the eyes of God, a liberty provided through the blood of Christ.
This is truly a cause for rejoicing. “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement” (Romans 5:10,11). The wonderful reality of being reconciled to God will mean eternal life and great privileges, not only in this life, but in the ages to come.
Attaining Spiritual Freedom
Jesus described the ongoing process of being made free. He said, “if you continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make [or set] you free” (John 8:31,32). Despite being free from condemnation, we are still in bondage to the fallen flesh. If we do not battle against its downward tendencies, we will never be set free from them. But how does the truth practically set one free?
Bro. Russell described the challenges we face. “What is it to live after the flesh? We answer it is to live after, in conformity to, and in gratification of, the inclinations and cravings of the fallen human nature. And it is the easiest thing possible to do this. All we have to do is just listlessly abandon ourselves to the current of our old nature and cease to strive against it. As soon as we do this, we begin to float down the stream, and by and by we find the current more and more rapid and resistance more and more difficult” (Reprint 1748).
Overcoming natural tendencies requires discipline, mental focus, and continued encouragement. The following list, written some years ago by Eugene Burns, may be helpful along these lines. Discipline is —
● Controlled thinking,
● Controlled emotions,
● Controlled habits,
● Controlled speech,
● Controlled study,
● Controlled activities,
● Controlled fellowship,
● Controlled prayer,
● Controlled tempers,
● Controlled judgments,
● Controlled truth perceptions —
● Controlled in every case by the holy Spirit.
Applying these disciplines will address the danger described above, to “listlessly abandon ourselves to the current of our old nature.”
When Jesus said the truth would set us free, he meant that God’s word would provide instructions for issues we may deal with. For example, if we are inclined towards jealousy, the scriptural declaration, “jealousy is as cruel as the grave” (Song of Solomon 8:6), may help us realize its harmful effects and the need to combat it. The underlying sin that leads to jealousy is selfishness. God’s word provides the counteracting principles of generosity (2 Corinthians 9:7), impartiality (1 Corinthians 13:5), and love (Luke 6:27-30). These are guidelines we can use to be freed from this weakness that often divides families and alienates friends.
If pride is a struggle, the scriptural condemnation of pride can be a powerful incentive against it. God’s hates pride (Proverbs 6:16-19). If He responds so strongly against pride, then believers must search their hearts for its lingering traces. We may feel that the struggle is so great that our inclination cannot be overcome. But Jesus showed that we can control our thoughts and feelings. Humbling ourselves is a countermeasure to the bondage of pride.
● “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4).
Some may have a natural tendency to worry. By laying the cause of our worry at the feet of God and waiting patiently for Him, we express the trust He desires. Jesus was aware of this human struggle when he said,
● God “knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matthew 6:32-34).
The Psalmist suggests that in some situations, a proper response to worry and anxiety is to just wait. God will not forget His promises.
● “Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospers in his way” (Psalms 37:7).
If we are inclined towards discouragement or depression, God’s promises can lift us up.
● “Wait on the LORD : be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD ” (Psalms 27:14).
● “The LORD thy God hath set the land before thee: go up and possess it … fear not, neither be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 1:21).
This promise strengthened Israel to conquer Canaan. Our journey to New Jerusalem can also be difficult. But we have the resources of God to help and guide us at every step.
● “The LORD will give strength unto his people; the LORD will bless his people with peace” (Psalms 29:11).
Peace indicates that we are relying on Jehovah and understand that nothing happens that He does not overrule for our highest welfare.
A companion to discouragement is often a sense of hopelessness. A key to being rid of this debilitation is understanding God’s plan. Faith in that plan helps clear the mind of the despair that comes with having no hope.
● “It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD”
● “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
At times, the chain of spiritual oppression may seem unbreakable. But its links can be broken piece by piece using the principles of God. Examining freedom in Christ, the battle becomes very personal. But, by God’s grace, victory is possible. When we fail in a particular battle, remember that our high priest is merciful and compassionate. He is not anxious to condemn our mistakes but desires to lift us up and renew our fight for liberty in Christ.
Liberty Means Servitude to Righteousness
Paul adds another aspect to the concept of Christian liberty. “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Romans 6:18). This means that Christian liberty creates responsibilities. These responsibilities are not burdensome, but privileges to serve and be a blessing. “Being made free from sin” refers to an owner setting his slave free.
There is a meaningful example of this in the Law of ancient Israel. An Israelite could be made a servant by owing a debt or committing a crime. Once in bondage, the Law required he be set free after six years. “If thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free. … When thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty. … Furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. … Remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and … God redeemed thee: therefore, I command thee this thing today. … If he say unto thee, I will not go away from thee; because he loveth thee and thine house, because he is well with thee; Then thou shalt take an aul, and thrust it through his ear unto the door, and he shall be thy servant forever. And also unto thy maidservant thou shalt do likewise” (Deuteronomy 15:12-17).
How remarkable that a servant would be considered with such thought and care. When the owner treated his servant kindly, the servant could choose to remain, renouncing his freedom. Piercing the ear is a symbol of his voluntary commitment. This illustrates the appreciation Christians feel when they realize the goodness of God. The ear piercing of the servant perhaps represents consecration, a voluntary commitment to serve God, a “reasonable service” that accompanies our release from sin.
Guidelines for Using Christian Liberty
The scriptures offer guidelines for properly using our liberty in Christ.
(1) Christian liberty can be lost. Paul addressed this danger to the brethren in Galatia whose liberty was being challenged. Some wanted to bring brethren back into bondage under the Law. He describes “false brethren, brought in unawares who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (Galatians 2:4). Satan desires to bring us back into the bondage of sin. We must remain committed to the ongoing battle for freedom. “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12).
(2) Christian Liberty should not stumble others. An example of this is the controversy about eating meat offered to idols. “It was the general custom to offer to their gods certain parts of the animal; the remainder might be taken home to eat, or given to the priest, or sold in the market-place” (Reprint 4478). Some brethren objected to eating meat purchased from such places. Paul saw no impropriety in this. Nevertheless, he encouraged brethren to consider the conscience of others. “If your host should say straight out, ‘this meat has been offered to an idol,’ then don’t eat it, for his sake — I mean, for the sake of conscience, not yours but his. … Do nothing that might make men stumble” (1 Corinthians 10:28-29,32 Phillips). This is an important admonition to be sensitive to the conscience of others. In some situations we may have to restrain our liberty if it bothers the conscience of another.
(3) Liberty can be misused. “Ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word … love thy neighbor as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Galatians
5:13-15). When brethren meet together, the atmosphere should be loving and peaceful. Meetings should be a place where each member is spiritually strengthened. If these things are absent, we may be misusing our Christian liberty.
(4) Liberty in Christ means to become servants. Paul admonished us to use our freedom to make ourselves servants of Christ and the principles he lives for. “He that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise, also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant. Ye are bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 7:22, 23).
To be freed from the condemnation of sin is the basis of our relationship with God. That freedom was bought at great price. It is essential that we understand how our justification was achieved. Then, our hearts can offer sincere thanks to the heavenly Father and our Lord for their love and willingness to sacrifice for us.
This freedom opens the way for our release from bondage to sin. It allows us to place our flesh on the altar of sacrifice. Christian liberty brings responsibilities and will help us love and better serve one another. This is our prayer for all the brethren!
“As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:14-16).