His Service is Perfect Freedom
His Service is Perfect Freedom
At the age of eighteen, Billy Nolan ran away from the merchant navy. He was an alcoholic for thirty-five years. For twenty years he sat outside HTB drinking alcohol and begging for money. On 13 May 1990, he looked in the mirror and said, ‘You’re not the Billy Nolan I once knew.’ To use his own expression, he asked the Lord Jesus Christ into his life and made a covenant with him that he would never drink alcohol again. He has not touched a drop since. His life is transformed. He radiates the love and joy of Christ. I once said to him, ‘Billy, you look happy.’ He replied, ‘I am happy because I am free. Life is like a maze and at last I have found a way out through Jesus Christ.’
St Augustine wrote that God was the master ‘whom to serve is perfect freedom.’ This is a great paradox. Many people think that if they serve God they will lose their freedom. In fact, it is the very opposite. Living for ourselves is, in fact, a form of slavery. Serving God ‘in the new way of the Spirit’ (Romans 7:6) is the way to find perfect freedom.
1. Cry out to God for freedomPsalm 88:1-9a
This psalm describes a situation similar to the one that Billy Nolan had found himself in. ‘I’m caught in a maze and can’t find my way out, blinded by tears of pain and frustration’ (v.8, MSG).
It describes so well the consequences of sin. The psalmist is undergoing great suffering. His ‘soul is full of trouble’ (v.3a). He thinks he is going to die: ‘I’m camped on the edge of hell ... a hopeless case. Abandoned as already dead’ (vv.3–5, MSG). He is ‘in the darkest depths’ (v.6), ‘without strength’ (v.4), ‘confined and cannot escape’ (v.8). He has even lost the support of his closest friends (v.8).
The psalmist knows that only God can save him; ‘God, you’re my last chance of the day’ (v.1, MSG). As Billy Nolan did, he cries out for God to save him. However bad your situation may feel, you can cry out to God for freedom.
‘O Lord, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry’ (vv.1–2).
Thank you that you saved me and set me free; free to have a relationship with you, free to be the kind of person deep down I long to be, and free to serve.
2. Serve God in freedomRomans 6:15-7:6
There is a Thomas the Tank Engine cartoon that pictures Thomas on his side, having fallen off the train tracks. He is shouting, ‘I’m free! I’m free at last. I’ve fallen off the rails and I’m free!’ Of course, the reality is that Thomas is far more ‘free’ when his wheels are on the rails and he is operating in line with how he has been created to function.
It is the same with us. We might imagine that we are freer if we have no one telling us what to do other than ourselves, but this is a delusion for we find ourselves enslaved to sin – it leads to ‘a dead end’ (v.21).
It has been said that ‘the only exercise some people take is jumping to wrong conclusions.’ The apostle Paul is worried that his readers will jump to the wrong conclusion. He is concerned that some might argue that it doesn’t matter if we carry on sinning. He writes, ‘What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!’ (v.15).
The assurance of forgiveness is not an excuse to continue sinning. Grace is not a casual ‘get out clause’ for sin. On the contrary, Paul tells us that it would be absurd to carry on sinning for two reasons:
- A new Lord
As Christians we have a new lord. We now serve God, ‘one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!’ (v.17, MSG).
Whether we like it or not, we are all slaves to something. Sin is a form of slavery: ‘The more you did just what you felt like doing … the worse your life became and the less freedom you had’ (v.19a, MSG).
On the other hand, serving God is perfect freedom. Every time we yield to sin we are going against the purpose of grace – which was to set us free from sin and to ‘live in God’s freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness’ (v.19b, MSG).
In summary: ‘Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master’ (v.23, MSG).
- A new love
It is absurd to carry on sinning because, as well as having a new Lord, we also have a new love.
Paul speaks about one aspect of marriage to illustrate this. A woman is released from the law of marriage when her husband dies. Death discharges us from the law (7:1–6).
Similarly we, as Christians, have died to the law. Our old love was the law but, as Christians, ‘we’re no longer shackled to that domineering mate of sin’ (v.6, MSG). We can now be bound to our new love, Jesus, just as a woman whose husband dies is free to marry a new love (v.4).
Now that we live under grace rather than under law, we have the Spirit living in us who fills us with both the desire and ability to do what is right. Connected to our new love, Jesus, ‘we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code’ (v.6). However, as we will see tomorrow, Paul is realistic about the ongoing battle we face with sin.
Lord, thank you that serving you is perfect freedom. Lord, today I offer the parts of my body as slaves to righteousness (6:19). I want to serve you, my Lord and my love, in the way of the Spirit.
3. Seek God’s freedomHosea 3:1-5:15
Tim Keller talks about people in New York finding sin a hard concept to understand, but loving something too much (idolatry) is far more within their frame of reference. Our highest love is that which we serve and worship.
This Old Testament passage provides an illustration of the principle that Paul expounded in the book of Romans, that those who sin are slaves to sin and end up with their lives in a mess.
God loves his people (3:1). The prophet Hosea is called to give a visual aid of this by his love for his wife in spite of the fact that she has committed adultery (v.1). ‘Love her the way I, God, love the Israelite people, even as they flirt and party with every god that takes their fancy’ (v.1, MSG).
Hosea speaks the word of the Lord, ‘There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery’ (4:1–2). The people are guilty of adultery and prostitution (4:13b, 4:15, 5:3). This is a fairly accurate description of many societies today.
The leaders were not setting a good example. ‘The more the priests increased, the more they sinned against me; they exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful. They feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness. And it will be: Like people, like priests’ (4:7–9).
Instead of finding freedom through their sin, they are dissatisfied and enslaved as a result of their sin. ‘They’ll eat and be as hungry as ever, have sex and get no satisfaction ... Wine and whiskey leave my people in a stupor ... Drunk on sex, they can’t find their way home. They’ve replaced their God with their genitals’ (vv.10–12, MSG). They are ‘addicted to idols ... When the beer runs out, it’s sex, sex, and more sex’ (4:17–18, MSG).
They find themselves unable to turn back to God. ‘Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God’ (5:4a). It is as if they have come under some demonic power, ‘A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the Lord’ (5:4b). He withdraws himself from them (v.6).
But God’s withdrawal is so that the people will come back to him. The way back is to admit their guilt and seek God’s face. ‘In their misery they will earnestly seek me’ (v.15b).
‘Exactly how do we seek God?’ writes Joyce Meyer. ‘One way is to think about Him and consider what matters to Him and what He says about certain situations. When we seek Him, we find out much more about His answers to our problems. We also find joy, peace, love, wisdom and everything else we need in our lives. Let me urge you to seek him in every area of your life today.’
Lord, thank you so much for your unending love and faithfulness towards us. However far we have fallen, you are merciful. You long for people to turn to you and seek your face.
Lord, I pray for our nation – which in so many ways is like Israel in the time of Hosea. I pray that the tide will turn. May people begin to seek your face again, to be set free from the enslavement of sin. May they find – in a loving relationship with you – the purpose for which they were made, and the perfect freedom that comes from serving you.
‘… but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
I find buying presents for people rather stressful. I am often overwhelmed by people’s kindness, generosity and thoughtfulness when I am given a present. God’s gift to us is even more amazing – ETERNAL LIFE! This gift will never get old, worn out or forgotten. It is the most precious gift of all. It required a huge sacrifice in getting it; it will last forever and be perfect in every way.