Free Indeed! Freed to obey...
How often do we glibly hear, “We are all created with a free will.” And that with the subsequent conclusion - to do whatever we will to do reaping the consequences. Nothing could be further from Biblical truth.
As we now live on the post side of the Quincentennial of the Reformation we turn to Martin Luther who saw the human will enslaved by sin and Satan. We think we are free, he contended, but we only reinforce our bondage by indulging in sin. Grace releases us from this enslaving illusion and leads us into “the glorious liberty of the children of God.” God wants us to love him freely. But that is only possible when we have been freed from captivity to Satan and self.
As Paul so succinctly writes, there is nothing but slavery until we have been claimed by the Gospel. “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.” Romans 6:17 NIV
As the contemporary song so forthrightly proclaims:
The amazing news of the Gospel
Is not that we can receive Jesus into our lives
But that He's already received us
The 19th Century preacher, pastor and hymnist Horatius Bonar writes:
There’s nothing that my hands can do
To save my guilty soul
I cannot cleanse my filthy stains
Or make my spirit whole
For nothing but the blood of Christ
Can all my sins erase
Obedience is vital - yet it is the fruit and not the root. It is the visible evidence of an inward transformation - the divine alchemy that turns a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. That which is vile becomes precious and acceptable in the sight of God. This is His sole work alone. As they say in the Black Church, “He is God all by Himself.” “That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus,...” 1 Corinthians 1:29-30 KJV
Free To Obey
Freedom unto obedience. To the natural mind this is a conundrum - can freedom and obedience coexist within the same sphere or are they worlds apart? Yet for the believer this is our great hope for there is no possibility of freedom until one has been set free by the Son.
"So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36
From Pastor Bonar again:
Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest, And set my spirit free.
There is an everyday axiom that goes like this, “Where there is a will there is a way.” Yet this is only a half-truth - to bring it to completion we must add, “Only when it is God’s way.” “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Ephesians 2:13
The will of God is accessible only to those “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:13. We are not born again by the exercise of the freedom of our own will but by the exercise of His will. And what He begins by the fiat of His own will, He carries through unto completion. “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,...” Ephesians 1:5. And in Romans, “Therefore it is not by means of him who wills, neither by means of him who runs, but in the hand of God, the merciful.” 9:16 Aramaic
Are we created with a free will as so many thoughtlessly ascertain? In Adam yes, but since the fall all are born into the bondage of sin - in desperate need of a kinsman redeemer. “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,” Colossians 1:13. Until we are set free by the Son, we all lie within the realm of darkness - totally incapable of independent individual volition. There is no intermediate state. It is either one or the other.
As the hymnist Isaac Watts writes:
How sad our state by nature is!
Our sin, how deep it stains!
And Satan binds our captive souls
Fast in his slavish chains.
In a vain attempt of the finite mind of man to grasp the infinite wisdom of God as revealed by divine choice the statement is often made, “Well, that would just make us automatons - or puppets on a string.” Nothing could be further from the revealed truth - for as a result of His electing love we become children of God. And as it is written of the Firstborn Son, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.” Psalm 40:7-8. So it is also true of those that have been eternally and immutably set free by the Son. Obedience is not a burden, but a delight.
From the Quill of the Bard:
Blessed are the, souls that trust Him,
And in Him, alone rejoice;
His commandments, His commandments, His commandments
Then become their happy choice.
Glorious liberty is the sole privilege of the children of God! Only those who have been set free from the law of sin and death through the Spirit of Sonship are capable of filial obedience. “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.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Romans 8:15-16 NIV
As a precursor to the Reformation which would require a millennium’s gestation Augustine of Hippo wrote, “Grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire.” His assertion was that there was no inherent righteousness within mankind as a result of The Fall. Obedience, therefore, was not possible until the soul was moved by the finger of God. And what God initiates He is more than able to fulfill that which He has begun in us.
Centuries later the Augustinian monk Martin Luther would rejoice at this truth as found in Romans 1:17 "The righteous will live by faith." He exclaimed, “When I discovered that, I was born again of the Holy Ghost. And the doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through.”
As we live on from the 500th Anniversary of The Reformation this truth is known to us as Sola fide (Latin: by faith alone), also known as justification by faith alone,... For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed--a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,... “the life that I am now living in this body I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20b ISV
It is not possible to present this great truth anymore succinctly than does the one who has been referred to as “The Apostle of the Heart Set Free!”: “having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” Romans 6:18
In Christ - while yet a slave we are also a freedman. “For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord's freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ's slave.” 1 Corinthians 7:22
Having been set free from the slavery of sin we are now free to present our members - spirit, soul and body - as bond slaves to the One who is the author and perfecter of all faith resulting in sanctification. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be encumbered once more by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1. The freedom we enjoy in Christ does not absolve us of the obligation of responsibility.
Our apogee might very well be found in John’s First Epistle, “We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.” 1 John 5:18 NAS
And here is delectable icing to the confection of His all-sufficient grace.
“so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:4
“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:3
For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. Romans 6:7-8
How many things does He work according to His purpose and will - all! In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:11-12
Once more from Pastor Bonar:
I dare not claim my righteousness
But hide within His grace
‘Tis Christ who saved me from the depths
God’s pardon I’ve received
I’m washed within His precious blood
My heart is sprinkled clean.
And Isaac Watts:
A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
Into Thy hands I fall;
Be Thou my strength and righteousness,
My Savior, and my all.
From the Fifth Sola of the Reformation: “soli Deo gloria!” “To the Glory of God alone!”