FREEDOM IN CHRIST (Part 1 of 2)
When a new believer in Jesus Christ makes a commitment to “live for the Lord,” she may be shocked to realize that some of her old sinful habits did not magically disappear when she became a Christian. She may begin to read her Bible, pray, and fellowship regularly at her local church. However, there seems to be an underlying uneasiness in her soul that causes her to question whether she may in fact really be a believer. She grows discouraged when she seems to struggle day after day with some of the same sins. A cloud, pregnant with depression, has started to greet her every morning she wakes. She is ashamed to admit to her pastor or church counselor that this Christian life is not turning out to be as joyful as she had been led to believe. She is now living a life of quiet desperation, hoping that maybe today will be the day she stumbles across the secret of living that seemingly illusive victorious Christian life.
Mercifully, there is hope for every believer who may be struggling with this same level of frustration. The tools for living a victorious Christian life are not a secret. Paul teaches throughout the letter to the Romans that victory over sin is actually a lifelong process lived each day fully surrendered to the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. A believer will begin to walk in freedom from defeat when she recognizes that she is free from condemnation, free to live by the Spirit, and free to obey with complete surrender.
FREE FROM CONDEMNATION
While many Christians may recognize that salvation is by grace alone, they still possess a warped view of God’s grace. His grace was sufficient to save, but maybe it is not enough to carry them through the day-to-day struggles. While most believers know they will be escaping the future condemnation of hell, they have failed to grasp the reality of freedom from present condemnation. Paul makes clear that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). In an incredible display of grace, God has freed us from all condemnation, both present and future. “In a sort of divine time warp, the future condemnation that we all richly deserve has been transferred from the future into the past, having been borne by Christ (Rom. 8:1-3). Thus we ‘have been saved.’”
Some believe that God expects sinless perfection, and anything less will evoke the heavy hand of damnation. Some may experience an underlying sense of uneasiness in every area of their lives because nothing they undertake will ever be good enough to measure up to God’s standards. Too many forget that “God’s Son gave his life for people when they were at their very worst: when they were still “weak,” “ungodly,” “sinners,” God’s “enemies.” They have forgotten that they have been made righteous through Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-23).
Believers must recognize that God wants his children to serve him out of love and devotion, not out of fear. “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba Father” (Rom. 8:15). Christians are not only saved from hell, they are saved from the condemnation of living a life full of fear.
Every believer is fully equipped with the Holy Spirit that empowers a believer to conquer sin (Romans 8:37). Being conquerors means living in freedom. Paul reminds every believer that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).
However, living in freedom does not give a Christian the right to live a life of willful sin. While a believer is free from condemnation, she is not free to live however she pleases. “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Rom. 6:18). When an individual becomes a believer, she is given a new master, Jesus Christ. She no longer has an obligation to follow sin. Yet, Paul warns a believer that she can become a slave to sin again when she offers herself to it (Romans 6:16). As Moo points out, “Lack of concern for sin is incompatible with true faith.” God will discipline those he loves. If a believer continues in willful habitual sin and receives no discipline, she may need to examine her heart as to whether she really is a believer. (Hebrews 12:4-11). “When faith becomes obedience, it is true faith indeed.”
“The moment we receive the Lord as Savior, God sets us apart for Himself, instantaneously, certainly and forever.” The theological word for “being set apart” is sanctification. God’s goal of sanctification is to mold us into the image of his son (Romans 8:29-30). “The Holy Spirit produces in the believer the very attributes which characterize Jesus Christ, the Son, and God the Father.” “It is by the Spirit that the indwelling presence of the risen Christ is conveyed and maintained.”
FREE TO LIVE BY THE SPIRIT
“All real beauty of character, all real Christlikeness in us, is the Holy Spirit’s work. He is to the Christian what the sap is to the tree--the source of productive life and power.”
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there
is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s
glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory,
which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17-18).
Recognizing the Holy Spirit as God is essential to understanding the power within a believer’s life. The Holy Spirit brings to the believer the actual presence of God. The gift of the Holy Spirit is not a reward to only a select few believers. The Holy Spirit is a gift for all who believe. The Spirit is infused into every believer, not just those who appear to be more holy.
The Spirit-indwelt life is not a special deluxe edition of Christianity to
be enjoyed by a certain rare and privileged few who happen to be made
of finer and more sensitive stuff than the rest. Rather, it is the normal
state for every redeemed man and woman the world over.
Regrettably, there are many Christians with a skewed view of the Holy Spirit. Some may imagine him to be “a nebulous substance like a wisp of invisible smoke that is said to be present in churches and to hover over good people when they are dying.” Others place too much emphasis on the Holy Spirit to the exclusion of the Father and the Son.
For the Holy Spirit is not a luxury, not something added now and again
to produce a deluxe type of Christian once in a generation. No, he is for
every child of God a vital necessity, and that he fill and indwell his people
is more than a languid hope. It is rather an inescapable imperative.
A believer’s mindset can only be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. “If the world controls your thinking, you are a conformer; if God controls your thinking, you are a transformer.” “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18). “Only the inworking of the Spirit’s power can enable us to discover the solemn majesty and the heart-ravishing mystery of the triune God.”
The difficulty we modern Christians face is not misunderstanding the Bible,
but persuading our untamed hearts to accept its plain instructions. Our
problem is to get the consent of our world-loving minds to make Jesus Lord
in fact as well as in word.
As noted by Ryrie, there must be a healthy balance between a believer’s role and that of the Holy Spirit. However, the Spirit is essential for the believer to live out the salvation that God has brought about through Jesus Christ. “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). “It is ‘you’ not the Spirit that is putting to death the deeds of the body.” “God’s working is not suspended because I work; neither is God’s working always apart from my working. Again the human and divine are joined in the matter of walking in the Spirit.” As Moo points out:
Paul does not call on people to wage a war against sin with the hope
that God will take their side and win the war for them. Throughout his
teaching—and, indeed, throughout the Bible—God takes the initiative.
In grace, he acts to help his people, and he asks them to respond.
(Next week, I will post Part 2 of 2).
 Gordon D. Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 52.
 Stephen Westerholm, Understanding Paul, The Early Christian Worldview of the Letter to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), 93.
 Douglas J. Moo, Romans, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 80.
 A. W. Tozer, The Divine Conquest (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1950), 132.
 Charles Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago: Moody, 1994), 64.
 Keith H. Essex, “Sanctification: the Biblically Identifiable Fruit.” The Master’s Seminary Journal. MSJ 21/2 (Fall 2010), 210.
 Bruce, F. F. Romans, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 165.
 Elmer Towns, Theology Today (Mason, OH: Cengage, 2008), 306.
 Tozer, Divine Conquest,151.
 Ibid., 67-68.
 Ibid., 118.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament (Colorado Springs: Cook, 2007), 442.
 Tozer, Divine Conquest, 104.
 Ibid., 131.
 Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago: Moody, 1994), 66-67.
 Fee, Paul, 7.
 Ryrie, Balancing, 67.
 Moo, Romans, 214.
Kathy Garrett McInnis