Last week, I touched on the topic of boldness in proclaiming God’s message through our actions. I also mentioned the tension in which we live as Christians: sinners trying to sin no more. It is a tension that we feel when we try to balance faith and actions: our actions are a reflection of our faith. This tension is also felt as we try to balance grace and truth: forgiven people who are still repentant.
And believe it or not, it’s in this tension that we find freedom: freedom from our past, freedom from our failures, freedom from guilt, freedom from our sins. This is the message for today: God has set us free! This is a powerful message, because if it’s received in faith, it will radically change the way you think, the way you act, the way you live.
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
Now, I’m not talking about freedom in the way it has been misconstrued by self-centered human beings. Our sinful nature quickly defines freedom as doing what we want to do, doing what we feel like, and not having to own up to the consequences of our decisions. That’s not freedom. That’s selfishness, and a blatant disregard for morals and responsibility. It may look and even feel like freedom, but it’s not. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. It’s what the Bible describes as being slaves to sin.
The fact of the matter is, we are either slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness (Romans 6). We don’t like this term “slave,” because it limits our freedom and individuality. But the reality is that we, as Christians, are slaves: slaves to God and slaves to righteousness. We are not our own, we belong to God. Our thoughts, our emotions, and our desires are all controlled by something, whether we realize it or not. Before we knew God, our “freedom” was controlled by our sinful nature. But now that we know God, we have made the conscious decision to come under God’s control.
1 Corinthians 6:19
What? Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have received from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your Spirit, which belong to God.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will fine rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
It’s interesting here that Jesus offers a yoke to those who are feeling weak and burdened. A yoke is a big beam of wood that’s placed on the neck of an animal. The farmer controls the direction of the animal using the yoke and reins. So why a yoke? It gives an accurate picture of us shedding the yoke of the world and replacing it with the yoke that God provides. Notice that he doesn’t say, “Take off the yoke and run free!” That’s not an option. We all carry yokes, that is, we are all controlled by something.
Jesus knew that if we continued to carry the yoke of this world that breeds self-centeredness and sin, we would be burdened. He also knew that if we chose to come under his control, that’s when we find rest. Basically, if you’re required to carry a yoke, why not choose the one that is easy and light. Basically, if you’re going to be under the control of something, why not choose God?
So, you’re probably wondering by now, “Mike, what does this have to do with freedom? I thought today’s sermon title was ‘God Has Set Us Free’? If anything, it’s the exact opposite of freedom. We’re talking about being slaves and being under God’s control.”
That’s exactly my point. That’s where our sinfulness clouds our judgment and misunderstands God’s intention for us. When the Bible talks about Jesus setting us free, it’s not talking about freedom that allows us to live our life as we please. No! The freedom that it’s talking about is what I mentioned to open this message: freedom from our past, freedom from our failures, freedom from guilt, freedom from our sins!
Trust me when I say this, that this freedom is far more important than freedom to do what we want, because this freedom deals with the core issue and problem of human beings: what to do with sin and the consequence of sin? Simply put, there are two options: 1) punishment, and 2) forgiveness. I don’t know about you, but I choose the latter (#2).
This freedom is rooted in God’s grace. Grace is defined as undeserved favor. Grace is why we’re saved and have a relationship with God. Grace is why we have freedom from our past. Grace is why we have freedom from our failures. Grace is why we have freedom from guilt. God’s amazing grace is why we have freedom from our sins.
Why is grace so freeing? It takes the matter of sin and salvation out of the hands of totally depraved human beings and puts it in the hands of the Almighty God. I touched on this last week. In other words, we can’t save ourselves. There’s nothing we can do by our actions to try and make up for our mistakes. There’s nothing we can do by our actions to make things right with God.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
For us control freaks, that’s bad news. In a strangely self-loathing, self-harming way, we like to be the master of our own fate, the controller of our own destiny, and accept the consequences of our own actions. There’s a certain sense of duty, obligation, sensibility, and responsibility in that. But I would venture that if we really knew what we were dealing with, we would gladly want God to be responsible.
Look at it this way, if you had to fight the school bully and you had a choice, would you fight him yourself or have Manny Pacquiao fight him for you? If you had to ace your physics final and you had a choice, would you take the test yourself or have JL (a physics researcher) take the test for you? If you had to win an art competition and you had a choice, would you draw the picture yourself or have Toy (an art teacher) draw the picture for you?
In the case of our sin problem, only God can help. We can’t help ourselves. So really, the only logical choice is faith: faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. And in it, we find freedom.
We’re free from our past, because God has declared that “he has made all things new,” that “he will restore the lost and broken years,” and that “he has plans to prosper us, plans to give us hope and a future.”
We’re free from our failures, because God has declared that “he will make all things good,” that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he wiped our transgressions,” that “he has cleansed us white as snow.”
We’re free from guilt and free from our sins, because God has declared it so for those who place faith in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on the cross. That’s freedom! We no longer have to worry about what we have to do to make things right. We no longer have to stress about how to be in good standing with God. We no longer have to doubt if we’re good enough or if we’ve done enough.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
It’s okay to be weak, because in our weakness, we can feel God’s strength. It’s okay to say, “I can’t do it,” because when we can’t do it, we can see God’s intervention. It’s okay to say, “I need help,” because when we need help, we can experience God’s power. When we rely on God, and not on ourselves, we experience freedom.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s noble to be responsible about your actions. It’s good to be hard-working toward righteousness. But if the focus remains on just us, then the burden also rests on us. I hope these words free you: It’s never enough. It’s never enough! Our actions are never enough! Now, without faith in Jesus, we have every right to freak out. But with faith in Jesus, we can be free.
And that was what Jesus intended when he spoke those words in Matthew 11. He wasn’t talking about physical weariness and rest, though I’m sure it can apply to that, too. He said, “You’ll find rest for your soul.” More importantly, I think he wanted us to find rest and peace in our hearts that comes from this freedom when we place our trust in what God can do, and not in what we can do.
Look deep within. Are you physically tired? Are you stressed? Are you putting too much pressure on yourself? Maybe it’s because your soul is tired? God’s offer to you? Receive his grace today, find rest for your soul, trust in what God can do, and enjoy the freedom in Jesus Christ.