Free to serve, not to sin

I am preaching at our church in a couple of weeks and I want to share the message here in article form so that I can think through the message, and maybe even get some feedback to tweak it before I share it with our church. If you have ever heard a Christian share his or her personal testimony then you have probably heard the phrase “I was set free” or “I have been set free”. Freedom has a broad context when it comes to the Christian walk. One way that we are set free is from our slavery to sin. We no longer have to obey our sin nature. Another way that we are set free is from the dead works of religion that hinder us from drawing closer to God instead of helping us get closer to Him. Both are crucial.

Being free does not mean, on the other hand, that we can live however we want and do whatever we want. God sets us free with a purpose. He wants us to walk with Him, live a lifestyle of obedience to Him, and serve Him by investing in the lives of the people around us. In the early church, some people heard the word freedom and took it out of its proper context and tried to use it as a license to do whatever they wanted, including living in sin. Salvation, then, as now, was abused and manipulated to be a “get out of hell free” form of fire insurance. In fact, some religious men came to John the baptist to be “baptized” by him so that they could avoid the fiery punishment to come yet continue living in their sin. John the baptist rebuked those men harshly.

2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, “THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT !’ ” 4 Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist ; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan ; 6 and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come ? 8 “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance ; (Matthew 3)

The key word in this passage is repentance, turning away from your sinful way of thinking (believing that you are good enough on your own or that you do not need God) and your sinful actions that come as a result of that mindset and turn to God and His Word for guidance. These religious men were happy with their sin yet they did want to escape the judgment to come so that went to get baptized yet they did not want to change. They wanted to get their God sticker and then continue on with their lives just as they had done before. Many people are the same way today. Instead of being broken over their sin and turning away from it, they want to keep their sin and also get the assurance of salvation. It does not work that way. If there is no fruit of repentance then there is also no salvation. God is not mocked.

Saint Peter covers this same idea in one of his epistles. He develops the idea even more. He teaches that we are set free to serve. The fruit of repentance is our walk with God and service to Him via serving the people around us. Let’s take a look at Peter’s teaching.

11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. 13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (I Peter 2)

This letter is written to believers, not calling them to have faith in Christ and repent but teaching them how to live once they have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior.

I. Free through submission

God calls us to be free from sin but in our freedom, we are still submissive to Him. Verse 13 teaches us that we are be submissive to the Lord in our daily lives. The way that we demonstrate this submission is by the way we submit to the authority figures in our lives. We will always have authority figures in our lives. The question is, how do you respond to them? How do you respond to your boss at work? How do you respond to your spiritual leader? Do you even have a spiritual leader? If you do not have a mentor, a person who is discipling you then you need to get one because that is God’s plan. Being willing to submit goes hand in hand with the first beatitude that Jesus shared in His famous “Sermon on the Mount“. Blessed are the poor in spirit. A person who is poor in spirit totally depends upon God. He has nothing to offer God. He comes to God as a beggar to receive. God gives to this kind of person. God teaches us to have spiritual authority figures and this is the test. The question is, “are we willing to humble ourselves and submit to God’s way?”. If we are not willing to be submissive to spiritual authority figures then we show that we are not poor in spirit and we need to rethink our “relationship” with God. If Jesus is our Savior, He is also our Lord. The word “Lord” means master. If He is the master then we are the slaves. As slaves, we do what He says. If we do not want to do what He says or if we do not do what He says then He is not our Lord or our Savior and we are deceiving ourselves. Do you claim to have been set free by God yet at the same time use that freedom to rebel against God by not being submissive?

II. Free to live in an honorable way

If you submit to God and the authority figures in your life then you will also be free to live in a way that honors God and you. How, or in other words, what does this look like? Peter gives the answer in verse 11. As believers, we are in a battle. Our minds and hearts have been set free from sin’s powerful grip yet at the same time, we live in a body of flesh that wants to be controlled by our sin nature. We must do everything to disarm the enemy because he already has the high ground. We were born sinners and were made right with God through Christ. Sin has the advantage but we can be victorious. We must abstain from the lusts of the flesh. When we indulge in the lusts of the flesh we feed the enemies camp and make the battle more and more difficult on ourselves. If you were wondering what these lusts were, Peter’s colleague and friend John explains what these lusts are in his first epistle.

15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts ; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (I John 2)

A simple list would be:

  • lusts of the eyes
  • boastful pride of life

This is why we must be very careful with what we see. This is also why television advertising works so well, because they play on the lusts (desires) of the eyes. This is another reason why the porn industry is a multimillion dollar industry. God teaches us as believers to avoid pornography because it is a lust of the eyes and causes us to sin and ultimately destroys us. The boastful pride of life is manifested in the idea of “being like God”, meaning that I am the one who rules my life. The wheel is in my hands. I make the decisions however I want to. People who do not follow Christ are not the rulers of their own lives or destiny. They are in fact, led by the lusts of the flesh. They are slaves to their sin natures. As a believer, you are to do what is good and right as defined by God in His Word.

III. Freedom, submission, and honor produce positive results

The first thing that you do when you live like this is that you stop the enemy in his tracks. In this context the enemy is manifested in the unbelieving people around you who watch you to catch you making a mistake so that they can calm their own consciences, knowing that they are slaves to sin. When they try to speak evil against you, they have to close their mouths because they cannot latch on to anything. Once they realize that they cannot find anything and that slander was unfounded, they will close their mouths and then see the reason why you are the way that you are. Instead of talking bad about you and the God whom you serve, they will begin to seek after Him and want to know Him until they get to the point where they experience Him and begin to praise Him instead of curse Him. He will set them free from their slavery to sin just as He did for you. You honor God and the people around you, showing God’s love to them and it wins them over, just like St. Paul teaches in Romans.

19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. 20 “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK ; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12)

When you do not return evil for evil and use your freedom to glorify God then you overcome your enemies. In fact, God does it through you. It is for His glory and you gain a new sibling in Christ for the glory of God.

Do you show your freedom via your submission to God and your spiritual leaders? Do you live in an honorable way, avoiding the desires of the flesh at all times? Does your freedom lead to problems with the people around you or does it lead you to winning the people around you for Christ? The proof is in the pudding, as they say and the results of your daily life will show what you use your freedom for. May the Lord help us be an example of submission, honor, and obedience for the people around us.

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