Christ promised freedom to the Jews who believed in Him. Discipleship results in freedom -- in His service is perfect freedom. Discipleship brings us freedom from fear, freedom from self, and freedom from sin.
Freedom is defined as "liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another: independence" (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary). The desire for freedom is something that innately resides within all of us. Hubert H. Humphrey said, "Freedom is the most contagious virus known to man." Abraham Lincoln said, "Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, every where."
Last year we witnessed the regime of Saddam Hussein fall, and the common people of Iraq tasted freedom for the first time in a generation. Many of us sat glued to our television sets and watched as the people of Iraq tore down the statues of Hussein, ransacked his palaces, and set fire to every vestige of their enslavement. We watched as the Iraqis greeted American soldiers and Marines with joy and were amazed to see them kiss photographs of our president, give flowers to our soldiers, and wave the American flag.
We rejoiced as these long enslaved people breathed free air -- we were happy for them -- they now have the opportunity to enjoy the political freedoms that we all take for granted. However, I wonder: are we as concerned about making people free from sin? In this country, above all others of the earth, we value liberty -- we go to the polls on election day to perpetuate it, we song songs and anthems to praise it, and sometimes we go to war to defend it. But why are we often so unconcerned about freedom from sin?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," wrote: "Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."
In his Inaugural address in 1961, president John F. Kennedy said, "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty."
In our recent war with Iraq, hundreds of soldiers and Marines were killed, and all of these men and women were volunteers. We saw their faces on the evening news and noted how young they all looked. We saw their families weep over their remains. We observed the dignity and honor with which they were buried and maybe even shed tears as we watched a folded American flag be given to their family, on behalf of a grateful nation.
Our freedom from sin also came at a very high price. As Paul would tell the saints in Rome, "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:6-9). The apostle Peter reminds us that we were "not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Pet. 1:18-19). The prophet Isaiah spoke at great length about the Suffering Servant, the one who would die for His people. Our Redeemer was "wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth" (Isa. 53:1-12).
We have all heard that "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."
John Philpot Curran, an Irish lawyer, said, "The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt."
Our freedom from sin comes with responsibilities. We are to work for the Master. "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works" (Titus 2:11-14).
We are to bear fruit for the Master. Jesus warned us that "every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:2). We can only bear fruit as we "abide in the vine" (John 15:4), for without Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5). He went on to say, "by this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples" (John 15:8).
President Ronald Reagan once said, "Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged." Walt Whitman, the famous American poet, said, "The shallow consider liberty a release from all law, from every constraint. The wise man sees in it, on the contrary, the potent Law of Laws."
As we witnessed the liberation of Baghdad, we saw looting and lawlessness on every corner -- and our leaders are now trying to instruct the people of Iraq that freedom does not grant you liberty to do as you please.
Just because Christ released us from the yoke of sin and the curse of the law of Moses, this does not mean that we are no longer under any law! Paul said we are "under law toward Christ" (1 Cor. 9:21).
We are not to use our liberty as a cloak for sin. "For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men -- as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God" (1 Pet. 2:15-16).
We are warned that sin can entangle us again. "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5:1).
Once redeemed, we cannot continue in sin. Some of the Christians in Rome apparently thought that once redeemed they should "continue in sin that grace may abound" (Rom. 6:1). Paul instructed these brethren that such is not the case, for "How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:2-4).
It has been the practice of mankind since the beginning of time to build monuments celebrating their victories and their leaders, and to remind them of the price that was paid for their freedom.
We think of the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and what I believe to be one of the most solemn -- the Wall as it is called, where the names of nearly 60,000 servicemen and women who lost their lives in Vietnam are engraved. While standing at the Wall you can reach your hand out to touch the names and it almost seems like their hands are reaching back to you from the black marble.
We turned Civil War battlefields into national parks and monuments, like at Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, Chancellorsville and Vicksburg.
On February 19, 1945, thirty thousand men from the 28th Marine Regiment waded across the dirty gray sand of a seven and a half square mile island known as Iwo Jima, where over 20,000 Japanese were ready to defend their island fortress to the death. After four days of the fiercest fighting in Marine history, a few Marines reached the highest point on the island, Mount Suribachi. They raised a small American flag and a few men scrambled back to the beach and secured a much larger flag, and carried it back to the top of Mount Suribachi and raised it. The photograph of this second flag raising, taken by Joe Rosenthal, became the most famous picture of the Second World War. When the photograph was released, sculptor Felix de Weldon was so moved that he constructed a scale model, then a life-size model of the event, and then finally a 78 foot tall bronze memorial. At the base of the monument are the words of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, "Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue." If you visit Arlington National Cemetery today, you can see the Iwo Jima Memorial and think of the nearly 7,000 Marines who died there in defense of this great county.
Sadly, all monuments eventually fail -- pictures fade, flowers crumble into dust, and marble monuments are effaced and leveled with time.
What about the victory that Christ gained over sin and death? Will His victory be forgotten? Will His work fade from our memories? The answer is "no'" for the Lord has left three memorials to His death, burial and resurrection:
How do I obtain freedom from sin? First, I must hear the message of the cross, for "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17).
Having heard the message of the cross, I am led to believe in Christ, for if I do not believe in Him I will die in my sins (John 8:24).
As a believer I am led to repent of my sins, for "commands all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:31). Repentance is not just sorrow for sins, or sorrow over being caught. It is an acknowledgement of sin coupled with a determination to do better -- a change of heart that brings about a change in action.
The penitent believer is now ready to openly confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, like the Ethiopian Eunuch did (Acts 8:36-37).
Having confessed faith in Christ I can now be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).
Christ has done so much for your freedom from sin, what are you going to do in return?