THE FREEDOM AND THE STRUGGLE OF THE BELIEVER IN CHRIST
compiled by Michael Jeshurun
“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” [John 8:36].
The “therefore” here settles the application of the previous verse. “The Son” is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is able to make free the bond-slaves of sin because He is the Son. The Son is no bond-slave in the Father’s family, but He is one in purpose and power with the Father; He is in perfect fellowship with Him, and therefore He is fully competent to liberate those under the tyranny of sin and the dominion of Satan.
To make His people “free” was the central object in view in the Divine incarnation. The first ministerial utterance of Christ was to the effect that the Spirit of the Lord had anointed Him to preach “deliverance to the captives… to set at liberty them that are bruised” or “bound” [Luke 4:18]. And so thoroughly are men under the thraldom of sin, so truly do they love darkness rather than light, they have to be made free. [cf. “maketh me to lie down” Psalm 23.]
“Ye shall be free indeed!” FREE FROM WHAT?
This brings before us the truth of Christian freedom: a most important subject, but one too wide to discuss here at any length. To sum up in the fewest possible words, we would say that Christian liberty, spiritual liberty, consists of this:
First, DELIVERANCE FROM THE CONDEMNATION OF SIN, the penalty of the law, the wrath of God — [Isa 42:7; 60:1; Rom 8:1.
Second, DELIVERANCE FROM THE POWER OF SATAN — [Acts 26:18;
Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 2:14, 15].
Third, FROM THE BONDAGE OF SIN — [Romans 6:14, 18.]
Fourth, FROM THE AUTHORITY OF MAN — [Galatians 4:8, 9; 5:1; Colossians 2:20-22].
So much for the negative side; now a word on the positive. Christians are delivered from the things just mentioned that they may be free to serve God. The believer is “the Lord’s freeman” [1 Corinthians 7:22], not Christ’s freeman, observe, but “the Lord’s,” a Divine title which ever emphasizes our submission to His authority. When a sinner is saved he is not free to follow the bent of his old nature, for that would be lawlessness. Spiritual freedom is not license to do as I please, but emancipation from the bondage of sin and Satan that I may do as I ought: “that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life” [Luke 1:74, 75]. – A.W. Pink
Now does all of the above mean that the believer in Christ is fully and finally ‘FREE’ from all hindrances to love and serve His God and fellow man with all his heart, mind and soul? Sadly No!
For reasons best known to Him the great God has still left His child with his old nature to grapple with. And hence the confession of one of the most eminent apostles of them all –
“For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. . . . For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for TO WILL IS PRESENT WITH ME; but HOW to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” [Romans 7:15:19]
In the same vein, writing to the Galatians he says, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that YE CANNOT DO THE THINGS THAT YE WOULD! [Gal 5:16,17]
Read that again – “so that YE CANNOT DO THE THINGS THAT YE WOULD!”
Commenting on this verse John Owen the author of ‘Amazing Grace’ wrote in a letter to a believer –
“This is a humbling but an accurate account of a Christian’s attainments in the present life, and is equally applicable to the strongest and to the weakest. The weakest need not say less — the strongest will hardly venture to say more.
The Lord has given His people a desire aiming at great things — but THEY CANNOT DO AS THEY WOULD. Their best desires are weak and ineffectual, not absolutely so — but in comparison with the NOBLE MARK at which they aim. So that while they have great cause to be thankful for the desire He has given them, and for the degree in which it is answered — they have equal reason to be ASHAMED and ABASED under a sense of their CONTINUAL DEFECTS and the EVIL MIXTURES which taint and debase their best endeavors!
It would be easy to make out a long list of particulars, which a believer WOULD do if he could — but in which, from first to last, he finds a MORTIFYING INABILITY. Permit me to mention a few, which I need not transcribe from books, for they are always present to my mind.
HE WOULD WILLINGLY ENJOY GOD IN PRAYER. He knows that prayer is his duty; but he considers it likewise as his greatest honor and privilege. In this light he can recommend it to others, and can tell them of the wonderful condescension of the great God, who HUMBLES Himself and opens His GRACIOUS EAR to the SUPPLICATIONS OF SINFUL WORMS upon earth! The believer can bid others to expect a pleasure in waiting upon the Lord, different in kind and greater in degree than all that the world can afford. By prayer he can say: “You have liberty to cast all your cares upon Him who cares for you. By one hour’s intimate access to the throne of grace — you may acquire more true spiritual knowledge and comfort, than by a week’s converse with the best of men, or the most studious perusal of many books.” And in this light he would consider it and improve it for himself.
But, alas; how seldom can he do as he would! How often does he find this PRIVILEGE to be a mere TASK, which he would be glad of a just excuse to omit! and the chief pleasure he derives from the performance — is to think that his TASK is finished! He has been drawing near to God with his LIPS — while his HEART was far from Him. Surely this is not doing as he would, when [to borrow the expression of an old woman here,] HE IS DRAGGED BEFORE GOD LIKE A SLAVE, AND COMES AWAY LIKE A THIEF!
Though we aim at this GOOD — EVIL is present with us!
Alas! how vain is man in his best estate! How much weakness and inconsistency, even in those whose hearts are right with the Lord! What reason have we to confess that we are unworthy, unprofitable servants!
It were easy to enlarge in this way — would paper and time permit. But, blessed be God, we are not under the LAW — but under grace! And even these distressing effects of THE REMNANTS OF INDWELLING SIN are overruled for good. By these experiences — the believer is weaned more from SELF, and taught more highly to prize and more absolutely to rely on Him, who is our Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification and Redemption! THE MORE VILE WE ARE IN OUR OWN EYES — THE MORE PRECIOUS HE WILL BE TO US! A deep repeated sense of the evil of our hearts — is necessary to preclude all boasting, and to make us willing to give the whole glory of our salvation where it is due!
Again, a sense of these evils will [when hardly anything else can do it] reconcile us to the thoughts of DEATH! Yes, they make us DESIROUS to depart — that we may sin no more; since we find DEPRAVITY so deep-rooted in our nature, that, like the LEPROUS HOUSE, the whole fabric must be taken down before we can be freed from its defilement!
Then, and not until then — we shall be able to DO THE THING THAT WE WOULD! When we see Jesus — we shall be transformed into His image, and be done with sin and sorrow forever!”
N B. “It is not to be understood from the above article that the experience of the Christian is one of constant or total defeat. On the other hand, no Christian enjoys a course of uninterrupted victory. Nor does the above article portray the experience of a backslider, for when a Christian lapses into a backslidden state, his desires and efforts are far below the level of what was here described by Mr. Newton. Just as in the natural world all days are not bright and fair, so it is in our present spiritual life; there is light and shade, brightness and gloom, ups and downs, songs and groans, praisings and confessions. No Christian perfectly realizes his own aspirations. The “Perfect Day” has not yet dawned.” – A.W. Pink
“The path of the Christian is indeed a mysterious one, full of harmonious contradictions and heavenly paradoxes. He is never easy when at ease, nor without a burden when he has none. He is never satisfied without doing something, and yet is never satisfied with anything that he does. He is never so strong as when he sits still [Isa 30:7], never so fruitful as when he does nothing, and never so active as when he makes the least haste [Isa 28:16].
All outstrip him in the race, yet he alone gains the goal, and wins the prize. All are sure of heaven but himself, yet he enters into the kingdom, whilst they are thrust out. He wins pardon through guilt, hope through despair, deliverance through temptation, comfort through affliction, and a robe of righteousness through filthy rags. Though a worm and no man, he overcomes Omnipotence itself through violence; and though less than vanity and nothing [Isa 40:17 2Co 12:11], he takes heaven itself by force [Mt 11:12.]
Thus amidst the strange contradictions which meet in a believing heart, he is never so prayerful as when he says nothing; never so wise as when he is the greatest fool; never so much alone as when most in company; and never so much under the power of an inward religion as when most separated from an outward one.
Strange mysterious creature! He cannot live without sinning, yet cannot live in sin; cannot live without prayer, and yet for days together cannot pray; continually finds religion a burden, yet would not part with it for the world; lusts after sin as a delicious morsel, yet hates it with a perfect hatred; esteems Christ the Chiefest among ten thousand, and yet is at times tried with doubts whether He is a Saviour at all.”
– J.C. Philpot