Is there an evangelical Christian that has not wrestled with the mystery of life under grace? Virtually every modern follower of Jesus has spent some time considering the tension between living in the freedom of Christ’s forgiveness vs. James’s sobering reminder that “faith without works is dead.”
We believe that we are free in Christ, utterly free from the bonds of sin. But do not the pursuits of Christlikeness and the good works we are called to preclude us from an array of sinful pleasures? We know that the natural outflow of a Spirit-filled life will be love, joy, patience, kindness, and the like. Yet when temptations beckon, even the most devout believer must wrestle mightily against his flesh to bring it into subjection. In those moments of self-denial, holiness can feel less like freedom and more like a leash.
Dr. Richard Ganz, in his book Free Indeed (2002), frames this tension beautifully and offers refreshing perspective regarding what spiritual freedom in Christ looks like for the believer:
“Freedom is not unlimited choice. Society is crumbling because people are living as though freedom means the rejection of all external restraints. Restraint is linked with inhibitions, and in an age of permissiveness, no one dares to admit to inhibition. As long as freedom is defined by inner determinants — urges, sensations, drives, and desires that one “must” express — chaos will ensue.
Society has abandoned the notion of objective metaphysical or spiritual truth. How strange this is! In science, which has become modern man’s religion, only what can be objectively measured is considered open for investigation. Values, being intangible, are not scientifically knowable, but are considered purely subjective and personal. Only what one feels or experiences has worth. In this view there are no guiding laws or principles, but there is one absolute. That absolute is that there are no absolutes. You are the captain of your own ship. The new freedom is complete autonomy, but it is an impossible goal. And even if autonomy were attainable, is it desirable? All around us we see people adrift on a sea of limitless alternatives, and the consequences are devastating. Like sailboats without rudders, they drift, lose control, and inevitably capsize.
Standing opposed to this is Christian freedom. This freedom is both internal and external, both in our thought life and in our actions. Christians do not act as though people are autonomous. God establishes our freedom within boundaries. We are free to make choices. We are free to follow an external standard, or we may choose to make our whims our standard. But choices have consequences.
The question is: What kind of freedom will we choose? What consequences are we prepared to accept? Will we choose a freedom that has no fixed values to guide it? Or will we choose a more blessed freedom that guides us into an abundant life? Will we look to the One who created human life to reveal the way to us? Ultimately, this freedom to choose the life we were made for is the only freedom that counts.”