July 1, 2002 - "If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed."—John 8:36, NIV
by Tony Evans
We often hear about the great liberating Christian life, but we don't have to go far to find Christian slaves—slaves to habits, circumstances, relationships. People are slaves to things they don't want to be slaves to, but they don't seem to know how to be set free.
Freedom is tied to our spiritual identity. If we don't know who we are, we will never become what we are meant to be. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we read, "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away ... new things have come."(1) When we trust Christ as our Savior, we are given a new nature. The new nature is the nucleus of who we are.
This new nature came through birth. We are born again,(2) and when that happens, we get new life—a new identity. Our spiritual identity is tied to our new birth, not our performance.
So, if we are new creatures, why do we still struggle against sin? Why are we slaves to old habits? We can't blame it on the devil. The Apostle Paul makes it clear in the Letter to the Galatians that the battle is between the flesh and the spirit.(3)
Most people, seeking to resolve this conflict through returning to the Law, think, "If I can keep a set of rules, I can become spiritual." But the Law, as great as it is, can only tell us the problem. The Law cannot fix the problem.
This morning, when we got up and looked in the mirror, the mirror revealed how messy our hair was. But we didn't then take the mirror off the wall and brush our hair with it. The mirror's not made for that.
Whenever we as Christians retreat to legalism to fix the problem, we are asking the Law to do what the Law is not made to do. Paul wrote, "You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? Are you so foolish to think you can be saved by grace and then be victorious by law?"(4) That's called, "Backward, Christian soldiers."
A woman got married to a man who had a list of 25 things the perfect wife would do. Every week he would check off on his list the things that she had done right. It wasn't long before she was very unhappy. Then her husband died, and after a time she married again. Her second husband didn't have a list, but she found that she was fulfilling the list of her first husband. Her behavior wasn't dictated by a list; it was motivated by a relationship.
When we come to Christ, we are no longer under the Law; we are in relationship with Him.
So if the Law does not set us free, if we cannot retreat to keeping the Ten Commandments to find freedom, then where do we find our liberation?
In one word: Grace.
Grace is the inexhaustible supply of God, doing for us what we can never do for ourselves. It may be the greatest single word in the New Testament.
Grace is different from mercy. Mercy is when a police officer pulls us over for speeding, but doesn't give us a ticket. Grace is when the police officer pulls us over, doesn't give us a ticket, and then gives us a check for $500.
Mercy is when God doesn't give us what we deserve. Grace is when God gives us something we don't deserve. And He will give us more than enough grace. Second Corinthians 9:8 says, "God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed."(5) We will have enough to get us through anything we face.
How do we put to use the supply of grace that God has given us? By faith.
Faith is acting on the certainty that God is telling the truth (and, of course, He is). Faith says, "I believe that what God says, He is able to perform. I believe it, and I will act on it."
This means we need to develop a faith focus. We need to change what we look at. The way to be free of whatever it is that entangles us is to run the race, keeping our eyes on Jesus.(6)
The Law focuses us on what's wrong with us. But grace focuses on what Christ has done for us. Fixing our eyes on Jesus is the way to stay untangled.
What makes this more than just the power of positive thinking? The Holy Spirit. Our power for living comes from the Holy Spirit of God. He helps us to do what we could not do in our own strength. In Galatians 5 we read about the fruit of the Spirit and the battle with the flesh: "Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh."(7)
We don't need to give in to temptation. We can say, "Lord, God, I am tempted to do something that will not please You. I don't have the power not to do it. Therefore, by an act of faith, I will lean on Your Spirit and ask You not to allow me to do what I want to do. Please fill me so that I do what You want me to do right now."
One day I was in an airport, rushing to catch a plane. I was sweating and puffing when I looked to my right to see a man walking half as fast as I was, but going faster. He was walking on a moving sidewalk. As we walk in the Spirit, the Spirit becomes like a moving sidewalk. When we walk in the Spirit, He comes underneath us and bears us along. We're still walking, but we walk depending on Him; we don't walk independently of Him.
When we learn to live in dependence on the Spirit,(8) we don't need to depend on obeying rules to gain God's favor. It's not that the rules are bad, but the relationship has taken over. We walk by grace, not by the Law. We can take a deep breath and enjoy victory.
(1) 2 Corinthians 5:17, NASB. (2) 1 Peter 1:3,23. (3) Galatians 5:16-25. (4) Cf. Galatians 3:1-3. (5) 2 Corinthians 9:8, NASB. (6) Hebrews 12:1-2. (7) Galatians 5:16, NASB. (8) Galatians 5:18.