"Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." -- Romans 8:21
This text speaks both of bondage and liberty, “the bondage of corruption and the glorious liberty of the children of God”. “The bondage of corruption” is that bondage into which sin has brought us. It is the bondage of nature, the bondage which makes us all miserable slaves and prisoners. This bondage of corruption is the forerunner of the everlasting torments of hell’s bondage. Unless God intervenes, it will bring us, and our children into eternal misery at last.
All who live in the dungeon of sensuality and corruption, as the willing bond slaves of sin, dragged from place to place by the chains of envy, malice, anger, and wrath, shall spend eternity in the darkness and corruption of hell under the wrath of God, unless the Son of God makes them free.
“The bondage of corruption” holds multitudes in abject servitude to fashion, style, and social approval. It makes us all, by nature, slaves to our own corrupt passions; and that man who is a slave to his own passions is a slave to the worst possible despot. Physical slavery is the most immoral, debasing abuse of humanity imaginable. However, this “bondage of corruption” is indescribably worse. This is the bondage, not of our bodies, but of our hearts, our minds, our souls! This satanic “bondage of corruption” manifests itself in many ways. It is the bondage of sin, the bondage of the law, the bondage of social acceptance and approval, and the bondage of religious tradition, custom, and superstition.
The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God came into this world to deliver God’s elect from “the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God”. He came to set the captive free, to open the doors of the prison which held his people in captivity, to break the oppressive chains and shackles which held us captives to sin and Satan. Christ is the great Liberator of men’s souls. He came to set his people free. Salvation is the deliverance of chosen, redeemed sinners by the grace and power of God “into the glorious liberty of the children of God”.
The liberty of God’s elect in Christ is, without question, a very controversial issue. But it is controversial only because of the prevailing errors of ascetic, legal religion, which have become so universally accepted that most people associate liberty with licentiousness and bondage with godliness. The fact is -- All human religion is bondage, operates upon principles of bondage, and seeks to keep people in bondage.
There is a great need for plain, practical instructions about the matter of Christian liberty. Let’s look into the Word of God and see what God has to say to his people about their liberty in Christ. Every child of God needs to know that since Christ has made us free, it is our responsibility both to stand fast in the liberty of his grace, refusing to be brought again under the yoke of legal bondage, and to use the liberty he has given us for the glory of his name and the good of his people.
Jesus Christ alone is the great Liberator of men. No one ever comes to enjoy true liberty before God, true liberty of heart and mind, true liberty in his soul, until he is set free by the merit of Christ’s blood and the power of his grace. This liberty of grace is a blessed privilege of faith in Christ. Yet, there is a false liberty, which must be avoided.
Everything good, every work of God’s grace is imitated by Satan. He is a master counterfeiter. Multitudes are deceived by him with a false liberty. Let all be warned. The word “liberty” has been greatly abused by many. I have personally heard men use it to excuse and justify everything from Hollywood evangelism, to homosexuality and the ordination of women, to the worship of idols. Do not be deceived. All is not liberty which men call liberty. May God graciously keep us from a false liberty that will bring us into eternal ruin. Here are three common refuges, refuges of lies, into which people run in hopes of finding liberty.
1. A Religious Profession -- Multitudes are so naïve and gullible that they think a mere profession of religion is liberty from the curse of the law and the wrath of God. They think they are free because they profess that they are free.
2. Self-righteousness -- Many grow weary of their evil ways and seek freedom by making an outward moral reformation. I fear that most of what passes for Christianity is nothing more than a reformation of life.
3. Antinomianism -- Antinomianism is a vile, atrocious thing. It says, “Since salvation is by grace, it does not matter how I live, or what I do.” God’s servants today are frequently called antinomians, just as Paul was (Rom. 3:8). We must not allow that slander to bother us. If lost religious men, clinging to their self-righteousness, accused our Master of being a glutton and a drunk, we should not expect to be treated any better. It is impossible to preach salvation by grace alone and not be charged with the evil of antinomianism by slanderous legalists. However, we must always be on guard against that form of licentiousness. Freedom from the law is not a license to do evil.
May God the Holy Spirit keep us from a false liberty. It is far better to be in bondage and know it than to be in bondage and think your bondage is liberty. Yet, we must not fail to declare the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ truly does make sinners free (John 8:32-36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6-7; 5:1).
True liberty, the liberty of grace, the liberty of life and peace in Christ is obtained only by the power and authority of God’s eternal Son. Only the Son can make us free. Let me show you the significance of those words.
During the days of our Lord’s earthly ministry there was a custom among the Greeks and Romans. When a man died, if he left slaves they became the property of his eldest son. If the son said, “I proclaim these slaves, left to me by my father, free men,” those slaves were forever free and could never be taken into slavery again. Under Greek and Roman law, that was the one, certain way by which a slave could obtain his liberty. If the son proclaimed freedom, the slave must go free. Therefore, our Savior said, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” Jesus Christ, the Son of God is the great Heir of promise. If he, the Son of God, makes you free, you shall be free indeed.
The Lord Jesus Christ purchased freedom for his people by his precious blood (Gal. 3:13). He comes to chosen, redeemed sinners in the preaching of the gospel and proclaims purchased, unconditional liberty to captives (Isa. 61:1-3). But the Lord Jesus Christ is more than a proclaimer of liberty. He accomplishes liberty, effectually bringing his elect into the glorious liberty of his grace by the power of his Spirit.
“He breaks the power of cancelled sin; He sets the prisoner free!
His blood can make the foulest clean; His blood avails for me!”
The instrument by which the Lord Jesus brings liberty to his people is the Word of God (John 8:32). The preaching of the gospel is like the blowing of the jubilee trumpet. The more clearly the truths of the gospel are preached and understood, the more fully liberty is enjoyed. Bondage comes from error. Liberty is the result of truth.
Faith in Christ brings God’s elect into this “glorious liberty of the children of God” (Gal. 4:1-7). The moment a sinner is born again by God the Holy Spirit and becomes (experimentally) a child of God by faith in Christ, he begins to enjoy true, lasting liberty before God. As we grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, as we mature spiritually, we enjoy that liberty more fully; but the liberty is ours the moment we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is both our privilege and our responsibility to walk in, enjoy, and protect this liberty, which the Lord Jesus purchased for us by his blood and gave to us by the power of his grace. Any return to bondage is giving up the liberty of grace (Gal. 5:1-4).
Let me describe that liberty which is ours in Christ Jesus. May God give us grace ever to promote it and walk in it for the honor of his name. In Christ we are free from sin, Satan, and the law. This is where the liberty of grace begins. When a person comes to Christ in faith, he is set free from that bondage in which all men by nature are held as prisoners and slaves.
The Lord Jesus Christ also frees his people from the bondage of sin (Rom. 6:14-18). Believers are not free from the being of sin, the body of sin, or the acts of sin. All God’s elect, so long as we are in this world, have to contend with sin. But in Christ we are no longer under the dominion of sin. The guilt of sin has been removed by the blood of Christ. The condemnation of sin has been removed by that same precious blood (Rom. 8:1). The power of sin has been broken by the power of God’s saving grace.
In salvation the Lord Jesus delivers his people from the power of Satan, too. By nature the devil holds a usurped dominion over all men, blinding them, binding them, deceiving them, and taking them captive at his will to do his bidding. In salvation the Spirit of God dethrones Satan. He enters the hearts of God’s elect, binds the strong man, and takes his house. He turns men and women from the power of Satan to God. He translates us from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. Thus, the believer is no longer a slave to Satan to do his works and lusts. We are not yet freed from the temptations of the devil, or his roars; but we shall never be devoured by him!
The Lord Jesus Christ has also made us free from the law. This is a fact so plainly, constantly and forcefully stated in the New Testament that ignorance concerning it is utterly inexcusable (Rom. 6:14,15; 7:4; 8:2; 10:4; Gal. 3:23-25). Christ is the end, the terminating point, of the law for all believers. In Christ, because of his blood atonement, the believer is completely free from all the types and shadows of the ceremonial law, all the rigors of Old Testament dietary laws, all the statutes and curses of the law, and all the bondage, terror, and rule of the law as a way of life.
In Christ God’s people have no covenant with the law, no curse from the law, no condemnation by the law, and absolutely no obligation to the law. Christ has satisfied all the law for us and we fulfill all the law by faith in him (Rom. 3:31). The lives of God’s people in this world are not ruled, governed, and motivated by rules and regulations, but by gratitude, love, and faith for the glory of God (1 John 3:23; 2 Cor. 5:14).
Some may think, “What can be wrong with teaching God’s people to live by the ten commands as a rule of life?” Let me show you. It is a direct violation of the Word of God (Col. 2:16-17). Legalism promotes pride and self-righteousness. Legalism always produces severity, judgmentalism, and a condemning spirit. Legalism denies the finished work of Christ and causes men to look not to him alone for everything, but to him and to themselves for assurance, sanctification, acceptance with God, worthiness before God, and peace with God. Many would have us believe, contrary to the Scriptures, that having begun in the Spirit we must now make ourselves perfect by the works of the flesh (Gal. 3:1-3).
There can be absolutely no mixture of law and grace (Rom. 11:6; Gal. 5:1-4). We must never wear a garment of linen and wool before God, or plow with the ox of grace and the ass of our own works in the same yoke. This liberty that we have in Christ goes beyond mere doctrinal matters. According to the teachings of the New Testament, it reaches to the common, everyday affairs of our lives.
Our liberty in Christ gives us total liberty from all the religious customs, traditions, and superstitions of men. Pharisees, both ancient and modern, impose heavy burdens upon the consciences of men and women, by which they make void the Word and commandments of God. We must never allow ourselves to become the servants of such things. We have no obligation to adhere to religious tradition. Indeed, we must not adhere to the oracles of men in spiritual matters (Matt. 15:1-6; Col. 2:6-8, 16-18, 20-23).
Neither the Church of Christ, nor those men who are sent of God to preach the gospel, nor any other group of men have any right to add anything to the Word of God. We do not have the right to develop our own rules, dogmas, or doctrines. Neither local churches, nor religious denominations, nor councils, nor synods have authority to impose their opinions upon the consciences of God’s saints. The Word of God alone is our rule of faith and practice.
In Christ, God’s people are perfectly free to use every creature of God for their food, happiness, comfort, and satisfaction in this world. In the Old Testament things were divided into clean and unclean categories for the purposes of ceremonial purification. The Levitical law made the use of some things unlawful. But in this gospel age we are given liberty to use every creature of God. Nothing is common, or unclean of itself (Acts 10:14-15; Rom. 14:14; 1 Tim. 4:3-4). We are perfectly free to use those things that are neither commanded nor forbidden of God, matters of indifference, as we see fit (Rom. 14:2-3, 13-15, 20-23; 1 Cor. 8:9-13). I will lay down no rules about those things. Let me simply offer a few biblical guidelines about the use of those things, which are matters of indifference.
1. Do not make any of these things a point of merit before God. Indifferent things become idolatrous if you make the use or nonuse of them a means of obtaining favor with God, a means of religious devotion, or a means of obtaining peace of conscience.
2. Use all things in moderation. Eating is not wrong; but gluttony is. Drinking a glass of wine is not wrong; but drunkenness is. Entertainment is not wrong; but reveling is. Use all things wisely, abusing none.
3. Carefully avoid offending your brethren. To offend a brother is to cause him to go against his own conscience, doing something he thinks is wrong. This we must avoid at all costs to ourselves. My brother’s conscience is more important than my own comfort, happiness, and satisfaction.
4. Make your use of all things subservient to the glory of God, the gospel of Christ, and the welfare of the church. In all things make love for Christ and his people the basis of your actions. Use all things wisely, for the glory of God, and abuse none.
John Gill gave this word of caution: -- “Care should be taken, on the one hand, lest such things should be reckoned indifferent, which are not indifferent, and so any precept, or ordinance of God be neglected; and on the other hand, such as are indifferent, should not be imposed as necessary, which may lead to superstition and will-worship.”
Here is the essence of the glorious liberty that is ours as the children of God: -- In Christ we are free to worship and serve the Lord our God. No man can or will truly worship God except by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But all who are in Christ are free to do so (Eph. 2:18). In Christ we are free to call upon God in prayer. In Christ we are free to all the ordinances of the gospel: -- Baptism -- Church Fellowship -- The Lord’s Supper.
Those who are in Christ by faith have freely given themselves up as bond slaves to him. We hold ourselves, all that we are, and all that we possess in reserve for our Master, his cause, and his family.
“Ready to go, ready to stay, Ready my place to fill;
Ready for service, lowly or great, Ready to do His will.”
“All for Jesus, all for Jesus! All my beings ransomed powers:
All my thoughts, and words, and doings, All my days and all my hours.
Let my hands perform His bidding, Let my feet run in His ways;
Let my eyes see Jesus only, Let my lips speak forth His praise.”
And our great Savior graciously grants his people deliverance from the fear of death (Heb. 2:14-15). Through his incarnation, sufferings, and death he has delivered us, who, through fear of death, were all our lifetime subject to bondage. Death, formidable as it is, is no longer king of terrors to God’s elect. We have no reason to fear the death of the body. Trusting Christ, believing that we are in him, and having a good hope that we shall ever be with him, we choose to depart this life and be with the Lord. We know that to die is gain. In the prospect of death and eternity, we can sing, “O death, where is thy sting! O grave, where is thy victory!” We both live and die in hope of the resurrection. And in Christ, we have no reason to fear the second, eternal death (Rev. 20:6). Being justified by his grace and redeemed by his blood, the second death has no power over God’s elect.
“Bold shall I stand in that great day! For who ought to my charge shall lay?
While through Thy blood absolved I am, From sin’s tremendous curse and blame?”
Still, there is more. There is a glorious liberty yet to be revealed. It is this anticipated liberty, which is our blessed hope in Christ. This is the liberty that the sons of God shall have in the world to come. As soon as the believer dies, he shall be with Christ and with the spirits of just men made perfect. Then he shall be free from all sin. We will then be free from all the corruption and defilement of sin, free from the very being of sin, and free from all the evil consequences of sin.
I do not pretend to know all that awaits us in heaven. But this I know: -- In heaven’s glory we shall be free from every evil thing associated with our sin. Can you imagine what this liberty must be? We shall be free from all unbelief! – Free from all doubts! -- Free from all fears! -- Free from all distresses! -- Free from all evil thoughts! -- Free from all temptations! -- Free from all strife! -- Free from all pride!
Then, when Jesus Christ comes again, these very bodies shall be raised to “the glorious liberty of the children of God!” In the resurrection, these bodies shall no longer be sinful, but glorious. Our resurrection bodies shall not even bear the scars and pains of sin. Our bodies shall be free from every pain and disorder. Our very bodies shall be immortal! Body and soul shall be joined together in perfection. We shall be like Christ. We shall be with Christ. And we shall never be in danger of the bondage of sin again! This is “the glorious liberty of the children of God!”