The Freedom of Being a Disciple

In the past two speeches given at this convention, our attention was directed to two truths: disciples of Christ have marks which identify them as disciples indeed; and, true discipleship is “costly.” Now the apparent conclusion which might be drawn is that such a discipleship must surely be a very limiting thing. A disciple is certainly not free! There are so many things a disciple cannot do: he cannot seek certain forms of entertainment; he cannot obtain certain types of jobs; he may not be friends with this world. Often discipleship appears to be merely negative: don’t, don’t, don’t.

Because such seems to be true, young people often hesitate about confessing their faith. Some have even expressed that evil idea that they would desire to have their fill of fun before acknowledging discipleship. Later – but not now will they be a disciple. Others believe that discipleship ought not to limit them at all. They should feel free to do whatever they please – yet be identified as a disciple! The second speech made plain that this is impossible.

My subject suggests the truth that discipleship represents the only true free state there is in the universe. A true disciple is free in his union of Christ. And such freedom is a positive thing. There are, it is true, things which no disciple can do or may do. But he is free as a disciple to serve God from the heart with all that he is and all that he has. No child of this world has that freedom. No one can obtain that freedom with money. None can seek it and find it in and of themselves. This freedom is a gift – purchased through the blood of the Lamb on the cross of Calvary. In that freedom we ought to rejoice.

The seeming contradiction which we face is this: One who insists that he is “free” because he can do as he pleases, is really a slave. He is a slave of sin; he cannot do nor seek the good; he is under the sentence of death. His imagined “freedom” is in actuality an illusion suggested by Satan already to Eve in Paradise. But one who is truly free, is a slave of Jesus Christ. Paul repeatedly identified himself as such a slave. Yet this same Paul boasted in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. Bondage to Christ is true freedom. Let us understand this well and not be deceived by the siren songs of the world which would suggest otherwise.

But what is freedom? We have often been told that we live in the land of the free. First, we ought to remove certain misconceptions concerning freedom. It is not the removal of all restraint. There are some who seem to believe that they are free when they free themselves from parental, ecclesiastical, or governmental restraint. Some youth movements of our day proceed under such an assumption. Children want to be free from all parental control. Many want no control or rule in their lives by either church or state. The oft-used phrase, “Do your own thing,” suggests the same thought. One then is free only when he can do whatever he may please without fear of consequences.

The absence of all restraint would result, of course, in chaos. A fish in the water could not claim to be truly free only when he leaps from the water upon the land. As soon as he frees himself from the restraint (water), he dies. And though we supposedly live in a free land, obviously that does not mean that restraint is gone. Try telling the policeman who stops you for speeding, “But we live in a free land!” Or again, my freedom to use my hand or fist ends at the point of my neighbor’s nose. Nor am I “free” to take or occupy property which belongs to my neighbor. Remove restraints, and there would be chaos and anarchy.

Nor is freedom the ability to choose between alternatives. Some suggest that true freedom means that one can chose either the good or the evil. He must have the ability and inherent right to choose thus – or he is not free. But that suggestion is also false. God, for instance, cannot choose the evil. Yet God is absolutely and sovereignly free. Nor will we be “free” in that sense in heaven. There we shall be perfectly free – yet unable ever to choose any more the way of sin.

May I suggest, without entering into the various philosophical arguments, that there are several points to the idea of freedom which we ought to remember. First, true freedom can only exist within prescribed boundaries or laws. Without such laws, freedom is impossible. No nation or city could continue without laws; laws against speeding; laws against murder and steeling; laws for property possession. The universe could not continue without laws which God placed there: laws of gravity: of properties of light: of growth. Nor can there be true freedom without moral laws. Freedom presupposes boundaries.

Nor are boundaries mere arbitrary laws which men devise. Dictators, evil rulers, and others might seek to enforce laws which are evil and contrary to the Word of God. But laws which are opposed to the Law of God, laws designed to promote the honor and glory of man – these proceed out of the sinful heart of man and to his own condemnation. The proper boundaries for freedom are established by the Almighty, the Sovereign One, He Himself is absolutely free. It is He Who reveals to His creatures what are the limits and bounds in which they can exist and enjoy true freedom. The laws which God establishes are not only “natural” laws, but also moral law. And the heart of the law or bounds which God establishes is this: Love God with thy whole heart. In violating that law, man lost his freedom and entered into that state of chaos which is evident also today. Freedom is to love God perfectly with one’s whole being.

Secondly, freedom supposes the ability to live and act within the boundaries God has established. The inability to live within the restrictions which God establishes, results in slavery and death. Such would be true of the fish which jumps from the water. Similarly, a man who ignores God’s laws and seeks to walk under water, drowns. And the man who seeks to escape God’s laws in the moral-spiritual plane, dies. This did Adam when he refused to obey the good command of God concerning the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But true freedom involves the desire and ability to live within the limits of God’s perfect law. This freedom presupposes perfect holiness and righteousness. One who is truly free is bound by God’s law, loves it, and walks according to it.

Finally, freedom has as its end, perfect fellowship and communion with the ever blessed God. Freedom is not some state in which the creature in any way seeks self. It is that state in which he can perfectly serve and glorify the Creator, In this way, he also enjoys the blessings, fellowship, and communion with God.

This freedom, true freedom, can be traced through the record of Scripture. Adam possessed freedom by virtue of the fact that God created him perfect and good. But Adam could and did lose the freedom in the way of disobedience. Immediately, however, God revealed to Adam the only way of freedom (Genesis 3:15). And throughout the Old Testament age, the saints enjoyed freedom – though it was the freedom of a child. They lived under the type and shadow. They were bound by many laws regarding sacrifice designed to point them to the deliverance which would come in the cross. But they were free in Christ.

That freedom developed in the New Dispensation under the direction of the Spirit of Pentecost. The child of God no longer must observe the laws of sacrifice and circumcision, for these were fulfilled in Christ. Now he lives under God’s law as an adult – he must still fully obey the law of God, but he obeys it voluntarily and with an understanding of that which he does. However, because he has still a sinful flesh, the child of God continues to sin against God and His law.

Finally, freedom will belong to the saints in glory in the fullest, most glorious, sense. Then the members of Christ’s body shall no longer sin – nor will they be able to sin. They will be able to choose the good all the time with their whole being. That is the perfect freedom which we desire to possess – and which is promised us for Jesus’ sake.

But how can one obtain such freedom? I repeat, such freedom cannot be obtained by removal of restraint or law. This is what the devil had suggested to Eve in Paradise. He said, “Yea, God doth know that in the day you eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.” In effect, Satan told Eve that she would be free only when she removed the restraints which God placed upon her. The devil and this world constantly emphasize that same lie today. And we sometimes begin to succumb to its snares. Through song, on television and in movie, in book and magazine, man suggests that freedom is attainable through the removal of all restraint. That is the idea too of the “new morality” of which we have heard much in past years. According to this new “morality,” one need no longer observe the details of the ten commandments, as long as he “loves.” One can commit murder, adultery, stealing – in love. And with modern technology it is seemingly possible to avoid some of the consequences of violation of God’s laws.

You, young people, are particularly susceptible to this reasoning. It is rather normal that young people begin to desire to “use their own wings.” You, think in terms of freeing yourselves from “momma’s apron strings.” Therefore, too, this lie of Satan that freedom is obtained by removing all restraint is appealing. You, especially, must beware of it.

Nor is man born free. One is born in bondage of sin and death. Adam, our first father, represented all men when he fell. The result of that fall of Adam was that all men are born dead in sin. Man has then neither the power nor the desire to deliver himself from the slavery of sin. While wicked men boast, “I am free!”, these are really slaves to sin.

Jesus tells us that the truth shall make you free. What is truth? That is the question Pilate asked Jesus at His trial – and did not await an answer. There has been much philosophizing about this question. But again, Christ, in John 14:6, tells us simply: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” Jesus, Who is the revelation of God, is truth. All that is in harmony with the perfect Being of the Father is truth and is found in Christ. Christ is the Truth because He manifests the love, mercy, grace, and wisdom of God. Christ shows God to His people. He does this in His incarnation. And He does this when he records infallibly the Scripture through holy men. That truth which is Christ is evident centrally on the cross. There is seen the truth of God’s righteousness (for He does not allow sin to go unpunished). There is revealed the truth of His infinite love (for He sends His only Son to die under His wrath for His people). There is revealed God’s grace and mercy (for He desires to cause His people to be blest forevermore).

That truth makes free. Nothing else does. Through full payment, the justice of God is satisfied. Through the cross, we are delivered from the bondage of sin and death and are assured a place in glory.

To enjoy to the full your freedom, you must know the truth. One does not become free merely by knowing the truth, of course. Many know of the truth who are not at all free. One is free according to the eternal determination of God as He realizes His plan in time through the cross. But the consciousness of our freedom, the joy of freedom, comes in the way of knowing the truth. The more children of God know the truth, of the cross, of their redemption; the more they stand amazed in the freedom that is theirs. And these who know the truth, also live in that freedom. These surely desire to serve God in all things.

Therefore, Christ insists that true disciples are to continue in His Word. The Word of Christ is revealed in Scripture. It is an infallible Word which therefore never changes. That Word is given for our benefit and instruction. One will not find the Word of Christ in creation. By special revelation, Christ reveals Himself – and the meaning of creation.

It is that Word which we must know and hear. We must hear that Word in the preaching – that God-ordained means of grace for the strengthening and calling of the church. We are not to try to find more “pleasing” substitutes for that preaching. It must, rather, be used faithfully according to the commands of Scripture.

And we are to study and know that Word. It is the revelation of God through Christ. And we need to know it particularly in these days of great wickedness and apostasy. False doctrines of every sort are creeping into the churches. You must be able to distinguish the false from the true. You, then, MUST know the Word of God. I would urge you to study it diligently. How much would we not know of that Word if we spent as much time with it as we do with television or with sports? Yet that Word deserves more study and time than that which is set aside for recreation or entertainment. Study that Word in preparation for society discussion. Study it in the home with family, and privately in your own personal devotions. But study that Word.

A true disciple, says Jesus, continues in that Word. The confession of the child of God is not merely a single act. It might seem that way sometimes. At times, young people can quickly and thoughtlessly make a confession of faith. These might have no real intention of abiding by the teaching and instruction of that Word. They will readily depart from the church for the sake of marriage or of work. Such is hypocritical.

One enjoys true freedom and knows the truth only in the way of continuing in the Word. He knows the Word and loves that which it teaches. He seeks out the meaning of that Word as a guide for his own personal life and walk. For he desires to do that which God requires of him. He continues in the Word when he seeks out entertainment. He continues in the Word when he chooses his friends. He continues in the Word when he seeks his life’s calling. That Word is a lamp to his feet and a light to his pathway.

You, young people, continue in the Word. Then you shall know the truth and consciously enjoy the only freedom there is: freedom from sin and death, freedom in holiness before God. God grant that to you.

Originally Published in:

Vol. 31 No. 6 October 1971