Freedom from Sin
By Grant Hawley
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matt 11:29-30.
A Different Way of Life
Does Christianity seem like a heavy burden to you? Too often today, God's people find themselves overcome by worry, jealousy, lust, and an overall feeling of helplessness. Is this all there is? Can we not expect to have real victory before the Lord's return? Are happy relationships, true purity, joy, peace, and gentleness out of reach? If you feel this way, and you've tried everything: accountability groups, "commitments" or "covenants" with God that restrict what you watch, what you eat or drink, what you listen to etc., and it has really not solved the problem, keep reading with an open heart, and perhaps you will find what God has for you—a life free from the tyranny of sin.
The Bible describes the experience God expects us to have, and it is nothing like what most people think about when they think about Christianity. It is a life which is lived in complete freedom, which flows with and has no lack of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). It is a life which is holy in every respect, which worries about nothing, is unmoved by temptation, and flows lavishly from intimate communion with God instead of being forced by regulation-based suppression. When the Christian is walking in the Spirit, because he wants only to do what pleases God, he can do whatever he likes. It is not a suppression of our natural desires, it is an expression of the life of Christ in us. This is the difference between being under law and walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:16-23).
The first thing we need to do is to be honest with ourselves. Even though our pride may not want to, if our experience does not match what God wants for us, we need to admit it. If we find ourselves not able to "Rejoice always" (1 Thess 5:16), or if we can't help but constantly "judge one another" (Rom 14:13), or if God's command to "be anxious for nothing" seems simply impossible, then we need to admit that maybe we don't have all the answers. We might know lots of other people who have similar experiences, but neither our nor other people's experience of failure can discount what God has said in His Word. We are to "be holy for [God] is holy" (1 Pet 1:16).
Another thing we need to admit, and we'll see why later, is that our covenants or commitments with God not to watch TV after midnight, not to use the internet alone, not to drink any alcohol at all, or not to date for a year are rules, regulations, restrictions?and they aren't given to us in the Bible. They are man-made laws, man-made ways of trying to control sin.
There are many people who don't drink or watch rated R movies,1 but at the same time they are joyless, judgmental, they can't control their temper or their lusts, and the rules they set for themselves just tend to make it all worse. No wonder they think that the Christian life is meant to be an up-and-down struggle. Do you put these kinds of restrictions on yourself to try to control the sin problem? Does it seem like the restrictions you set for yourself are improving your relationship with God and with others?
Unless you think that these rules are your relationship with God (that's an easy mistake to make), I would be willing to bet that you would have to say no. The Bible is very clear about this:
If you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—"Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. (Col 2:20-23)
It does seem like wisdom to think, "Drunkenness is a sin; so, to avoid the temptation, I just won't drink at all" or, "To avoid opportunity to lust, I won't walk down the magazine isle," but the Bible says that these sorts of rules "are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh." Although it seems like wisdom, it does not work because that is not God's way.
When you think about the deeds of flesh, what do you think of? You probably think of things like, drunkenness, fornication, murder, adultery, but what about things like envy, dissentions, outbursts of anger, jealousy, and selfish ambitions (Gal 5:19-20)? And what about other not often addressed sin issues like worry (Phil 4:6), complaining (Phil 2:14), putting others under law (Acts 15:10), and judging others based on it (Rom 14:1-10)?
If you were to see an attractive twenty-something woman walking down the street... Women, do you think you can see her without comparing your worth to hers based on appearance? And can you keep from judging her and grumbling about what clothes she wears? Men, do you think you can see her without lusting? And I don't only mean once here, I mean consistently. You may think that's impossible, and if you are trying to control these problems with rules, you are absolutely right.
Rules are an attempt to be strong, an attempt to suppress sinful desires with shear power. But victory over sin is not found in strength but in weakness. This is why Christ said to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9). It is when we are weak that Christ shows Himself strong in us.
We need to know that nothing we can do that comes from our own strength can please Him because we need to lay our own strength on His altar. God is the source of all things good, and for us to do good, God must be the source of our actions. This is why Christ said, "apart from Me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5). God's way is not to make us strong, but to make Christ strong in us.
No More Burden
God does not want us to go through the Christian life burdened and distressed. God wants us to have joy. In fact, He commands us to express joy all of the time, "Rejoice always" (1 Thess 5:16). He is not commanding us to be phony, He wants us to truly have joy and to let it out. And this same joy transcends even the worst circumstances.
Paul said, "I rejoice in my sufferings" (Col 1:24); and his sufferings were nothing to laugh at. In 2 Cor 11:23-33, we see that he had been beaten numerous times, stoned, shipwrecked, that he had often gone without food, sleep, or clothing, and that he had been under consistent persecution. Yet in all this he had joy. How is this possible? Paul had joy for one reason and one reason only, He was intimately connected with the infinitely joyful life of Jesus Christ through faith. This is what it means to walk in the Spirit (Gal 5:16). It has nothing to do with law, it is by faith. In fact, two verses later Paul further explains that, "if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law" (Gal 5:18), and the deeds of the flesh in vs. 19-20 are the result of trying to live by law instead of by the Spirit. Life in the Spirit is a life free from law.
Paul is unyielding about this, he wrote:
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? ( Gal 3:1-5)
The Christian life is not like life under the law. It is a life of faith, and as Paul says, "the law is not of faith" (Gal 3:11).
In light of the joy Paul had and which we can have in the most horrible of circumstances, can we possibly think that the Christian life, the way God intended, could be lived by the principle of rules? How different is the Christian life than a feeble attempt to manhandle life's problems with regulations? Can regulations ever give you joy in the midst of the kind of suffering Paul went through when he was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, sleepless, cold, naked, and hungry (2 Cor 11:23-33)? Do we think that in these times, Paul was concerned with making sure his hugs were "side hugs"? These sorts of rules do not bring "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal 5:22-23). Only Christ has any value against the indulgence of the flesh (see Col 2:20-23).
Life in Christ
When someone is walking in the Spirit by faith, they won't complain and fight and be constantly overcome by sin. They will not worry about what you wear or what movies you watch. They know grace; they know freedom; and they know the power of Christ in them over temptation. As Christ is unmoved by a short skirt or an offensive comment, so are they as He is alive in them.
Life in Christ is as far above life under the law as the highest heavens are above the ground. God not only expects more of us, He fulfills all of His requirements in us. Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal 2:20).
Christ lives in you through faith, not by law. Under law we work for God, under grace, God works in us for Himself. This is why God says, "sin will not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace" (Rom 6:14). Sin will not have dominion over you when you walk in grace because it is God who will overcome in you.
Christ lives His life in us through faith. Christ cannot be subjected to sin, so if He is living His life in you, sin will not have dominion over you. Freedom is not found in rules and restrictions. Freedom lies in offering every last thing we have (including our desire for regulations) up to God to be used by Him alone, powered by His infinite strength alone, and according to His will alone. This life is a life where we are led by the Spirit as He perfectly expresses Christ's life in us.
So, do not be conformed to this world by living according to its wisdom which says, "do not touch, do not taste, do not handle" but, "stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage" (Gal 5:1). God not only wants you to, He commands you to have a better life—live free in Him.1 I'd like to be clear that this does not mean that people should necessarily watch Rated R movies or drink alcohol, but that self-regulation on those or other points does not help the sin problem and that if the self-regulation is an attempt to control the sin problem, this will inevitably lead to more sin.