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Free Indeed

By David A. DePra

From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? (James 4:1)

"Lusts" in the Bible are not necessarily limited to those things having to do with the sensual realm. "Lust" is CONTROL. That is the root. Thus, we find here, in James, the reason there are wars and fighting: People want control – of almost anything. But the trouble is, so do many others. Thus, there is a conflict of wills. There is WAR – there is a fighting for control.

Of course, James is specifically talking about the church. That is the audience to whom He is writing. This creates an especially difficult problem. For the church belongs to GOD. So when people are trying to be in control of the church, they will not only be against those who want God’s will, but they will be against God Himself. I wouldn’t want to be in that position, would you?

Control is THE "lust" of the human race. There are a number of ways in which this "lust" manifests in our lives. Another way of describing it is our incessant desire "to do as we please." Some of us call THAT "freedom." It is a freedom TO control -- even if it is only only of myself.

James says that the quest for control is the fundamental cause of "wars and fighting" on any level. If you want to do as you please, and I want to do what I please, and this brings us into conflict with one another, then we have what? Well, we have a war of sorts. It has been going on between nations forever. Control and freedom. The "lust" for this right to be in control – the lust for this "freedom" – often causes WAR.

War is therefore always the result of the clash of wills – even if that clash is between nations. It is an issue of control. One nation wants the freedom TO control. Another wants freedom FROM control. One nation’s will and agenda comes into conflict with that of another. At some point, the price of war is deemed less than the price to keep the peace.

Freedom and Bondage

So here’s the question: What is real freedom – in the eyes of God? Is it the right to do as we please? Is it the freedom TO control? Or is it the freedom FROM control? This is an important question, because freedom and liberty are not just patriotic slogans limited to our democracy. They are fundamental to our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

First of all, let’s look at the notion that freedom is the power or right "to do as we please." Is that really what freedom is?

Once we begin to talk about "freedom" being "the right to do as we please," we run into trouble. For who really has that kind of freedom? Even more importantly, SHOULD we have that kind of freedom? If everyone -- even a democratic nation -- ran around doing as they pleased, we would not have democracy, but anarchy. There would be NO government; no laws. That would be chaos and destructive.

The United States of America is the greatest democracy the world has ever had, but we have many laws. You do not have the right to steal, kill, and destroy here – no matter how right you think you are to do so. You cannot drive your car as fast as you please. But we do not even have to take things to that extreme level. Take everyday life, for example. You don’t have the right to be late for work because you happen to want to be late. You cannot violate certain requirements, laws, and standards for living without consequences. This is true regarding your family, work, church, and certainly true regarding civil law.

So what we see is that "freedom" must carry with it MORE than just my right to do what I please. It must carry with it restraint – so that "what I please" does not hurt or violate someone else’s freedom and safety. Laws and rules are for the common good. And if I really understood, I would see that this means they are for MY good, as well.

We are beginning to see something here. We are seeing that freedom CANNOT be divorced from morality. It cannot. Because the moment my freedom, my will, my control, begins to destroy the freedom of another, it is no longer good. It is no longer moral. I am depriving another of their freedom through the unrestrained use of my own.

The Risks of Freedom

Real freedom has other characteristics. For instance, it always carries a great risk. Once people have the right to live and do as they please – even within the framework of moral restraint for the common good – there is always the risk of abuse. In effect, once people are allowed to decide from themselves, it is no guarantee that they will decide RIGHT. They may end up deciding almost anything.

This risk is why dictators are able to come to power. Freedom gets out of hand, and anarchy beings. The people need to be restrained. Since they won’t restrain themselves, things get to the place where someone has to take charge and impose restraint. Whoever emerges out of the fray ends up in power.

The scary part about the freedom to choose is that it even includes the right to give away the freedom to choose. It includes the right to give away EVERYTHING. Having the right to choose never did carry wisdom with it as an automatic companion. People choose lots of stupid things because, at the time, there is motivation for doing so. They do not see what the consequences are likely to be.

So we see two great risks built into freedom: The risk of abuse, and the risk of deception. Both risks can turn my freedom into a nightmare. Indeed, both can ultimately result in the forfeiting of freedom itself.

We Need a Standard

So far we have been talking about freedom along the lines of nations and persons, and not necessarily from a purely Christian perspective. We have mentioned a few fundamental principles about freedom and bondage. But if you have noticed, all of this is a hallow shell. We talk about freedom being "the power to decide what is right for ourselves." But what IS "right?" Who decides? We talk about the need for freedom to be restrained by "the common good." But what IS good? Who decides?

Unless we have a STANDARD – a common standard – then really, everything is relative. What then becomes important is not freedom, but whoever happens to be in power. THEY determine what freedom is in that case. They determine what is right and what is wrong. And the rest of it is meaningless.

Of course, you can see where all of this is heading. Only God has the wisdom to know what real freedom is. Only He knows what is truly RIGHT, and what is truly GOOD. But of course, we aren’t about to yield to Him. That would cut across the control we want. Thus, we get what we choose: Chaos. War. We will never learn. Everyone will continue doing as they please, and will fight anyone who wants the same right.

Real freedom is NOT the right to decide what is right and wrong – independent of God. For if real freedom really is the right to decide for myself what is right and what is wrong, then in the garden of Eden, Satan offered Eve freedom – because he told her they should "be as God" and decide for themselves what was right and wrong. And it would likewise mean God wanted to keep freedom from them. This cannot be true. Indeed, the opposite was true. Deciding for myself what right is, is never freedom. It is, in fact, the greatest bondage possible.

Unless there is a standard for right and wrong given us by God, it is indeed every person for themselves. You can invent morality to fit yourself, and I’ll invent mine. And when we clash, we’ll go to war. Such is the state of human affairs without God. It has always been so.

The Truth Shall Set You Free

There are certain passages in the Bible which we have heard so often that we almost never stop and actually consider what they mean. We don’t think about them. We just hear them and "feel good."

John 8 contains a phrase which falls into that category. Jesus had a debate with the Pharisees one day, and spoke these words to them. They get at the heart of this issue of freedom:

Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered him, "We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how say you, ‘You shall be made free?’" Jesus answered them, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Who ever commits sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abides not in the house forever: but the Son abides ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." (John 8:31-36)

Built into Jesus’ statement that "the Truth shall make you free," is a presumption. It is a presumption that the Pharisees understood, and objected to. That presumption is this: We are NOT free – not to begin with. Jesus is operating from the premise that we are in bondage and need to be set free. The Truth, He says, will do that.

The Pharisees objected to His claim on the basis that they were Abraham’s seed – that is – on the basis that they were God’s people. To them, this meant they were automatically free. And they did NOT mean that they were free from foreign occupation, because the fact is, they were all under Roman rule at that time. So the Pharisees did understand where Jesus was getting at. He was speaking spiritually – about the Truth of God. It is clear that their objection is directly at His claim that they did not know God, and consequently, were not experiencing the freedom which comes from knowing the Truth about Him.

Jesus’ words tell us several things. First, He tells us we are NOT free. It does not matter if we are so deceived that we think we are. Some people are in such bondage and deception that they think that bondage IS freedom. They have never known anything else. What to them is NORMAL – to God is ABNORMAL. Jesus’ words come into a condition like that as a light which seeks to penetrate a great darkness.

The Israelites were like that. They knew they were in bondage to Egypt. But by the time of Moses, they had no frame of reference for freedom. In fact, slavery had become so NORMAL them, that initially, freedom seemed ABNORMAL – even too risky. It is always like this when you know only where you have been, and are being taken to a new place in Jesus Christ. You know the old, but don’t know the new. While you are in-between, it is scary.

This is why, when the Israelites were trapped at the Rea Sea some of them said, "Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness." (Ex. 14:11-12)

Spiritual bondage carries with it a certain comfort in that bondage. We are more comfortable with what we know that with what we don’t know. If slavery is all we are used to, freedom may, to us, seem too risky. Too scary.

We need to understand something here: This too, is part of deception. If I am afraid of getting free, all that it means is that I may be out of Egypt, but Egypt is not out of me. I am yet to be truly free. I need to see and know more. Jesus promises what we need. He said, "You SHALL KNOW the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free."

Born Into Captivity

We must turn aside here for a moment and establish the fact all of us DO start in bondage. If we have no grasp of this, then we will be like the Pharisees, thinking that Jesus was silly for telling them they needed to be free. No one who thinks they ARE free is going to respond to an offer of freedom!

The Truth is, there are only TWO classes of people in this world: Those "in Adam," and those "in Christ." By natural birth, we are all born "in Adam." Carried with that package is bondage to sin, Satan, and the realm of darkness.

Notice the words of the apostle Paul to this effect:

For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (I Corinthians 15:21-22)

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. (Rom. 5:12-14)

Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son. (Col. 1:12-13)

We see here that God operates from the premise of the Truth -- that we are ALREADY in the realm of darkness through natural birth. God would hardly say that He has delivered us FROM the power of darkness if we were there to begin with. And He would hardly say He has INTO the kingdom of His Son unless we had NOT been there to begin with.

We also see this Truth – that we begin in a death from which we need deliverance – through the very fact of the new birth. A new birth, or a renewal of any kind, must be predicated on the fact that where we begin is wrong. Otherwise we would not need anything new. No where is this brought out more clearly than in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (II Cor. 5:17)

Most Christians will say they know that we are born in sin and darkness. But do we really understand what it means? Some of us continue to hold the mistaken notion that we are born into this world sort of "on neutral ground." We think that our acts of sin, later in life, more or less are what get us "in Adam." What escapes us is the foundational Truth that right from the start we are born "in Adam." We have no life, no light, and no Truth in us. And there is nothing we can do to get any of it.

God does not hold us responsible for being born into such a helpless condition. But once we see the way out in Christ, we become responsible for embracing it, or for taking full responsibility for staying in darkness.

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hates the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3:19-21)

Coming Into Freedom

God is dealing with creatures who are in total bondage to sin – the root of which is self-rule. And we are so comfortable and at home in that condition, that to us, it seems normal. We have little sense of need, or if we have any sense, we try to find the solution within ourselves.

God cannot simply come into our lives and force us into freedom. Why? Because the very definition of freedom carries with it the power of choice. Thus, to say God can free our wills by forcing His will upon us is contradictory. It goes against everything God wants to accomplish.

The only solution is therefore for God to work a VOLUNTARY way in which we can be set free. And that means that He must begin by showing us the Truth about our condition. He must show us the way out through Christ. Then we can choose because we know enough to choose.

Once we see the Truth, God will then "work in us both to will and to do" (see Phil. 2:12-13). But He won’t WILL or DO for us. We must make the choice to fall into His hands.

"Double predestination" teaches that God ordains who is saved and who is condemned. Our choices, this error teaches, are preordained. We are simply working out what God has already planned. Really, this is like saying we think we are choosing, but aren’t. Some hidden force, called the election of God, is really choosing for us. But this is heresy. If it were true, there is no such thing as real freedom.

The claim behind this idea of double predestination is that it must be so if God is truly sovereign. These folks claim that if a person can refuse God then they are more powerful than God. But the Truth is, God is so powerful, and so sovereign, that He can allow people to refuse Him. Only a truly sovereign God makes room for free will. A weak God would not dare to do so.

The Truth is, God shows us the Truth. He brings us to the place of choice. But in the final analysis, WE must choose. It is a fact that we cannot even get to even that point without God’s work of grace. But we do get there by His grace, and have choices to make. And in the final analysis, there really is only ONE fundamental choice before us: God’s rule, or our own rule. Will we fall into the hands of the living God?

The Truth, Jesus said, will set us free. Herein we must ask TWO questions. First, free FROM what? Second, free TO what?

The answers are obvious. The Truth first sets us free FROM the errors and darkness upon which we have based our lives. Mostly lies about God – or lies that HIDE God. And also lies about our condition in Adam. Once we see the Truth about these, we see how wonderful God is, and how much we need Him. Thus, we are brought to the place where we see things clearly – as God sees them. Our will is then no longer operating out of darkness. We can choose.

Secondly, the Truth sets us free TO return to God. This is what we were made for. It is ALL we were made for. We see where we belong; where our home really is. Once we see the Truth about God, and about our need for Him, we would be fools not to freely and voluntarily choose to surrender to Him and live forever.

However, it is a fact that there are people who ARE fools. The reason they will not choose God is that there is always a trade-off for freedom. In order to be free you have to walk out of your prison cell – where you may have been comfortable. Someone once said it is better to reign in hell than to serve in hell. Unfortunately, some folks agree.

There IS always a trade-off in order to get free from error, and to embrace the Truth. But the fundamental requirement is really always the same. It is a three-word phrase – the most difficult three words in the English language: I was wrong. It’s that simple. If we are in error, and want to receive the Truth, we have to say those words to God. Some people won’t.

To get free from error we have to see it AS error, admit we have believed it, and throw ourselves on the mercy of God. Not a big price to pay. The result will be a life of Truth and freedom in Jesus Christ.

Renewing the Mind

The apostle Paul talked about the effects of the Truth on the mind:

Be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Rom. 12:2)

Again, note the premise upon which this verse is based: That we need to grow. That we NEED our minds renewed. Otherwise, the whole verse is nonsense. Paul is telling us that there is a process involved in walking with Christ which will result in a continual renewing of our minds according to the Truth. Translated, this means we will see and admit error. And we will expand what Truth we already have into new areas.

Do you realize that you believe SOMETHING about EVERYTHING? Sure. Even if you say, "I don’t know what I believe," that IS what you believe! Even if you say, "I don’t believe that," you are stating what you believe: That the thing is false. Human beings are BELIEVING creatures. You observe your environment, process the info, and decide what is reality. And the frightening part is, you are NOT objective. You are subjective. Everything you believe is based on a moral relationship with God.

When we get right with God, and surrender to Him, God is able to begin a work wherein He can cause what we see, and how we process the info, to be in accordance with the Truth. In time, what we believe will then become the Truth. Our minds will be renewed by the Truth, that is, we will see things as they are, and believe what IS.

Contrast this verse to the notion that what we really need is more Bible knowledge. No. Bible knowledge is good and necessary. But what we need is to know the Truth Himself. There is a big difference between the two as to dimension – although certainly our knowledge of God Himself will always agree with what the Bible says about Him.

Real Freedom

We define freedom as the right and power to do as we please. But even within a democracy, the individual’s freedom is restricted so that by it’s exercise it does not take away the freedom of others. Democracy thus does have as a goal freedom for the common good.

But what is real liberty according to God? Is it the right and power to do as we please? Most of us would say NO. We would say that true freedom is the right and power to do GOD’S will. In one sense, this is true. But if we end our definition there, we have left out an important part of the equation.

The fact is, real freedom IS the right and the power to do as we please. Even according to God! Really? Yes. Anything less is NOT true freedom.

Now wait a minute. That does not sound right at all. It sounds like I am saying that God intends to set us free to sin – to live in self-will. Are we saying that we can do whatever we please -- with God’s full approval? No. Not at all. Remember, I said we have left an important part out – the MOST important part.

You see, despite the fact that real freedom really IS the right and power to do as we please, God has the problem covered. How? By changing us. In other words, by changing "what WE please" to what HE pleases. In effect, by the time God is done setting us free, we WANT to do HIS will. We will have a nature wherein it is NORMAL to want to do the will of God.

In Adam, it is normal to do wrong. Even when we do right, it is with a tainted motive. It is more natural for human beings to do what is against the will of God than it is for us to do what is in harmony with Him. This is because we have the sin nature.

But when a person sees the Truth, and his will is set free through the power of the Blood of Christ, it becomes more natural for him to want to do right then it is for him to want to do wrong. That is because he is a new creation with a new nature – which wants to do right!

This is absolutely the only way REAL freedom could work. The moment I obey God – and do it under threat of punishment – I am not exercising true liberty. Only if I obey God because I want to obey Him, with no strings attached, am I really free. This is possible only if God gives me a new nature through the Redemption of Jesus Christ.

What we are talking about here is totally impossible for human beings. We might force ourselves to obey God because we want to avoid the consequences if we don’t obey, or if we want a reward for obeying. But there is no way for us to grab our old nature in Adam, and make it WANT to obey God – with no strings attached. Impossible. For that, we have to have the one thing no person has without Jesus Christ: The love of God.

Love spells freedom, because love does right because it wants to do right. Doing right is, for love, "doing what it pleases!" God puts a deposit of His own life in us through Christ, and this changes our entire perspective about God and about ourselves, and about life. We see the Truth, and we walk in it.

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