Maybe you’ve seen it before, or something of the like: it’s small, slightly dodgy looking, and on the front, a large sign names the shop ‘Free Choice’.  What does it sell with such a name? Cigarettes. 

The word ‘freedom’ is tossed around in our lives. We call the nation we live in a ‘free country’, because here, we have so much freedom: freedom of speech, belief and autonomy. Freedom is so highly valued that laws are dedicated to guarding our freedom.

Yet, at the very same time, we follow whatever our body demands of us right now and then, even at the cost of hurting ourselves or others, and call this our free will. We call shops that advertise binding addictions ‘Free choice’. We sin, and sin, and sin, and call it freedom. 

The world’s version of freedom, for all its good aspects, is ultimately flawed. 

So, what does the Bible define as true freedom? 

Let’s take out our Bibles and flip to Romans 6:11-18. I won’t put in the entire passage here, but it’s well worth a read. Here, Paul tells us three primary truths about what type of freedom has been purchased by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. 

Freedom from Death

Many of us have probably heard this verse countless times – “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)

The fall didn’t only bring about lasting bondage to sin (“Surely I was sinful at birth,  sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” – Psalm 51:5),  but the bondage of humanity and nature under the consequences of this sin.

The chains of death that all humans have been and are bound to cage us in so many ways. 

Not only is our life quite literally limited by the deadline of death, but life, as we live now, is trapped: by the fear of meaninglessness, fear of what happens after death, and the fear of loneliness and leaving behind loved ones.

As dire as this truth is, however, even more powerful is the truth of the freedom Christ offers. 

  1. Life’s Meaninglessness

The meaninglessness of life that the author of Proverbs mourns (“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 1:2)  has been defeated by Christ with meaning far beyond what we can imagine. As Paul puts it, we are free to live life to the fullest and happiest, “because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:53). This promise rings incredibly comforting when I wonder whether all my efforts in ministry, school and even chores, have any value at all. Work, no matter how small and hidden, done in and for the Lord has meaning, because it is used by Him for His great purposes: giving our work a meaning far greater than we could ever comprehend.

  1. Death’s Power 

Something that struck me as unique in class recently was the popularity of the worship of Isis, an Egyptian deity, in Pompeii (remember that city that got pulverised by a volcano? ) After all, I’m not the best at Geography, but Egypt was miles away from Rome. Furthermore, there were plenty of other religions circulating in Pompeii, not least of all the common religious practises deriving from Rome itself. However, the distinct fact that set this religion apart was its promise of an afterlife and a resurrection. 

Humans have always sought to find an answer to what lies behind the intimidating veil of death. But Christ tore this veil in two by dying Himself in our place. He removed the chains of death on us by ensuring that Death can no longer hold the punishment we deserve over our heads; instead, we have an assurance there is hope and life beyond the grave. And, most wonderful of all, Christ has already experienced death, so not only has He defeated its power over us, but He knows what we will go through, and He will be there every step of the way. 

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” (Psalm 23:4-6)

Rather than the end, death becomes an object of hope. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” After all, what heaven, in all its beauty and hope, really is: to completely be with God, our Creator, Friend, Lover, and Father. The difference with this world now is that there will be “no more sin” nor its consequences: suffering, loneliness, pain or death – “We will be done with the inner war and the heartrending disappointments of offending the Lord who loved us and gave himself for us.” (John Piper)

“If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8) 

Freedom from Sin

Yet, death isn’t the only chain that Jesus’ redeeming sacrifice has broken apart.

But to understand how Christ sacrifice frees us from sin, we need to understand what it is that He frees us from. After all, we still have free will even in this world of sin, right? Why does Christ need to free us anyway? To tackle this, let’s use an analogy of an autonomous ball. 

Picture a ball. That’s you! The ball has free will because it is able to roll around wherever it pleases. On the ball’s travels, the ball encounters a hole, which represents sin. The ball can choose to roll into this hole or not, because it has free will. However, once the ball has rolled into this hole, it does not have the ability to escape, because, in the end, all it is is a ball. It can still roll around wherever it likes within the hole, but it simply cannot reach the surface again. 

The same applies to us. We can choose what we want to do, but not everything is good for us – that includes sin (1 Corinthians 6:12). Even after we have fallen into sin, we still have free will, but it’s limited. Sin overpowers us so easily, and we find ourselves falling into the same trap over, and over, and over again, even though it never really makes us happy. And, stuck in this hole, we cannot please God because we simply cannot do what we do not want to do. 

But that’s not the end of the story for this unfortunate ball, and neither it is for us. Just like this ball can regain its freedom if someone reaches down, picks it up, and places it back on the surface, Christ came down to our sinful level and lifted us out of our sin. Of course, it’s inevitable that we’ll sin again, and fall into that hole once more. But we don’t have to stay stuck there. Christ’s freedom means that He will pick us up again, and all the while, work in us a heart that grows to hate and resist sin that hurts us and the God we love. It’s in Christ’s freedom that we are given the spiritual strength and ability to obey His law and purpose for us through the Holy Spirit. 

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

Furthermore, we grow to love and enjoy this obedience to God.

God will never force us to obey and love Him, because coerced love is not love at all. So, when we have the freedom to obey, it means that we obey not unwillingly or forced; we grow to enjoy and love Him, and as a result, to trust and love “His statues and decrees”. This incredible truth is aptly summarised in verse 17, “..thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart…” 

And finally, no one can take this freedom away from us. Not Satan, nor any power on heaven or on earth: “Who then is the one who condemns? No one.” (Romans 8:34)

Freedom to… what? 

We’ve been freed from sin. We’ve been freed from the demands of the law: death and suffering as punishment for our iniquities. Now, what is all this freedom really for? 

It only takes one look at the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35) to see its similarities in how we often treat our own blood-bought freedom. The servant owed a debt to the King that was impossible to pay off, and so deserved imprisonment, but in a twist of mercy, his entire debt was pardoned. 

And they lived happily ever after, right?

Not quite. We see the very first thing the servant does with his new priceless freedom is… to throw another servant into jail for owing him way less than what the King pardoned him for originally. I remember the first time I heard this parable, I immediately felt afraid. Why? Because I was afraid I too was guilty of taking the King’s freedom for granted. 

After all, I’ve grown up in a Christian family all my life, and I’ve been taught of Jesus’ death on the cross and what it means countless times. But what have I done with the freedom that Jesus has given me? Am I, like the servant, taking it for granted: or even worse, using my freedom to take away the freedom of others? (Galatians 2:11) Am I content only to keep my freedom for myself, that I will ignore those in chains next to me? 

Food for thought, huh? 

As every minute, second, and breath passes by, it’s vital that we remember that we are people whose freedom has been dearly and fully bought. I hope that we can learn and grow together, not taking this freedom for granted, but truly discovering how radical and life-changing it truly is. 

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