Christ’s Formula for Freedom
By: Dr. Steven C. Riser
Introduction: How Do You Make Good Decisions?
A very successful CEO was about to retire and the board passed over some likely successors to choose a very energetic young man as the new CEO. He was delighted but a little anxious about the appointment so he went to the retiring CEO to ask what was the key to his success. The old gentleman said without hesitation, “Two words—Good Decisions!”
How do you make good decisions? One Word, “Experience!” But how do you get experience? Two words, “Bad decisions!”
Isn’t there a better way to learn how to make good decisions than making bad decisions? Wouldn’t life be a little better if we could make better decisions the easy way vs. the hard way? Who wants to choose between the lesser of two evils? How can we make better decisions?
Your decision is only as good as your best option. Therefore, if we are going to make good decisions it behooves us to have a clear understanding of our options. In Romans 6, the Apostle Paul says that when it comes to the question of human freedom we have two basic options.
Paul puts it to us this way in Romans 6:16 (my paraphrase), “Don’t you realizethat you can choose your own master? You can choose to serve Satan by sinning or you can choose to serve the Savior by obedience—the one to whom you offer yourself, he will take you and be your master and you will be his slave.” What is Paul saying: We have two and only two options: We can choose to serve Christ or Satan.
What are the results of serving one or the other?
If Christ is our master, what are the results? Serving Christ enables us to experience the abundance life that Christ came to give and it results in the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, patience, self-control.
If Satan is our master, what are the results? We may not realize it, but when we sin, we are doing Satan’s will—he wants us to sin. When we are a slave to Satan we do have some options as to the particular sins that will enslave us.
Paul says in Galatians 5:19-21, “When you follow your own wrong inclinations, your lives will produce these evil results— impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry—worshiping something other than the one and only true and living God, hatred, fighting, jealousy, anger, the constant effort to get the best for yourself, complaints and criticisms, the feeling that everyone else is wrong except those in your own little group, and wrong thinking.”
Whenever we focus on ourselves, we begin to develop unbiblical or wrong thinking.
- Only if we are a slave to Christ can we learn to think correctly and be truly free.
- Only if we are a slave to Christ can we have to power to do what we ought.
- Only if we are a slave to Christ can we function for the purpose for which we were created.
- Only if we are a slave to Christ can we please God and act in our best interest.
- Only if we are Christ-centered, can we be delivered from being self-centered.
I. What is Christ’s Formula for Freedom?
It’s extremely important that each one of us understand that real freedom is not the right to do what you want but the power to do what you ought. Jesus said, “If you continue in My Word you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).
In John 8:32, Jesus said that the formula for freedom is as follows:
- “Continue” to obey Christ’s teachings—The wise person in the Sermon on the Mount, the one who built his house on the rock, was the one who obeyed Christ’s teachings.
- “Know the truth”—truth is embodied in the person of Christ who said— “I am the truth…” (Jn. 14:6)
- “The Truth shall make you free!” The reason this statement is true is because Jesus is the truth and it’s Jesus who makes us free. John 8:36 says, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
II. What is One of the Most Important Things in Life?
One of the most important things we can do as Christians is to learn to please God more and more. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:1 “Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.” All of us need to be concerned about pleasing God in all that we do!
III. How Can We Learn to Please God More and More?
We can learn what displeases God and then do the opposite. There are two ways that the Scripture says that we cannot please God:
- 1. Romans 8:8— Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
What is the opposite of being controlled by our sinful nature? Being controlled by our new nature. We are controlled with our new nature when we learn to yield our‑
selves to the control of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). We could say that when we are controlled by the Holy Spirit, we cannot help but to please God because He is the one who is controlling our lives. It’s by exercising our wills to be faithful in practicing what God commands that we come to know the truth of Jesus’ claims.
- 2. Hebrews 11:6 — And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
What is the opposite of living without faith? What is the opposite of being a cynic and a doubter? One who walks by faith and not by sight—one who trust in God with all his heart and does not rely on his own insight—one who acknowledges God in all his ways! (Prov. 3:5, 6).
God has ordained faith to make up for our lack of sense. Why does God want us to trust Him? Three reasons: He is, by far, more powerful, more loving and more intelligent than we are. Further, “Everything that God does is worthy of our trust!”
Another way we can learn to please God is to learn what God hates and do the opposite. God hates all sin, but Proverbs lists several things that God particularly hates:
- Lying (truthfulness) — dishonesty ruins our credibility and undermines healthy relationships.
- Injustice (justice) — the root of injustice is a judgmental attitude and a double standard of morality.
- Hypocrisy (sincerity) — those who seem righteous but refuse to repent. God know our true intentions.
- Sowing seeds of discord/disunity (peacemaker) — make sure you act in a spirit of peace and humility.
- Idolatry (First Commandment) — is anything that we elevate to a higher place than God in our lives.
- Pride (humility) — refuses to give God the credit He deserves or refuses to acknowledge His Lordship.
- Covetousness (contentment) — we should not desire the possessions of others (also avoid greed).
A third way that we can discover what it means to please God is to learn how to love God more and more. Not only are we to trust God, we are also to love God. We will never understand much about His love until we have experienced something of His forgiveness. For the Bible says, “He who has been forgiven much, loves much.” If you want to learn to love God more than you need to realize just how much you have been forgiven and what it cost God to forgive you — the shed blood of Christ.
IV. How Do We Know and How Do We Show We Love God?
And practically speaking, how do we express our love for Him? Jesus said in John 14:21, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” Obedience is not optional; God demands it and expects it.
Obedience is not natural—it only comes through grace. Obedience is never harmful, rather it is the only guarantee of happiness.
V. Where Do We Find the Freedom to Obey?
Where does obedience begin? It begins when we have the heart to say “Yes” to God. We are free to obey out of love, not necessity, out of God’s power and not our own. God is at work within us both to will and do His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).
The Bible says that God’s commandments are not burdensome (1 Jn. 5:3). Is that true? For some people they are burdensome.
When and for whom are God’s commandments not burdensome? They are not burdensome for a Christian who loves God and has a desire to please Him. We all know, don’t we, that human nature is such that, when we are told we have to do something, we often choose to do just the opposite.
I once talked with a man who was a professing Christian who was raised in a Christian home and was absolutely convinced that salvation was by faith plus works. He believed that if we failed to obey God in some way that we would lose our salvation.
I explained that we were not saved by good works but for good works and that is the difference between day and night (Eph. 2:8-10). Not only are we free to obey when we love—when we want to (and not because we have to), but we are also free to obey when we operate by God’s power and not our own.
The good news is that God gives us the freedom to obey by giving us the knowledge, desire and power to please Him. He gives us the knowledge of how to please Him through His Word and He gives us the desire and ability to please Him through His Holy Spirit.
Martin Luther, in the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” says, “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing....” Another hymn says, “The arm of flesh will fail you, you dare not trust your own.” Since those who are controlled by the sinful nature can’t please God, we must live by God’s power and the way we do that is:
- Be committed to God’s purposes in His Holy Word. Why is this so important? Because He will not give us His power to do our will—His power is given to do His will—to accomplish His purposes.
- Be submitted to the power of God’s Holy Spirit. The only way we can experience God’s power is to submit ourselves to the control of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18).