“Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38–39, AV)
What does freedom look like and how does it feel? I remember watching some old movies in which prisoners were sporting a ball and chain. To move anywhere, they needed to carry the ball chained to their ankles. This was the case when they were on work detail outside the walls of the prison. At the end of the day, they would go back into the prison proper. Whether outside or inside the prison, they were never free in any sense of the word.
So, what does it mean to be free? Here, Paul and his companions are in Antioch in Pisidia. Paul enters a synagogue on the Sabbath day and has an opportunity to give those in attendance a word of encouragement (v15, ff.). He then takes the opportunity to proclaim the gospel message. These verses record the encouraging words, that God frees a person from sin by His grace through faith.
Paul’s synagogue audience were imprisoned in a system of trying to justify themselves by keeping the Law. Paul’s words clearly explain that only faith in Christ could set a person free. His words are actually very strong in this. Christ has set those who believe, free from everything and that the Law could not free a person from anything. Now, we must understand that the Law is good and holy because it came from God (Romans 7:12, 16). However, God did not give the Law to free a person from the penalty of sin. On the contrary, His Law reveals to us our transgression. It shows us that we are sinners and guilty (Rom 7:7).
I often get to ask people about eternity. “Do you know for certain that you will go to heaven when you die?” In other words, “Will you escape eternal punishment and enter into eternal life?” May people will respond by saying, “Yes.” However, then I will ask another question, “Why are you qualified to enter heaven?” Their answers often include that they obeyed the Law of God. Yet, when we probe just a little, we find that even those who have strenuously endeavored to keep the Law of God have not. They have lied, coveted and failed to be fully devoted to God, among other moral failures. They find that the Law, rather than justifying them, condemns them as lawbreakers, guilty of transgression that requires the death penalty. The Law cannot justify a person.
The Scripture tells us the good news. Christ is the only person in all history that lived in full and perfect compliance with the Law. This is because He is the incarnate God, fully God and fully man. He died on the cross to pay the penalty, not of His own transgression for He knew no sin, but to pay the penalty of our transgressions of the Law, which is death (Romans 6:23).
Therefore, I see the metaphor of a prison and the ball and chain this way. The Law condemns all as transgressors destined for prison, meaning everlasting punishment. Yet, even prior to the judgment, the ball and chain of sin shackles people. It is a heavy weight to carry. The only hope for people is Christ. Christ set believers free in two ways. He, by saving believers, sets them free from the penalty of sin, which is death, and granted them everlasting life. Moreover, Christ has also set believers free from sin’s control. While believers are not sinlessly perfect, sin no longer is the controlling force in their lives. Christ has set believers free from the penalty of sin and their present bondage to it. Paul truly gave an encouraging word in the synagogue that day.