Holy Week Reflection: Freedom in Christ

(I contributed the following to the QUIET COLUMN on 3/22/16. I encourage you to check out the Blog)

Do you ever get anxious about sin in your life? Have you ever fretted over a sin, worried that if you got hit by a bus you might not make it into Heaven because you had not confessed before God and asked for forgiveness? Do you ever remorse over your sinful heart and wonder whether you are good enough to make it into Heaven? Do you look at fellow believers and either judge them for their sin or become anxious for them because they have not repented?

A blogger once remarked to me that he felt compelled to confront believers about their sin because he feared looking into their eyes on judgment day and being filled with regret for not opening their eyes to their sin, the believers condemned for their unrepentant sin. While sins are grievous, the good news is that Jesus Christ took anxiety over sin away from believers and nailed it to the Cross. If you are bogged down in anxiety over your or another’s sin, you need to find sanctuary in the freedom Christ secured for believers at Calvary. Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross did not just make salvation possible if a believer works hard enough or is good enough; rather it secured the believer’s salvation.

28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

. . . .

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

. . . .

44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. . . . 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.

. . . .

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? . . . 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.

John 6 (emphasis added).

Christ’s words here are extremely important. He did not say that He will raise a believer up only if the believer is sinless, or repents of every sin, or works hard enough, or is fully righteous. No, to the contrary, Christ said if someone places his faith in Him, He will raise that person up for eternal life. Jesus also said that one cannot come to Him unless the Father enables and draws the person; and if the Father draws the person, that person will come to Jesus and will be saved. This promise of salvation in return for faith is not conditioned on works. The believer is saved by grace alone, through faith, and not by works.1

In his epistle to the churches in Galatia, Paul admonished Jewish Christians who were teaching that converts, including Gentiles, must adhere to certain Jewish customs under the Law of Moses, such as circumcision and observance of special days, months, seasons and years, in order to obtain salvation. By this teaching, they were adding works to faith as a condition of salvation, which Paul described as placing again the yoke of slavery to the Law upon the believer. By doing so, the Jewish Christians rejected the freedom of Christ through faith. Just as the Old Testament Jews stumbled over the stumbling stone (that is, Christ)2 by focusing on righteousness through works, the Galatian Jews were stumbling over Christ by reverting to legalism. Galatians 3.

Paul explained in Galatians that righteousness though the Law came only from perfect obedience to the Law, which was beyond the ability of man, and failing to obey one aspect of the Law brought death. The whole sacrificial system was put in place so that the Jews could atone for their sins by the death and blood of a living creature, because the penalty for sin was death. This sacrificial system foreshadowed Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, which satisfied forever the Law’s death penalty for those who have faith in Christ. And His death fulfilled the promise made to Abraham that believers would be saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

3 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? 4 Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5 So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? 6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Galatians 3 (emphasis added).

Paul is very clear above that works neither grant nor deny believers entry into Heaven. Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross secured for those who have faith in Him eternal life apart from any condition of works. The Law brought death; Christ brought life. Paul described the distinction between salvation by works and salvation by faith as freedom in Christ.

5 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. 2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 5 (emphasis added).

So, what does all of this mean for believers today? Those who have placed their faith in Christ are guaranteed salvation. This guarantee is not conditioned on works. Christ nailed works righteousness to the Cross. Therefore, our sins do not deny us entry into Heaven. By faith in Christ, the believer can shed anxiety over sin and not being good enough for salvation. Righteousness is credited to the believer the moment he or she places faith in Christ.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Romans 8:1-2.

This is a big reason scripture tells believers not to judge (i.e., condemn) others for their sin.3 Judging others reverts to works righteousness and slavery to the law of sin and death.

The presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts allows us to shed our anxiety over sin and death. A believer is unique from a nonbeliever because at the believer’s rebirth he receives the gift of the Holy Spirit. A nonbeliever is dead in his sins and cannot follow God because the Spirit is not in him. Romans 8:7 (“The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”). But God sends the Holy Spirit into the hearts of those who are His, and it is the Spirit within the heart who calls out to God.

6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

Galatians 4 (emphasis added).

The good news of the foregoing gift of the Holy Spirit cannot be overstated. Paul is clear that only by the Holy Spirit do we follow God (for it is the Spirit within us who cries out “Abba, Father”). Paul tells us in his epistle to the Corinthians that “no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.1 Corinthians 12:3. Without the Spirit, Paul says we are hostile to God and cannot submit to Him. Romans 8:7 (“The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.“). This is why Jesus tells us that “no one can come to [Him] unless the Father has enabled them.” John 6:65. This enabling by the Spirit was prophesied about by Isaiah: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.” Isaiah 35:5. The comfort from this is we know that, if we have faith in Christ, our faith is by the Holy Spirit living in us, and if the Holy Spirit is living in us, we are saved and adopted sons of God.

9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.

. . . .

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 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.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Romans 8 (emphasis added).

Isn’t that INCREDIBLE news?! By our faith, we have confidence that God has redeemed us, and Jesus will not let go of us. John 6:38-40 (“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”). By the Spirit, we become adopted sons! So what is the basis for our anxiety over sin? We are no longer condemned and are freed from the law of sin and death! Romans 8:1-2.

Before concluding, it is important to note that this freedom in Christ does not mean that a believer is free to continue sinning. To the contrary, God brings the sinner to Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit, and by the Holy Spirit the believer is to flee from sin.

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 5 (emphasis added).

Once God sends the Spirit into the hearts of those He calls, the Spirit and the flesh (i.e., the sinful nature) then wage war against each other for the believer’s will. Paul described this internal spiritual struggle well:

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Romans 7 (emphasis added).

Paul was so frustrated with himself because he continued to sin even though he loved God. This led him to exclaim: “What a wretched man I am!” But, and this is critical, while Paul was remorseful about his sin, he did not despair or become anxious over salvation. To the contrary, after his exclamation about his wretched condition, he immediately acknowledged and sang praises that God had rescued him from sin and death by the blood of Jesus. This didn’t mean that Paul stopped sinning. To the contrary, he made it plain that he sinned regularly. But he knew those sins were blotted out by the Cross.

As you reflect on Jesus during this Holy Week, treasure the gift of freedom He secured for you on the Cross. Do not despair that your sins will separate you from God or will deny your entrance into Heaven.

[N]either death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, [is] able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38.

As Paul said, “the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:2. The believer should be remorseful over sin just as Paul was. Sin demonstrates our need of the grace God gave to us through faith in Jesus by the Holy Spirit. But we have confidence through faith in Jesus that those sins are no longer a barrier between us and God. Jesus broke down that barrier at the Cross.4

So shake off any anxiety that you have to work yourself into Heaven. God does not keep a scorecard. He tossed the scorecard into the fire the moment Jesus died. Instead of despairing over sins, rejoice in the knowledge that Christ saved you from those sins. And by sending His Spirit into your heart, He guaranteed your inheritance. 2 Corinthians 2:21-22 (“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”). “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:25.


1  In James, we are told that faith without deeds is dead; therefore we are not saved by faith alone. See James 2:24, 26 (“[A] person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. . . .   As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”). While seemingly contradictory to Paul’s message that we are saved by grace alone, through faith, in context the messages are completely harmonious. Paul states clearly in Galatians and elsewhere in his writings that a believer led by the Spirit must leave his or her life of sin. In Romans 8:13, for example, Paul states: “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.” Paul was saying the same thing as James-that belief alone that Jesus is Lord is insufficient for salvation; rather a person must accept and have faith in Christ as the person’s Savior and put that faith into action. As said in James, faith and deeds work together. James 2:22. The distinction here is the difference between mere belief and salvific faith. Mere belief does nothing, for, as said in James, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” James 2:19. But salvific faith comes from being “led by the Spirit.” Romans 8:14. Those that are “led by the Spirit” act on their faith due to their spiritual rebirths by the regenerative work of the Spirit. Those that do not have the Spirit do “not submit to God’s law, nor can [they] do so.” Romans 8:7. James is not saying that works get us into Heaven or that a sin will keep a believer out of Heaven; the point in James is that simply believing that Jesus is the Christ is not evidence of salvific faith, because even Satan and his legion know that. Salvific faith is faith in action.

2  See Romans 9:30-33 (“What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written: ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.’”).

3  See Matthew 7:1-2 (“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”).

4  See Matthew 27:50-51 (“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”).

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