With Independence Day right around the corner, the Topic often at hand is freedom and the tremendous cost by which we achieved it. But it seems these days that Freedom alone is the hallmark of American Liberty – America has forgotten that her foundation is not a freedom based upon lawlessness. And gaging by the stereotypical lawyer mentality the plethora of laws which we do have in this country are written full of loopholes so that they can be ignored or rather talked around by wrestling the relevant semantics out of their clearly intended meaning1 with phrases like, " that all depends on what the meaning of "is" is.2
But America and Her laws and thus by extension her freedoms cannot live in abject lawlessness. If America is to continue she must as a nation be subject to the Law of God. If she will not be subject to God's laws than she who was formed thereon may well come to slavery and non-existence. Even our founding fathers knew this to be the case. Our second president, John Adams wrote:
"[I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. Religion and virtue are the only foundations…of republicanism and of all free governments."3
We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.4
President Adams was merely quoting the concept of Scripture. The sad reality is that we have become an immoral and irreligious nation. Yet worse than that – many Christians have likewise become so freedom focused that by ignoring God's law they have themselves been taken captive and placed in bondage.
The message in scripture is that if you want to walk in freedom, you must have the Law of the Lord. I would like you to turn to the one-hundred-nineteenth Psalm and join me at Verse 45. (Psalm 119:45). Please, for contexts sake would you read with me Psalm 119:41-48.
We cannot afford to miss the context of freedom which is spelled out in this passage and clarified everywhere else in Scripture: Freedom comes not from a lack of mastery but by being willfully submitted to the law of the Lord!
This nation will not remain free if it will not submit itself to the law of the Lord. Many nations – even great world powers have risen and those who lived in their time would say, "They can never go away for they are too great and powerful a nation!" But these same dynasties and nations have fallen and come to nothing with none but archaeologists having any capacity to find them again. Where is Babylon, Assyria, Medo-Persia and the Roman Empire? Where are the Pharaohs of Egypt? They exist only in archaeological extrapolation. There may even be nations standing in the same place with the same names but they are merely shadows of another time. Strike down a nation and another will rise up to take it's place – but it will not be the same nation. Grandeur and power do not make insurance which guarantees continuity.
The only guarantor is God alone and he will not be trivialized and abandoned without recompense!
In John 8:33 the people told Jesus, "…We are Abraham's descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, 'You will become free'?" It is amazing to me that they could so completely miss the fact that at the very moment they spoke, they were enslaved to Rome! In the very same way, millions of America will celebrate Freedom this week yet will utterly fail to comprehend that this great nation is enslaved to Sin and Debauchery?
Many Christians also fail to comprehend what freedom in Christ means. It certainly doesn't mean lawlessness. Consider the words of Jesus in John 8:31-37. (Read it).
According to Jesus the only way to be his disciple is to continue in his word. It is the knowledge of the truth which makes one free. In fact the reason why the Pharisees and Saducees wanted to kill Jesus was specifically because His word had no place in them!
What is Jesus saying? He is saying that if you want freedom than you must obey the word of God! Failing to know and obey God's word is the essence of slavery. But what is our response to such a claim? We act scandalized and begin to squirm under what we feel must certainly be the chains of legalism coming our way.
Freedom from the Law
We are not talking about living in legalism. Legalism is a slavery to the words of the law in an effort to earn God's favor. We must never forget that in Christ Jesus there is freedom from the law.
Even today there are some who would behave as if the way of salvation is in keeping the commandments of God. But the commandments of God cannot be kept in perfection. James warns us that breaking one law is equal to breaking the entire law (James 2:10). The power of sin seizes the law and turns the good law into an opportunity to for us to sin (Romans 7:7-13) thus demonstrating that we cannot be saved by the law. We must only be saved by Grace and in God's magnificent mercy we are! And now, Paul explains in Galatians 5 – we have been set free of the law of sin and death. We must neither become a slave to the law again5 nor must we permit ourselves to use our freedom in Christ as an opportunity to sin for that is bondage!
Freedom to Live
But look at what the Psalmist says in our text: "I will walk at liberty". Walking is equivalent to living. But where will he live and walk at liberty? Nowhere else but within the boundaries of God's precepts. The Psalmist had discovered the wonderful secret which so many of us fail to perceive; namely that freedom has boundaries. Yet it is these boundaries which permit us to dwell in the safety and shelter of the Most High. Should we dwell outside of these boundaries we will find ourselves in slavery either to a law we cannot keep or to a sin we cannot overcome!
Within the boundaries of God's freedom there is "ample room for liberty of movement…"6 The boundaries of God's law give life rather than bondage. Liberty, which is the great success of our nation, must always be understood to carry two truths. Liberty, "means being set free from, and being set free to. A country may be set free from colonialism, but this avails nothing unless it is free to take its responsible place in the family of nations."7
The Law of God grants us the freedom to live. Notice that the Psalmist writes, "for I seek your precepts…" He does not follow the law of God slavishly as though it were a source of salvation but rather as a source of pleasure! Pursuing the Law of God as redeemed children of God frees us from doing evil and directs us away from the bondage of our own corruption by releasing us into a freedom "to do that which is good."8 In fact the Law of God defines for us what is good so that we may do it.
"In obeying God's commandments the psalmist will not feel himself under constraint, but a wholly free agent."9 This is what it means to walk and live in freedom.
But from the beginning, just as there have been some who would turn God's laws into shackles there have been those who would turn God's freedom into a license.
Freedom From Sin
"Do you not know," the apostle asks, "that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?" (Ro 6:16). Matthew Henry wrote, "The service of sin is perfect slavery; the service of God is perfect liberty. Licentiousness is bondage to the greatest of tyrants; conscientiousness is freedom to the meanest of prisoners, Jn. 8:32, 36; Lu. 1:74, 75."10
A.W. Pink stated, "…Scripture makes it clear that the most dreadful judgment which God inflicts upon the wicked in this world is when He withdraws His restraints and gives them over to do as they please: Psalm 81:12, Romans 1:26-29. Real liberty is found in the ways of God … The fuller be our obedience, the more completely emancipated are we from the fetters of moral slavery. The only unshackled ones are those who walk with God. 11
This very freedom from sin is the reason why we must walk in accordance with the word of God, for the word itself reveals what is holy. If then we have no concept of the holy, how will we walk in it?
But as we seek the precepts of God, as we yearn for and learn to love his law – not as a binding and ruthless tyrant which we must obey in order to live but as a liberator which protects us from a "slavery of our own devising."12 Thus permitting us to walk freely in the wide open spaces of God's mercy and Grace without fear of the bondage of sin.
The true nature of spiritual liberty is clearly enough defined in Psalm 119:45: "I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts." Again A. W. Pink writes, "The obedience of the Christian is not that of a slave, for the law of God is within his heart in the character of a holy tendency… it is the obedience of a loving and loyal subject, adoring his King and saying, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" It is the renewed heart gladly owning the rightful authority and supremacy of its Maker. And this is the highest ideal of liberty that can be framed. It is the liberty of Heaven itself, for there God does not abdicate His throne, nor cease to issue His commands (Ps. 103:20)."13
My friends, look into the perfect law which gives life and find therein the liberty of Christ. Not a slavish drive to keep a law which we cannot keep but rather the wide open spaces of God's grace protected by the boundaries of God's perfect law.
3Source: John Adams, Works, Vol. IX p. 636 to Benjamin Rush on August 28, 1811.
4Source: John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francess Adams, editor (Boston; Little Brown and Company, 1854),Vol.IX, p.229, to the officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts on October 11, 1798.
5Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, Map on Lining Papers. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1988), 1335.
6Charles A. Briggs and Emilie Grace Briggs, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Psalms (New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1906-07), 424.
7George Angus Fulton Knight, Psalms : Volume 2, The Daily study Bible series (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, c1982), 234.
8KJV Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1994), 1149.
9The Pulpit Commentary: Psalms Vol. III, ed. H. D. M. Spence-Jones (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004), 105.
10Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1991), Ps 119:45.
11Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews (Joseph Kreifels).
12Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, Map on Lining Papers. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1988), 1335.
13Arthur W. Pink, The Satisfaction of Christ (Joseph Kreifels).