Some verses from the July 5 set readings to start:
Freedom for those who feel like prisoners: “Because of…My covenant… I will free your prisoners..” Zechariah 9:11
Freedom for the weary and burdened: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest… take My yoke…For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matt. 11:28-30
From trying hard and failing through formal religion – free through being born again: “I am unspiritual… a slave to sin… 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…. Who will rescue me…? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:14, 19, 24-25.
Spiritual maturity is a process
Spiritual salvation is instant the moment we truly accept Jesus as Lord. Most other things take time and are a work of the Holy Spirit, broadly called sanctification, or being made holy. The ‘flesh’ or ‘self’ part of us takes time to get into line but our experience of the Holy Spirit and openness to Him allows Him to go this work on the inside of us. Freedom is part of this. It is a sign of growing into spiritual maturity, and that is God’s goal for each of us.
To be free is to be able to love others who may not be easy to love… to forgive others who are not easy to forgive… to rise above what seems like rejection… and to have a healthy self-image that can cope with what seems like failure. When what matters to us is knowing who we are in Christ – our new identity, new person – and knowing we are completely accepted and loved as we are, then we are free not to be too concerned what others say or think, or how they react.
We all bring some baggage into the kingdom of God. We would like to lose it, together with our guilt, when we receive Christ as our Saviour and submit to Him as Lord. The reality is, we lose some, and as we learn to live in the truth of who we are, and find we are set free more and more. And we become aware of what the Bible calls strongholds from the old life – a kind of hard, protected piece of mindset or opinion, like mental scar tissue, which will not easily yield to the Holy Spirit. Becoming free is about learning how to let these be broken down by God’s love and truth.
God’s purpose – our freedom
Freedom for His people has always been God’s intention, just as binding them up in in sin and guilt has always been the intention of Satan. Freedom is a theme which runs through the Bible, in the OT, the gospel accounts but more prominently in the ‘life of the Spirit’ that Acts and the Letters depict.
For the most part, Jesus ministered to others Jews in Galilee and then Judea and Jerusalem. The people he encountered were bound up by Jewish legalism – the Pharisees were notorious in this respect. Their belief was the external righteousness achieved by religious actions. It is the model of the expectations of Christian religion of all kinds, whether the spirituality is Catholic or Evangelical/Reformed or even Pentecostal/Charismatic. We believe (wrongly!) that by doing right things, and devotional things, we become right. The burden gets heavier and heavier with the expectations of others. This is legalism, what Jesus called the “heavy yoke” and He teaches His hearers that following Him is a light load, an “easy yoke” by comparison. What He looks for is not a completed checklist of ‘right’ actions, but “being complete” ((Matthew 5:48)) in the sense of a changed heart, submitted to Him, and loving Him enough to grow more and more like Him.
Paul helps us to understand this by describing his journey. He was a Jew and well-educated Pharisee and no one knew more about doing all the”right” things including persecuting those who were different! He takes us through him trying to get it all right as a Pharisee, and the disappointment of knowing that he had failed over and over again, to experiencing something completely different: not what he was doing that was “right”, but what God had done for Him in Jesus that made him right.
In his letters he teaches about how the Holy Spirit gives us freedom ((2 Corinthians 3:17)), but also how people in churches who are not themselves free, will try and put things on us. Don’t let them, he says, because you were set free to be free ((Galatians 5:1)). And James in his letter writes about “the perfect law that gives freedom” ((James 1:25)).
The Holy Spirit gives us freedom (but not everyone is comfortable with that!)
Jesus sets out the way to a new kind of relationship with God. Coming to Jesus – having a revelation of Jesus present in your life now by the Holy Spirit – is to have a new freedom. Right at the start of His ministry, he set out His stall with words from Isaiah 61:1: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me… to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” ((Luke 4:18-19)) Towards the end, he was remonstrating with Pharisee antagonists who oberved him teaching in the temple courts during the Feast of Tabernacles, and he told them to listen to His teaching, because the truth (or reality) of who He was and what He was teaching would set them free to have. A real relationship with God ((John 8:32, 36)). It is His truth for all time – to the extent that we come to Him, He takes the burdens off and leads us into His freedom.
It’s the difference beweeen being burdened by what we think we must do, and being joyful because we realise what Jesus has done for us.
The NT church is a widely distributed ‘priesthood’ of ALL the people who belong to Jesus and serve Him with their gifts, which bless others in their work and neighbourhood, not just in the church fellowship. To transform our world, we need to be free of the judgmental things that others put on us — free to grow like Jesus, free from having to prove anything, simply free to be available to Him as His apprentices.