Numerous passages in the New Testament speak of the freedom that’s available only to those who follow Christ. A great example can be found in John 8:31-36. In the ESV this reads as follows:
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
The world today is not a welcoming place for Christ followers. Persecution in many forms faces those who seek to live their lives according to biblical faith. In some locations persecution is far more intense than in others, and yet it’s likely that no matter where one lives things will get far worse in the near future for those who trust in Jesus.
In this context of persecution, where does freedom come in? If life for Christ followers will get tougher as time goes on, why would Jesus say that we are free? These are great questions. As I consider them for myself, here’s two things the Lord brings to mind.
One of the aspects of freedom the Lord brings to mind for me is the freedom to choose. As noted in the passage above, those who practice sin are slaves to sin. The phrase “to practice sin” in this context seems to involve intentional choices to act and to live in rebellion to God or in ways that displease him.
Choosing to live in ways that please God according to his word is always difficult since it’s against our selfish human nature. This is made all the more difficult when the world accepts and practices sin as normal and sees those who choose to not indulge as outsiders. Culture is one of the most powerful forces impacting human behavior. To go against that which one’s culture accepts as normal is like swimming upstream. This can be painful and exhausting. And yet, God empowers Christ followers to choose. We have the freedom to walk away from sin in a way that others do not.
There’s no doubt that we all fall into sin from time to time. And yet, for the Christ follower there is forgiveness through the work of Christ and a fresh start. The more we choose to please God in various areas of our life, the less hold sin has on us. This leads to a sense of freedom over sin that those who reject Christ cannot comprehend.
As wonderful as the freedom to live in ways that please God is, the freedom in Christ that means the most to me involves freedom from the fear of death. Every human being will face their own death one day. For most individuals I suspect that deep down this reality is terrifying. For the Christ follower, however, death is essentially graduation. We have assurance through Christ that as we receive him as our Savior and trust him for salvation death for us means release from this dark world and entrance into the presence of God.
For the Christ follower, there can be nothing more wonderful or exciting than death in God’s perfect timing. Any degree of sorrow, rejection, or persecution we experience on earth, no matter how difficult, cannot compare to the joy we will experience eternally in God’s presence. This unspeakable joy is worth waiting for. It’s worth the suffering we’re asked to endure as we love and follow God in this fallen world. And it’s worth the perseverance it takes to love those around us and to share with them the hope we have in Christ as things go from bad to worse.
Freedom from the fear of death is a rare gift indeed. No one other than a Christ follower can know the peace this brings. The wealthiest, most famous, and most celebrated among us cannot know this without Christ. No amount of money or prestige can purchase this peace. This is truly a peace that passes understanding and represents a degree of freedom that can be experienced in no other way than through trusting Christ.
And so, as you and I experience hardship, rejection, and persecution today and in the days to come, let’s remember to be encouraged by the fact that Jesus offers us freedoms that others cannot comprehend unless they too choose to follow our Lord. Let’s pray for those who are slaves to sin, and who seek to work against us and against God in all things. Let’s pray that they will have eyes to see and ears to hear the truth that true freedom is only found through faith in Jesus. Amen!