Published 1/20/2009

Paul's Epistle...
"Freedom" (Part 1)

Seven score and five years ago (and two months), President Abraham Lincoln delivered what was to become his best-known speech, the Gettysburg Address. In it, he praised those who had shed their blood and had given "their last full measure of devotion" to the cause. "We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom..."

Those last few words, "A New Birth of Freedom," were chosen as the theme for today's Presidential inauguration.

At this writing, I don't know how that theme will be developed in today's speeches. But it occurs to me that "a new birth of freedom" is something any Christian can — and should — celebrate. Why? Because we, as Christians, were given a "new birth of freedom" the moment we accepted Christ.

"A new birth" is what happened when we were "born again." And as Christ reminds us in John 8:36, "...if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." Christ sets us free from the bondage of sin and the penalties that we would otherwise have to pay for our sins.

God, in fact, is all about freedom. He made man with an innate yearning for freedom.

But mankind has often terribly mistaken what "freedom" is. The dictionary says "freedom" is "the condition of being free of restraints," and, indeed, the world wants to be free of any restraints, any rules whatsoever. They think Christianity is all about rules – and they want none of that. But you can see what a mess that attitude has made in the world.

When God told Adam and Eve they were free to eat of the fruit of any tree in the garden of Eden – except one – He introduced a key attribute of God's freedom, and it seems almost to be a paradox: The more you live by God's rules, the freer you are. When Adam and Eve broke the rules, they were no longer free. They became slaves of sin. As John 8:34 says, "whoever commits sin is a slave of sin."

Billy Graham once put it this way: "You can say, ‘I have rejected Jesus Christ, I have rejected God, and now I am going to live it up.' But you will find yourself in a bondage that is far greater than any other that you have known. You end up with inner conflicts, guilt complexes, inferiority feelings, fears and neuroses, and your so-called ‘freedom' is a bondage."

Abraham Lincoln is often called the "Great Emancipator" because he set free the slaves. But the "Greatest Emancipator" is Jesus Christ who has set free all humanity from the bondage of sin, for whomever accepts that free gift.

The greatest words ever spoken about freedom were found neither in the Declaration of Independence nor the Emancipation Proclamation, nor any other government document. I suggest that the greatest words ever spoken about freedom were these three words uttered by Christ on the cross: "It is finished!" That was His "emancipation proclamation." With those words he "set the captives free" and broke the bonds of sin for all who believe.

Political freedom is bought by the blood of soldiers, as it was at Gettysburg and, before that, during the American revolution. But our spiritual freedom was also bought by blood – the blood of Christ, shed for each of us on that old rugged cross. Our freedom, of whatever kind, wasn't free. A great price – in blood – was paid.

The late Roger Bennett wrote a song called "Freedom," sung by Legacy five, about this. The chorus says,

Freedom that the world can't know.
Freedom that'll not let go.
Freedom, all you need to know.
The Cross paid the way to freedom.
Calvary purchased our freedom.

This is why the apostle Paul, though in chains, was freer than his captors. This is why Christians today meeting secretly behind closed doors in house churches in China or Orissa province in India, or elsewhere where persecution is rampant, are freer than those who would persecute them.

So we, as Christians, have freedom in Christ. But, aside from forgiveness of sins, what is the nature of that freedom? And what does it mean to us in our everyday lives? We'll look at that next week

- Paul

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