Jesus has set you free. Absolutely Free.
What does that mean?
No statement is necessarily true without its context or at least a definition of terms. Jesus has set you free. The question is - or, rather, are: Free from what? Free to what? And, what does this "freedom" mean to you and your life and the living of it?
Easter is coming this month. It is early this year, and with comes this freedom. This freedom is absolute - but it is absolute only in the freedom that is granted. You have been set free from sin, from the consequences of sin, and you have been set free from the coercion of the Law. This freedom is absolute and ultimate. Still, those words may suggest something to you that is not true.
For example, you have been set free from the consequences of sin. One of the consequences of sin that observe in this world is death, and the little 'death' of sickness. Nevertheless, we observe sickness and death among those who are Christians and are, like us, free from such consequences. So how can I say that we are free absolutely and ultimately?
I can say it because the Gospel teaches it. Our freedom from sickness is not evident to us because our flesh is still not cleansed of sin, and so it still suffers the consequences and ravages of sin. We, however, are not our flesh. We are connected to it, and it is a part of us, but we are very much more than mere bodies or animals. We are our spirits, our souls, if you will. The flesh is a useful tool, which we are designed to use and live in, but it is not, strictly speaking, who we are. We have been cleansed of sin by the washing of Baptism, and preserved in it by the daily cleansing of repentance and forgiveness, by the regular confession of our sins and the absolution, by the eating and drinking of the Lord's body and blood in the Holy Supper, and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who is given to each one that believes.
Even our flesh possesses this freedom, it simply does not experience this freedom yet. That is what the word "ultimate" refers to. "Ultimate" does not mean 'the best', in this usage, but "the final", as in "when all things are summed up in Christ". We possess these things, but not in a way that we can experience them in our daily lives, yet. The eternal life is coming, and coming very soon, and there and then we shall enjoy both the possession of this freedom and the experience of it. Between now and then, we are given to walk in faith, taking God at His Word, and believing what we are not able to perceive with our senses.
This freedom is absolute, which means that death no longer has any power over us, nor sickness, for that matter. You cannot die, although your flesh will surely die. Your flesh will experience sickness, as a reminder of the death which approaches it, but you are never actually sick. When the flesh is ailing, you, your soul, stand before God whole and strong in His might. As a pastor, I have witnessed this health and strength in many who are terminally ill. It is as though as the hour of death approaches, the connection between flesh and spirit grows less persuasive for the soul, and the believers often experience the comfort of the truth of their true health and life with Christ. Their faith shines, in those times, in a way that few experience in other circumstances, and under conditions that outwardly contradict the health and power they reflect.
Of course, the weakness and mortality of their flesh - and yours - is but a temporary thing. Just as your soul died and was raised to new life in Baptism, so too, your flesh must die and be raised to new life, cleansed of sin and all of its effects. That is the ultimate-ness of the freedom from death. And then it will be experienced as absolute as well, for in the resurrection there is, according to the promise of God, no more sickness, death, or sorrow. Then you will experience completely the freedom which you possess even now.
In the same way, you have been set free from sin. This freedom is not freedom from morality, or holiness. You have not been kicked loose to do whatever strikes your fancy. You have been redeemed from the bondage of sin and corruption and set free into the glorious freedom of the child of God: free from sin. This is the source of the freedom from the consequences of sin. This freedom is absolute and ultimate too, in just the same way as the freedom from sickness and death.
Can you deal with freedom?
First, you are free from sin, which is different than many people take it to be. Freedom from sin is not freedom to sin. We are not set into a condition or situation where we are absolutely beyond all morality or measure of what is right and what is wrong. True freedom is freedom from the need to sin or the necessity of sin. It is also that freedom from the consequences of sin. We have been redeemed from those consequences, and given the power of the Holy Spirit to walk in newness of life and not in the ways of sin.
I've have used the word "redeemed" several times already. It means to be purchased, specifically to be purchased out from under bondage (or slavery). Jesus Christ did that by paying the price - bearing in our stead the consequences which we have earned - of our sins. The price (and the wage) of sin is death. God said it over and over again in the Old Testament. He told Adam and Eve that if they ate of that specific tree they would die. He announced the principle in Ezekiel 18 that the person who sins shall die. The wages of sin is death, Romans 6:23. Jesus paid that price, dying for us, taking our death and granting us freedom from death and hell. Since He has paid the price of our freedom, we now belong to Him. The Small Catechism uses the language of "purchased and won from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil".
He proclaims that redemption, that purchase, and the freedom from sin and death, in the preaching of the Gospel. He announces, by the lips of those He sends to preach on His behalf, that those that take God at His Word and trust Him to do all that He has promised, without regard to what they 'see' or what 'seems reasonable to them', possess forgiveness, freedom from sin and death, and will experience that reality fully in the resurrection: He that believes and is baptized shall be saved. That is what I refer to when I say, "redeemed".
So, having been set free from sin, we walk in what the Bible calls "newness of life". That means that we are free to be holy - although our flesh is always struggling against us there, since it is still bearing the infection of sin and is drawn to serve the old master of sin, Satan. Freedom from sin therefore requires a daily battle against the sin which is so natural to our flesh, and so unnatural to our freed-from-sin-into-holiness souls. We walk in holiness and our flesh desires to follow the paths of sin - - and you know how often you fall short of holiness and stumble into sin - - so we face a daily struggle and the daily need to repent and the daily hunger for forgiveness, a hunger we can answer each day by returning to our baptism, and confessing the truth of it. It is part of living out the truth of our freedom.
Can you deal with freedom?
Our freedom is a gift. We speak of it with words like "grace". The objective reality of that gift reveals the love of God (His good will toward us). The truth of God's love for us is not naturally apparent, nor is it easy to hold onto once we have learned of it. Part of the reason is our flesh and its sinfulness, which makes us feel guilty and ashamed, and part of the reason is our own awareness of the truth of the law which connects sin and death by divine judgment. When life hands us experiences or circumstances which are not to our liking, such as pain, sickness, misfortune, or sorrow, we tend to reflexively fall back on the guilt of sins and suspect (as our sinful flesh will) that God is behind our troubles.
Living in the freedom with which Christ has set us free requires applying the knowledge of the love of God and the goodness of His will toward us to the difficulties of our lives. We cannot simply allow our flesh to take us down the road of sadness because something is not right (in our estimation) in the world. We cannot fear that He is punishing us for our sins, or allow the certainly that there is no hope in this situation or that to establish a foothold in our thinking. Dealing with our freedom means keeping the truth of it before our eyes and uppermost in our thinking when we contemplate the realities of our daily lives that are other than we imagine we would like them to be.
In other words, we cannot allow the devil, the world, or our sinful flesh to persuade us that God doesn't love us, or that He is not aware of our troubles, or that there is no hope in whatever circumstance confronts us. Of course, it helps to keep in mind that our hope is never really about this world and our circumstances in it. We are about something bigger and better, and our goals are not the goals that seem obvious to our flesh - and remember, "the flesh" includes at least a part of your mind - conscious or otherwise. Your thinking is often guided by your flesh, unless you are deliberately and prayerfully guiding it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and with the tools of the Word of God, prayer, and worship.
Can you deal with freedom?
Sometimes, the only way to deal with it is to carefully take your own thinking captive to the Word of God. I know, that is a strange way of putting it, but the world around you (and, often, what seems reasonable to your own mind) is trying to take your thinking captive to something - anything - other than the Word of God. I suspect that most of you who take the time to read this are past the point of being convinced that pleasure seeking and intellectual rebellion against the clear precepts of Biblical instruction are faithful in any way to the Christian faith, or to your Lord. The problem is that the devil is far more clever than that. He has all sorts of religious instruction floating about in our culture to disarm and confuse you. Many who would be called "Christian" present us with a performance based system of identifying who is and who is not Christian. We call that "works righteousness". In its subtle forms, we call it pietism.
A greater danger is often the conviction which is implied in such systems of thought, a conviction many people pick up almost by osmosis, even while they reject the theology of glory which says I can see who is a believer and who is not by their behavior. That conviction is the odd notion which says that I am able to be good and holy in my conduct, walk without sin, and live up to my righteousness which Christ gives me - or that I ought to be able to. It is a pleasant dream, but it is not Biblical. This is where we need to take our thinking captive to the Word of God.
I am a sinner. I am not righteous, even at my best, even as a Christian. My only righteousness is the righteousness Christ gives me. My life is, therefore, both a struggle against sin, and a life of repentance, because I am a sinner, daily, often, always. My life is also a life of thanksgiving because I am loved by Christ and forgiven, and sustained by Him through His gifts of Word and Sacrament and Church and Worship. And I know that this life is not what I am about, it is what I am given to do for His purposes. Life itself is coming in the resurrection!
And that is what Easter is all about. Easter is about freedom - absolute, perfect, ultimate freedom of Christ and in Christ and shared with each of us because He loves us. And, of course, won on the cross, and demonstrated for us in the resurrection of Jesus from His tomb. Every Sunday, we hold out this wonderful gift. Every Sunday, Jesus blesses us and equips us to live out the reality of our freedom. He does it every Sunday because we cannot keep it straight for long without His help, and so that we can share it with others, both those we love, and even those we do not. So deal with your freedom, and have a blessed Easter!
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