Freedom I can believe in – part 1 (1/3)

Do you remember the day you got a really, big, big present from someone? What was it? Many answers are possible here. A car from daddy. A wedding ring? A holiday to a beautiful resort perhaps? Isn’t it great to receive a nice present? Sometimes when we receive something really big, we often wonder if there is any string attached to it? After all, who would give something big without wanting anything in return?

In chapter 5 I talked about 7 beautiful gifts that we can get from God now that we are justified by faith. Allow me to quickly summarize them:

  1. Peace with God (vs 1)
  2. Access to God (vs 2)
  3. Hope (vs 3)
  4. Tribulations producing Christian character (vs 4)
  5. God’s love (vs 5-8)
  6. Future wrath of God (vs 9)
  7. Reconciliation (vs 11)

To sum this up in one big present; the biggest present that you could ever get from got is being right with Him. It’s the gift of righteousness (Romans 5:17).

There really is no bigger gift than that!

Justification by faith is the topic that we’ve been exploring in chapters 4 and 5 of Romans. We are right with God by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Period! And that is God’s mercy on our lives. We didn’t deserve it because we were so way off. We lived life for ourselves, nevertheless, God sent His Son while we were in that miserable state (Romans 5:8!). Amazing grace!

Jesus once said this defining what it means to be His disciple.

“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know that truth and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:31-32

The question that I would like to answer today is this: How free are we really in Christ?

A long time ago I saw a movie called “Instinct”. In the movie there is a scene of a monkey that has been in a cage for a long, long time. One actor, Antony Hopkins, plays the role of a scientist that had been with monkeys in the wild for a long time. First he spent time with them as part of a research project, but over time he identified himself so much with a tribe of monkeys, that he even became part of their tribe, even being a human being. He was accepted as one of them.  One day the tribe was attacked by humans who were in it for the money obviously, and Hopkins defended them, unsuccessfully with his life. He didn’t die, yet, some of the monkeys did. Hopkins was captured and brought back to America where he was observed in prison by a psychiatrist. The other actor, Cuba Gooding Jr. tries to figure out what drove Hopkins to live the life he lived in Africa.

One particular scene is really interesting. Hopkins and Gooding Jr were in a facility where some of the monkeys that used to be free were also present. In an emotional scene Hopkins does something extraordinary! He opens the gate of a prison cell where a big, old, impressive monkey was captured. What would happen next? Would the creature escape? Would he attack them perhaps?

No, nothing of that! He simply didn’t move an inch! Nothing. Hopkins, being the expert of monkeys, explains why. He said that imprisonment for many years had finally broken their spirit. They simply gave up. The monkey, even though the gate was now wide open, believed he was still imprisoned and didn’t even try.

Often Christians may wonder the same question: am I really free?

Especially when you read about the New Life in Christ in the Bible, they can’t help but wonder if that is really for them. They look at the reality of their lives and the reality of what is promised in Scripture and wonder why there is such a difference.

Jesus is the Truth. He is also the Life. He gives Life. He is God’s ultimate gift to restore us back to the Father. Still, many Christians don’t experience that restoration fully. It’s not that they don’t know they are forgiven. Nevertheless, they are still TWEENERS. Living between two states… Like the Israelites, they live between Egypt and Canaan. Saved, but never really satisfied. Or to put in another way, they live between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Yes, the Cross is real, but they never really enter into the power and glory of the resurrection. Now, please don’t listen to this in a condemning or legalistic way. When Jesus said that once we would know the truth, that would truly set us free. His Word is true and powerful. There is so much hope here once we understand what we are saved from and what we are saved to. So, let’s dive in chapter 6 of Romans and try to answer the question: ‘How free are we really in Christ?’

Keep that in mind…

Paul wraps up his argument in chapter 5 saying that the free gift of grace brought people into a right relationship (right-standing) with God and this can only be accepted and experienced by faith, not works. Now, remember that Paul is dealing with a church that is mixed with gentile and Jewish Christians. Particularly the Jewish Christians used to follow the Law of Moses all their lives. In fact, the Law of Moses had been observed for over 1500 years before Christ came. It’s pretty safe to say that observing that Law was rooted in the religious system and experience of many believers still.

When Paul writes that people can receive the gift of righteousness, being right with God, some may still wonder: ‘Yeah but?!’

Usually two extreme reactions are then possible being legalistic and licentious living. Remember last time I mentioned C.S. Lewis’ remarkable insight? In the “Pentecost 2018” blogs I wrote that the devil tries to send errors into the world in pairs. Legalism and licentious living are two extremes and they are very powerful!

The licentious Christian can now think that now he is set free, prayed the prayer and is on his way to heaven that he can live his life. After all, he is free! This is for sure the argument of opponents of Paul that think he’s teaching a new doctrine that is actually very dangerous. It is as if parents here would say to their kids: ‘Listen up, you are free! Do what you want!’ Our very human nature immediately responds with a ‘yeah but’. How will they use that freedom? What if they wander off? Freedom can be a dangerous thing you know?

The ‘natural reaction’ would perhaps be to keep these kids in check by putting lots of boundaries here and there. Yes, you are free, BUT… (fill in the blank)

With raising kids we understand that boundaries are understandable and even healthy. Yet, the question is this: ‘What drives people to not cross a line?’ Is it because mommy and daddy said so? Or is it something else? Particularly with teens you see that something is really shifting. The rule that once worked so well with him when he was a child, all of a sudden doesn’t work that well anymore now he’s a teen. What to do?

Paul goes on and explains what it really means to be free. He gives the readers of the letter a mental picture that they were all familiar with. What is it?

He says it like this in 6:1

Shall we continue in sin (which was the fear of those that thought that the Law of Moses was not important anymore…) that grace may abound? REMEMBER, in chapter 5 Paul argued that grace really superseded sin. The gift of life in Christ is greater than our sin. People easily can now come to the conclusion that because people are free, they continue sinning. After all, God is a forgiving God. He’ll pardon you! Grace covers it all!

It is in this context that Paul reminds the Romans constantly by these words:

DO YOU NOT KNOW?

Apparently, Paul wants to remind them of a very basic doctrine. It’s really something foundational. If you say ‘Don’t you know’ once to a person, you may think something like ‘He is reminding me here of something’. Paul does this how many times? Several times! (see verses 3, 6, 9, 16) He really wants them to know this vital truth. What vital truth?

I will deal with that in the next blog.