“As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.” (1 Peter 2:16–17, AV)
A movie was released in 1966 titled, “Born Free.” The movie was based on a true story of George and Joy Anderson who lived in Kenya. George worked as a game warden and came upon four orphaned lion cubs. Three of them they sent off to a zoo. However, the fourth and the smallest named Elsa, they nurtured at their location. In time, the cub grew to be a full-grown lion and they realized that they could no longer keep it. Joy hated the thought of putting Elsa in a zoo because she felt the cub was born to be free, not in a cage. However, the probability of releasing Elsa, a tamed lion, into the wild and having her survive seemed impossible. So, the couple worked to train Elsa to survive in the wild, eventually releasing her.
The thought of being cooped up in a cage is frightening to people. I cannot imagine that any of us would want to be locked up for our entire life in solitary confinement. Yet, multitudes of people, while not in physical imprisonment, are spiritually imprisoned by sin. Paul wrote to the Romans that all people are slaves to sin (Rom 6:17) and that only believers are truly set free. God created man to be free. However, due to Adam’s fall, man is not born free but born in bondage to sin.
Peter indicates that believers have been set free from sin. We are free because of God’s grace. By faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross, we have been set free. However, many people who claim to be a believer in Jesus misunderstand what freedom truly means.
First, freedom is not license to indulge the sinful nature. This is the point Peter makes here. Some today feel that they can indulge the flesh because they are under grace and not the law. This is far from the truth. Paul tells us that as believers, sin will not have mastery over us (Rom 6:14). He further wrote to the Galatians, “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13, AV). Christ has set us free from the power of sin and we should not be characterized by it.
However, there is a second problem. That is of being imprisoned by works. Many do not understand the gospel and after they have made a profession of faith believe that they are to progress in righteousness by works. This was the Pharisaic problem. It is a subtle but dangerous and joyless way to live. Paul wrote to the Galatians about this very problem. “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3, AV).
In counselling, I have had people in frustration make this statement, “I am trying very hard to be a good Christian, but I cannot do it!” To that I would reply, “Perhaps that is the problem.” You see, they were trying to achieve perfection in the Christian life through human effort. I would tell them to chill out and learn how to enjoy their relationship with Christ. Jesus came so that we would have abundant life (John 10:10). Abundant life was never meant to be a drudgery. I encouraged people to relax and understand how to let the Spirit work to guide and transform their lives.
So, there are two things that can steal our freedom in the Christian life, licentiousness (being given over to sin), and legalism (striving to achieve righteousness by the flesh). To avoid these, believer must seek to live Spirit filled lives (Eph 5:18), walking by the Spirit so that they will walk in righteousness (Gal 5:16).