To many people, the title of today's message would be considered an oxymoron. For many people within and without the church of Christ find freedom to be an elusive dream. The reason for this is the creeping legalism that has taken over our churches in the last decade or so. The gospel of "you better do this" and "you better not do that" has so influenced our Christian thinking that freedom apart from obedience is a foreign concept. In other words, the church today believes that obedience leads to freedom, not vice versa.
This teaching goes against the whole of Christianity. For the very foundation of our faith is that we who are sinful, we who are weak-could never obey God's law perfectly. That's why Jesus came and did it for us. This is the one distinguishing mark that sets Christianity apart from all other religions. In this I mean that in Buddhism, Hinduism, etc., the emphasis is upon the devotee performing certain acts that will raise their spirituality or bring them closer to God. In stark contrast, Christianity trusts only in the merit of Christ and upon His finished work on the cross.
This system of earning your own way to heaven is called works righteousness. By performing works or good deeds, you are made righteous before God, or so they say. This system is nothing new. It has been around for many centuries. As a matter of fact, the Apostle Paul was battling this system of errors when he wrote his epistle to the Galatians.
The church in Galatia had fallen under the false teaching that faith in Christ wasn't enough for salvation. Besides faith, you had to be circumcised and follow other Mosaic laws and rituals. Now Paul, who called himself "the chief of sinners" wasn't about to stand by and see the church go two steps backwards into works righteousness. He had taught them about being free in Christ. He had showed them how Christ had fulfilled the Law in their place. So to see them return to bondage was more than he could bear. Read this passage from the book of Galatians and notice Paul's tone as he pleas with the church to come to their senses.
Paul is upset because the Galatians had allowed false teachers to come in and pervert the pure doctrine of grace that he had taught them.
We might think the church in Galatia was foolish for returning to bondage. But the church in America is deceived in the exact same way. The majority of our pastors and teachers attempt to keep their people under their thumb by holding the terror of condemnation over them. Why would they do such a thing?To inspire love for God.. This might sound ridiculous, but what is even more ridiculous to them would be to offer freedom and liberty in Christ. They are afraid if these things were taught from the pulpit the people would go and sin like there's no tomorrow! These pastors completely ignore the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer and God's power to transform them. It's easier therefore to hold the Law and ritual over them instead of trusting in God to do what He has already promised to do(Phil. 1:6).
But preaching of this sort(liberty, freedom) is exactly what is needed in our churches today. We have people who are convinced that obedience leads to freedom, and when they try their best and still fall short they blame God and the church for misleading them. It's not so much a matter of deceit as it is poor theology. The Bible calls pastors to preach freedom in Christ, knowing full well that our finite minds won't be able to understand these concepts completely. Look what Paul writes in the verse below:
1 CORINTHIANS 1:23
The Jews of the Galatian church were as brainwashed as we are today. We think being a Christian is being tied to a ball and chain of "do's" and "dont's". True, there are certain commandments God expects us to follow, but our obedience to them is not what guarantees our adoption into His family. It is the perfect work and obedience of Christ. We can never be justified by the things we do, or promise to do.
In conclusion, let me give you two things to meditate upon that will help you understand your freedom in Christ.
1. If you have turned from trusting in your own works, you already have eternal life. You have already been forgiven based upon the death of Christ on the cross.
2. We are no longer slaves, but sons. No one is allowed to command our conscience except for Christ through the Holy Spirit. Forget all the "house rules" of the local church. If it is not forbidden in Scripture, and the Spirit does not convict you of being in sin, you have the freedom to participate in the things you choose.
If you understand these simple two things, you will be free to serve God out of love and gratitude instead of fear and obligation. You will start to see God as a loving Father, not a fearful Judge. Finally, and most importantly, you will begin to live the life of freedom that has already been purchased for you by Christ.