Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Introduction: Comparing National Freedom and Spiritual Freedom
When we talk about freedom, what comes to mind? Undoubtedly the upcoming 4th of July weekend celebrates the freedom we have as Americans. Freedom as Americans is marked by "independence". The opening paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, which in effect declares the formation of the United States and independence from the King of Great Britain, begins as follows: "When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."
By then listing the greviances of the King of Great Britain and the motivations for severing ties with that monarch, the July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence represents the quintessential statement of freedom that birthed forth our nation. Inasmuch as "independence" often marks what it means to be free in respect to men, the opposite is the case in matters relating to the Christian life. Sin at its very core attempts to envision life independent from God. Whenever a Christian tries to live apart from submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Christian life becomes locked down. Today's post is about explaining Romans 8:1-11 in what we will call: "the declaration of dependance". We will propose that true spiritual freedom is found when we depend on God by faith in Jesus Christ.
The natural human realm generally shows that life independent from God leads to tyranny
The founding fathers of this nation understood as a general principle that living apart from God and His word will only lead to further human tyranny. Whenever a nation or a people attempt to cut the moorings of God's influence and morally revealed law, tyranny under others result. Charles Carroll, one of the signers of the "Declaration of Independence", notes: "Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure...are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments." Carroll's statement shows that with respect to God in general, what marks freedom is not independence but dependence. The specific revelation of this point in scripture itself reinforces the argument in texts such as Proverbs 14:34 and Jeremiah 18:7-10.
Spiritual freedom is dependence upon God
Only when one has become born-again by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the greatest and most purest freedom is experienced. Spiritual freedom is dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself states in John 8:34-36 "Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."
Spiritual freedom's core trait of dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ is total opposite to how we may typically think of freedom in the natural realm. Galatians 5:1 states - "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 yoke of slavery made us dead in sins and tresspasses and separated from God, without hope in this world. (Ephesians 2:12) Jesus Himself states in Matthew 11:28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." True freedom is experienced as a result of submission under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. (Luke 9:23-24) Freedom is dependence on God in Jesus Christ.
For people who find themselves enslaved to their past, the chief mark of life is (perceived) independence from God. Paul reminds the Thessalonians of the change that took place in them in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 - "For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come." Unlike our civil freedom in which we broke ties with a human Sovereign, the Gospel declares that true freedom is only found when we are reconciled to the Divine Sovereign. Spiritual freedom is dependance upon God.
Getting real specific about spiritual freedom in the Gospel - The believer's declaration of dependence - Romans 8:1-11
In general the scriptures assert this underlying premise that true spiritual freedom results from dependence, rather than independence from God. In Romans 8:1-11 Paul spells out what is entailed in the wonder of spiritual freedom that the Christian enjoys as a result of the Gospel. Spiritual freedom in Christ means we have been freed "from" things and are free "to" things.
1. Freedom from condemnation. 8:1-2
2. Freedom to desire God. 8:5-8
3. Freedom to live for God. 8:3-4,9-11
When we are set free by Jesus Christ in saving faith, we find that we are free to do what we ought to do. All human beings are born with the natural ability to choose. With respect to ourselves, other people, and sin, the idea of "free will" is generally true. The freedom to do what one wants to do is what we call "natural ability". If human beings did not possess any ability to make choices, then the idea of moral and spiritual responsibility would be a moot point. Jonathan Edwards notes in his monumental classic - "Freedom of the Will", that since the mind can distinguish and judge between different alternatives presented to it, mankind is truly responsible to God. Proverbs 1:29-31 for instances spells out how human beings in general freely choose to sin as a result of having a sinful human nature.
However, inasmuch as human beings do possess natural ability to choose, the moral ability to choose or moral freedom is greatly impaired and ultimately bound over in one direction - namely an inward, selfward direction. Unbelievers can exercise good moral choices, such as being good parents and good citizens. Such moral choices are as a result of God's common grace and their retaining the image of God. (Genesis 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 11:7) However, unless the specific, saving grace of God in the Gospel is brought to bear on the heart of a man, no choice for Jesus Christ will be desired. At issue is not a matter of "can't" but moreso "won't". The fact that a man knows that he "ought" to believe, repent and be saved does not mean he will desire to do so apart from saving grace. To summarize this point, we turn once more to the great thinker and theologian Jonathan Edwards. He in effect says that though the will be morally bound over into the direction of not choosing God, the fact that our minds can weigh out the differences and see their intended end means we are still morally responsible.
With the weight of eternal responsibility hanging over the head of the sinner, to find exemption from such a weight by the grace of God in saving faith is indeed most remarkable! The Gospel of Jesus Christ in conjunction with the saving call of the Spirit in the Gospel frees the sinner to freely respond to the call of Christ. (John 16:8-12; John 1:12-13) True freedom is dependence on God in Jesus Christ.
By being set free from condemnation and set free to desire God, the sinner is transformed into a saint who now can live for God. True freedom depends on God. This is what makes Romans 8:1-11 such a magnificent stretch of verses, in that it is the believer's declaration of dependence. The irony of the Gospel is that one is never more free than when their bound to Jesus Christ. Freed from condemnation as a result of depending on His righteousness. (Romans 8:1-2) Free to desire God as a result of dying to my own selfish desires. (Romans 8 Free to live for God as a result of dying to self. (Luke 9:23-24; 14:26-33; Romans 6:19-20)