Today, the citizens of the United States celebrate their independence as a nation. We truly thank and praise God for the political and religious freedoms that we have experienced for so many years. However, there is a lasting freedom—an infinitely more important and valuable soul-freedom—for those who are in Jesus Christ.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Col 2:13-14)
The apostle’s goal in these verses was to cement each believer’s feet in the reality of his or her union with Christ so that they would no longer be led astray by the false teachings that threatened them. We now are instructed by his words as he reminds us of the spiritual bondage from which we have been delivered. “And you, who were (past tense) dead in your trespasses” takes us back into our memory bank. He wants us to remember the state of spiritual death and bondage in which we once were held (as he did in Eph 2:1-3).
Sin is the realm in which we lived prior to our conversion. We could not help but sin in the sense that we were willingly, and willfully, in bondage to our rebellion. Our wills were not fully free. Instead we were spiritual corpses, unable to respond to God apart from His rescuing grace (Eph 2:4-5). When God saw our hopeless condition He took the initiative to make us alive together with Christ. Man cannot be the initiator in salvation because he is dead. As believers we rejoice that even though we were dead in our sins, God made us alive “together with Him.” Spiritual life is only found in union with Christ. It is because He died and rose again that we are made alive when we come to Him in repentant faith, which results in the reality of three kinds of freedom.
3 KINDS OF SPIRITUAL FREEDOM
We are free from the guilt of our sin. “Forgiven” comes from the same word-family from which we get our word grace. Forgiveness is based on God’s grace, not our merit. It is not based on anything we have done, or can do, for God. It is by His grace alone that we are saved. To be forgiven is to be released from a debt. How many of our sins have been forgiven? All of them—if we are in Christ. If you have not been born again in Christ, then none of your sins have been forgiven. All of them are still being held against you, by God. But there is Good News! If you repent and turn to Jesus Christ then all your sins will be forgiven.
We all dream of someday being financially-free, but spiritual debt-free living is already a reality for those who are united to Christ. God will not require any believer to pay Him back for any sin (Ps 103:8-12). The reason God does not deal with us according to our sins is because He has already dealt with Christ according to our sins. He has already punished His Son. God, in Christ, released us from sin’s guilt. Our union with Christ, therefore, renders it impossible for God to hold any of our sins against us. It is quite true that God often lets us reap the consequences of our sin, but that is discipline that trains, not punishment that alienates. Our Savior’s nail-driven hands are proof that payment has been made in full.
We are free from the enslaving power of the Law. God also canceled “the record of debt.” He has effectively wiped out the memory of an experience, annulled a law, and cancelled a written acknowledgement of debt. This debt consisted of “legal demands,” binding laws that “stood against us.” Paul surely has in mind two forms of law.
– The Law of Moses – Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). Jesus perfectly fulfilled God’s law and by doing so broke down the barrier between God and man and removed the wall between believing Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:14-15). Jesus’s perfect obedience to the Law made the offering of His life and death acceptable to God. Therefore, by fulfilling the Law and meeting its requirement of death, Jesus put to death the hostility between God’s law and us. It perished with Him (Rom 10:4). By virtue of our union with Him, God no longer sees us as law-breakers, but as adopted children.
– The Law of Conscience – The Jews were given the Law of Moses, but all men have a law that condemns them. It is the internal law of the conscience (Rom. 2:14-15). Whether Jew or Gentile, man has broken God’s law—His written Law and the law He wrote on all human hearts by means of the conscience. As a result that law also stands against us. The conscience accuses us when sin lurks within us that has not been dealt with biblically. But when our conscience has been cleansed by the blood of Jesus then it defends us. It reminds us that God is no longer angry at us and instead receives us as His children. So, apart from Christ there is no way to be free from the accusing power of our conscience. But union with Christ by faith sets us free (Heb 10:21-22).
We are free from condemnation. – He has taken the record of our sin-debt out of the way, having nailed it to the cross—through the flesh of His Son. Now we are free! We who were once slaves of sin have been set free in Jesus. What previously condemned us now instructs us. The Law still exposes the wickedness of our sinful hearts, and thus serves as a tutor to lead us to Christ, but it no longer hangs over us like a dark shadow. This great truth is beautifully expressed by Philip Bliss in the hymn, Once for All. “Free from the Law – O happy condition! Jesus hath bled and there is remission; Cursed by the law and bruised by the fall, Grace hath redeemed us once for all.”
When the Roman soldiers drove those three nails through our Savior’s limbs God nailed our sins to the cross. He also nailed our guilty consciences and His own law’s pronouncement of condemnation. All those who trust in Jesus Christ are now free. We may celebrate our political and religious freedoms—and we should—but these are not guaranteed to last. However, the freedom we have in Jesus Christ is not temporal, but eternal. In Him, we have a freedom that can never be taken away. Therefore, we rejoice in the words of our Savior, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn 8:36).