Christ Has Set Us Free, but Free from What?

Peter Ditzel

A silhouette of two outstretched arms with a shackle or handcuffs broken in the middle between them, used to illustrate that Christ has set us free.

In John 8:36, Jesus said, “If therefore the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Christ has set us free! But what has He set us free from? Realizing the freedoms Jesus has given us helps us keep our focus on Jesus Christ and rejoice at what He has done for us.

I’m not claiming that the freedoms I’m going to name in this article are the only freedoms Christ has given us. But I do believe that they’re foundational.

Christ Has Set Us Free from Law

Freedom from the law is the first freedom in my short list. In Galatians 5:1, Paul urged his readers, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery” (NET Bible). Paul was setting the freedom Christ has given us against what he called “the yoke of slavery.” In verse 2, we see, “that if you receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing” (Galatians 5:2). Paul’s immediate concern was that the Galatians not be circumcised because doing so would make Christ of no profit to them. Why? We learn the answer in verses 3 and 4:

Yes, I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is a debtor to do [the] whole law. You are alienated from Christ, you who desire to be justified by [the] law. You have fallen away from grace.

Galatians 5:3-4

I’ve put “the” in brackets because it’s not in the original Greek. I’ll explain below why we should not assume that the apostle Paul is writing exclusively of the Mosaic Law. By turning to circumcision as a requirement to be accepted by God, the Galatians were turning from resting in Christ alone. And, by doing that, they were obligating themselves to justification by law instead of by grace alone.

So, what is the “yoke of slavery”? Law. And even Galatians 5:1 indicates that Paul does not mean only the Mosaic Law. The indication is in the word “again.” Paul says, “…do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery.” The Galatians were Gentiles. They had never been under the Mosaic Law. For them to not be subject again to the yoke of slavery, the yoke of slavery must refer not just to the Mosaic Law, but to all law.

The Galatians had been under their Pagan laws, but Christ set them free from those laws as much as He set the Jews free from the Mosaic Law. Paul saw their embracing circumcision and the Mosaic Law as being the same as if they had turned back to their Pagan laws. Law is law.

The very purpose for which Christ set us free from the yoke of law was so that we would be free indeed. We must never turn back! “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death” (Romans 8:2).

So, Christ set us free from the law. Romans 3:20 tells us something very important about law: “Because by the works of [the] law, no flesh will be justified in his sight. For through [the] law comes the knowledge of sin.” This verse tells us that law-keeping will never justify us (make us righteous) in God’s sight. It also tells us that law gives us knowledge—the Greek actually says “full knowledge” or “exact knowledge”—of sin.

This knowledge of sin has been a problem since the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they gained knowledge all right. But that knowledge, as the name of the tree clearly indicated, included the knowledge of evil. Before they ate that fruit, they were in a state of innocence. Once they ate the fruit, they knew what evil or sin was, and it condemned them. And it has condemned everyone ever since.

The law, then, curses us (Galatians 3:10). Why? Because the law is really the power of sin that brings death, and its codification only makes it more stringent and, thus, increases sin (see 1 Corinthians 15:56 and Romans 5:20).

Christ Has Set Us Free from Sin

The second “free from” is freedom from sin. Paul explains that Christ accomplished this with His death. First, he says, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? May it never be! We who died to sin, how could we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2). Many take this to mean that we must strive to keep the law so no sin will happen. But, if we do sin, we must keep on repenting. We are to continually strive against sin and strive to keep the law every moment of our lives. But Paul says no such thing. He’s saying that we aren’t capable of continuing in sin because we have already died to it. How? He explains in the verses that follow:

Or don’t you know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.

Romans 6:3-7

We who are in Christ died with Him in his death. In that death, our old sinful self died with Christ. In this way, Christ released us from our servitude to sin. We now live a new life with Him in His resurrection.

In Romans 7, Paul also explains this mechanism that worked in the death of Christ and our dying with Him:

Therefore, my brothers, you also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you would be joined to another, to him who was raised from the dead, that we might produce fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were through the law, worked in our members to bring out fruit to death. But now we have been discharged from the law, having died to that in which we were held; so that we serve in newness of the spirit, and not in oldness of the letter.”

Romans 7:4-6

I encourage you to read the context of the above verses to better understand how it works. The end result is that, by freeing us from the law, Christ has freed us from sin. “For sin will not have dominion over you. For you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). You are either under law, or you are under grace. They are mutually exclusive. You cannot be under both.

What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? May it never be! Don’t you know that to whom you present yourselves as servants to obedience, his servants you are whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that, whereas you were bondservants of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto you were delivered. Being made free from sin, you became bondservants of righteousness.

Romans 6:15-18

So, there is a logical progression: Freedom from the law leads to freedom from sin. And, freedom from sin results in freedom from death.

Christ Has Set Us Free from Death

But now, being made free from sin, and having become servants of God, you have your fruit of sanctification, and the result of eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:22-23

If we believe that Jesus Christ has freed us from death, so that we look forward to eternal life with Him, but we also don’t believe that He freed us from the law, then we are believing a contradiction. Those who are still under the law cannot enter into eternal life because the law defines sin and condemns those who commit it. As Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:9-10, “law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and insubordinate,” etc. Again, he says, “Now we know that whatever things the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God” (Romans 3:19).

These are the people who are not in Christ. But we who are in Christ are righteous: “But of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, ‘He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

I point this out because so many turn from focusing on Christ alone to keeping the law. They seem unable to conceive of anyone who is perfectly righteous while being free from the law. Believers do not have to struggle to obey the law. Christ has obeyed the law for us. Christ has fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17), and by doing so, He ended the law.

Out of the love that God puts in our hearts, we love others and fulfill the law of Christ. Because Christ is in us, His power to fulfill the law of Christ is in us so that we obey from the heart (Romans 6:17).

We believers are not condemned. Christ has freed us from the law, from sin, and from death. (John 3:14-18; 11:25-26).

But when this corruptible will have put on incorruption, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then what is written will happen: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “Death, where is your sting? Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:54-57

Knowing what our Lord has freed us from helps us to appreciate what He has done for us and to see that our focus should always be on Him.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim release to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, to deliver those who are crushed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Luke 4:18-19

But to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. But whenever one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the Spirit.

Corinthians 3:15-18

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