Recovering God's Freedom
A personal relationship with Christ enables us to enter into a restored relationship with God and to recover what was lost to sin and Satan.
Last week we looked at God's original design for creation and humanity. We also talked about how sin disrupted God's plan. When we look at the news, our relationships, and the world, we realize that things are far different from God's design. God wanted humanity to experience his love, joy, and peace in every way. God designed us to experience the fullness of life and health. But the world does not live that way right now. In order to live according to God's original design, recovery needs to take place.
Colossians 2:6 says, "As you received Christ Jesus as Lord, so live in him." There are truths that we must receive at the moment of our salvation that set the tone for our lives as Christians. They help us live in the fullness of God's design. They enable us to live in the fullness of his power. We're going to talk about some of those fundamental, yet profound, truths in this session.
Ephesians 1:7 says, "He is so rich in kindness that he purchased our freedom through the blood of his Son, and our sins are forgiven." We are lost, and God's purpose for us has been lost, but this is not God's heart. God wants to restore his creation to its original design.
God's work: Jesus came to buy our freedom
God has made provision for mankind to take back what was lost by sending his Son Jesus Christ to earth to die for our sins and bring us back into relationship with him.
As we begin, I want us to recognize two dimensions of God work. First, there are aspects to God's work that only he can do. Second, there are parts of God's work that humans are responsible for. That's the way God designed things.
First, let's talk about what only God can do. Only God can save the world. Only God could send his Son, Jesus Christ, to buy our freedom. Last week we talked about God's love for us. But love is not just something God does; love is who God is. And he never changes. Though sin came into the world, though Satan and humanity maliciously betrayed God, God continued to love us. God loves us so much that he sent his Son to die for us. Unfortunately, we sometimes take this truth for granted because it's so familiar. God's love for us is demonstrated in many ways. John 8:36 says, "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." John 10:10: "The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy, but I have come that they may have life and have it to its full." 1 John 3:8 says, "He who does what is sinful is of the devil because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." God did what only God could do in order to reconcile humanity back to himself. He knew a price, a punishment, had to be paid that only God could pay. Humanity, in unrighteousness, could not pay that price or return to righteousness without God's help. So God sent his Son to restore what was lost. God did what only God could do.
But humans also have a role to play in the story. John 1:12-13 says, "Yet to all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God, children born not of natural descent nor of human decision nor of a husband's will, but born of God." Humans have a responsibility to receive the work that God did.
This is the concept behind the two dimensions of God's work: it's a human-divine cooperation. In many circumstances, God will do what only God can do when humans fulfill their responsibility of responding to his love. This is a fundamental, yet significant, precept. We see this all throughout the Christian life.
Salvation is complete life restoration. This is why Jesus came to earth. God wants us to experience the fullness of salvation, and he wants us to extend Christ's ministry to other people. 2 Corinthians 5 says that because God reconciled mankind to himself, we are called to the ministry of reconciliation. What we received, we are then commissioned to give to other people. But what exactly does it mean to experience salvation?
Luke 19:10 says, "The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." When we receive Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, we are saved. There's an interesting word in this passage: sozo, which means "to save." This Greek word is sometimes translated as "to heal," "to restore," or "to make whole." Sozo has a broad meaning. We therefore see that Jesus' mission to "seek and to save" was a broad mission. He came to give us far more than just a ticket to heaven. He had a comprehensive mission, to restore all that was lost.
Let's look at how sozo is used in the New Testament. One way in which Jesus came to save was to restore our relationship to God. It's a spiritual relationship, and we can only enter into a right relationship with God if we repent and live towards him. Romans 10:9 says, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (sozo)." When you repent, your relationship with God is renewed. Salvation is the restoration of what was once lost.
Sozo is also used to describe restoration of purpose. God created humanity to have purpose and significance; we were created in God's image. 2 Timothy 1:9 says, "He has saved us and called us to a holy life, not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace he's done this." Christ's saving action recovers our purpose in life. If he didn't do this, then we would experience life as it is described in Ecclesiastes: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Without salvation, everything is meaningless. Everything in the world will one day come to an end. But when you receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are immediately given the capacity to live a meaningful life that has eternal ramifications. Once you are saved, you are enabled to live life according to God's original design.
Thirdly, sozo is used to describe restoration from demonic torment. Luke 8:36 says, "And those who had seen it reported to them how the man who was demon possessed had been made well." Here sozo is translated "made well." Time and again in the Gospels, Jesus demonstrates his compassion by exercising his Father's power and authority to set demonized persons free. He made them well. He sozo-ed them.
This word is also used to describe restoration of our physical bodies. Mark 10:52 says, "And Jesus said to him, 'Go your way. Your faith has made you well.' And immediately he regained his sight and began following him on the road." Again, sozo is translated as "made well." The New Testament concept of salvation implies that our relationship to God is made right; our purpose is recovered; we are free from spiritual oppression; our bodies are restored. Sozo means that we are made whole. Jesus' mission "to seek and to save what was lost" was comprehensive. Salvation is complete restoration of our whole being—soul, mind, emotions, will, and body.
Salvation is the entrance to living a free life. If we do not know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we cannot have true freedom, we cannot move in God's authority, we cannot experience God's original design. We must understand this basic concept: salvation is immediate and complete, but it is also ongoing.
Hebrews 10:14 says, "By that one offering he perfected forever all those whom he is making holy." This verse uses two tenses to describe our salvation experience: the past tense and the present tense. We have been perfected forever, and he's also making us holy.
Let's look at the promises of salvation. Scripture promises us deliverance from the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and its presence in our lives. It's as though Jesus made an endless deposit into a bank account. He deposited power against sin, and we can never drain it. We need to make withdrawals on a regular basis to live as more than conquerors, to live in freedom from sin. This is a human-divine cooperation. God does what only God can do, and humans do what they are responsible to do.
But salvation is also an ongoing work. The fullness of Jesus Christ is deposited in us at salvation, and we live our lives with his character being released in us. Philippians 2:12 says, "Therefore, my dear friends, as you've always obeyed not only in my presence but now much more in my absence, continue to work out your salvation with fear and with trembling." We recognize that we have a responsibility to work out our salvation. If we don't understand the principle of human-divine cooperation, we will live defeated lives. We'll be ransacked by the enemy. We won't live out the fullness of sozo that we see in the New Testament.
Our responsibility to respond to God's work
I already mentioned that the gift of salvation is God's plan and God's work. Salvation can only be accomplished by God. Only God can make us righteous, and he's done this through Son. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. But we have a responsibility to exercise the spiritual transaction of salvation.
First, we need to recognize that God alone is holy and just. We are not. We are sinners. God, in his justice, must punish sin. If he doesn't, he violates himself. Romans 3:10-12 says, "As it is written, 'There is no one righteous, not even one. There's no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away. They have together become worthless. There is no one who does good, not even one.'"
Secondly, we must understand that God is love. He sent his Son to pay for the sin of the world. God married together his love and his justice in the person of Jesus Christ. God's Son came to earth, lived a perfectly righteous life, died in innocence, and was raised from the dead. He was an acceptable sacrifice for our sin. Jesus submitted himself to God's wrath against our sin. Just as Adam was separated from God in Genesis 3, so Jesus Christ was separated from God the Father. He bore the punishment that we deserved. Only God could do that.
But we have a responsibility. We receive new life by grace through faith and confession. I have a responsibility to acknowledge the truth. I have a responsibility to align my life to the truth. I need to believe and declare that God is loving, holy, and just. I need to agree that Jesus Christ is true God and true Man. Jesus came to earth as a unique individual. He lived life in innocence, he died in innocence, and he rose from the dead to demonstrate his holiness and righteousness. I must also believe that I am a sinner, that I have fallen short of God's holiness. And I must confess this. I need to receive Jesus' life and righteousness. The book of Romans says,
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved …. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (10:9-10; 10:13).
That is the human part. Our responsibility is to respond to God's work. When I pray and confess God's truth, when I confess my sinfulness and ask God to forgive me—praying something like I want to receive you as the leader of my life, as the Savior of my life, I want to give my life to you—there is a transaction that takes place at that moment. Jesus gives us his life and righteousness.
Effecting spiritual transaction
In just a minute we're going to make a public declaration of our faith. But before we do, I want to talk more about this idea of spiritual transaction. Every day business transactions take place. Two parties come together, they look at a contract, and when they agree upon the wording of the contract, each party signs it in front of a legal representative for validation. Money, property, and other goods are transferred from one party to another. Similarly, there's a spiritual transaction that happens at the moment of salvation. When we confess words of truth and believe them in our heart, a transaction takes place. It may seem insignificant, but in reality it's powerful. Many people experience new desires and new interests after making their confession. They experience a real transaction.
So let's make a declaration. Let's declare what salvation is, because it is the foundation of living a life of freedom in the power and authority of Christ:
Lord, I admit that I am a slave to sin, separated from you and unable to save myself. I confess my sin to you, God, and ask for your forgiveness. I believe that Jesus' death on the Cross and his resurrection from the dead paid the penalty incurred by my own sin. I believe he secured eternal life and freedom for me. Lord, I receive your forgiveness and freedom by faith, and I will begin today to live in it. I declare that you're the leader of my life—not me. From now on, I will yield to you and follow you alone. Holy Spirit, I ask you to fill me with your life and power, to enable me to live the Christian life. Amen.
With these words, you have effected a spiritual transaction with real power. You have participated in the human-divine cooperative. Here are two truths that you need to live out for the rest of your life: (1) as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in him; and (2) you need to participate in the human-divine cooperative. We need real spiritual transaction, and we need it on a regular, ongoing basis. That's how our lives are changed. That's how our lives become increasingly revolutionized by God's Spirit. That's how we experience a greater level of God's presence and power in our lives. That's how we live triumphantly over besetting sins. That's how we are released from strongholds. We experience freedom by participating in the human-divine cooperative.
Having a repentant heart
We also need to understand what true repentance is. I gave an introduction to repentance in our last session, but we'll continue to unpack its meaning in every session so that we can better understand its beauty. We need to understand the gifts that God has given us so that we can experience the liberation that comes with those gifts.
James 4 informs us about some important postures and conditions of the heart. First, James teaches us to have humble hearts. James 4:6 says that God "gives us more and more strength to stand against such evil schemes. As the Scriptures say, 'God sets himself up against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble.'" True repentance requires humility. Humility is not being a doormat or a wallflower. To be humble is to see yourself as God sees you. To be humble is to align yourself with God's appraisal of your life, both that which he gives to you in accolades and that which he gives to you in correction. It's having a proper understanding of who you are.
James also tells us that our hearts need to assume a posture of submission: "Submit yourselves, then, to God" (4:7). Instead of living outside of God's directives and design, we need to submit ourselves to God, his truth, and his leading.
Thirdly, our hearts must be willing to confess sin and repent. James 4:8-9 says, "Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double minded." According to James, we need to change the deeds of our lives that are contrary to God's holiness. We need to wash our hands. How do we do this? We do this in repentance, by turning away from sin and walking towards God. That's how we wash our hands. But James also tells us to purify our hearts. Here he's speaking about motivation. He tells us that we need to be single minded towards God—to seek the Lord with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, all our strength.
Fourthly, James tells us to resist the devil: "Submit yourselves then to God; resist the devil" (4:7). He doesn't say ignore the devil; he says resist the devil. Did Jesus ignore or resist the devil when he was tempted in the wilderness? He resisted him. He rebuked him. Jesus renounced the devil, and he commanded him to stop. Jesus refuted the devil with the truth, but he also refuted him with the authority that he had as God's Son. We have the responsibility to resist the devil.
And then there's a promise in verse 7: "And he will flee from you." We have to engage the devil if we want him to flee. I know we don't like to hear that in western culture, but we must contend with him. God's Word promises that the devil will flee when we practice aggressive resistance.
Praying and living out repentance
In our last session, we talked about four Rs. There's nothing inherently special about these four Rs. They didn't come down from Mt. Sinai. They're not part of the canon of Scripture. Nevertheless, they help us remember what we need to do in order to live free. When spiritual transaction needs to take place in our lives—when the enemy needs to be defeated—we need to repent first. This can only happen if we recognize our sin. (For that reason, some Christians have added a fifth R to this list: recognize—recognize the sin in your life.)
After that, we rebuke (renounce or resist) the enemy. In order to do this, we have to exercise the authority God has given us. We need to say, Be gone, in Jesus' name. I will not tolerate you. You've tormented me long enough. I've ignored you long enough. It's done, and it's finished. Be gone.
Thirdly, we need to replace our former way of living with God's way of living. We talked about Zaccheus in our last session, how he made a declaration of how he was going to change his life. Instead of exploiting and extracting increased taxes from people, he was going to make restitution and pay back four times all that he had illegally taken; additionally, he was going to give 50 percent of his money to the poor. That is a picture of real repentance: he replaced his former way of life with one that was in alignment with God's original design—a life of self-giving love. When the Lord exposes strongholds that the enemy has built in our lives, we need to make declaration of how we're going to live in the opposite spirit. There's power in that. Spiritual transaction takes place with words and action.
Lastly, we receive an infilling of God's Spirit to live the supernatural life that God designed for us.
What keeps us from living lives of repentance? There are several barriers. The first barrier is pride. Sometimes we like to think that we're not as bad as we really are. Sometimes we redefine our sin and call it something that it isn't. We deceive ourselves by doing this. Pride restricts us from receiving God's truth. Pride keeps us from seeking freedom.
Sometimes fear keeps us from repenting—the fear of exposure, fear of rejection, fear for our reputation, fear of God's punishment. That's why our churches and our relationships with other Christians need to be "no shame zones." We're all on a journey together. We need to have the freedom to be honest with one another.
Sometimes unbelief keeps us from repenting. Sometimes we don't believe that making a declaration will actually work. Or maybe we don't believe that God will be gracious and merciful with us.
The desire for control can also keep us from repenting. There are two things that drive us as human beings and often create strongholds in our lives. I'll talk about strongholds later, but I want to set them in front of us right now. First, we want to maintain an element of power. We don't want to lose control of our lives, and we don't like being vulnerable. Secondly, we want to defend ourselves. Can we entrust ourselves to God? Can we trust God to defend us and take control of our lives? Only God can give us freedom. We have to trust that he is good and that he will restore what is lost.
Used by permission of Mike Riches and Sycamore Commission sycamorecommission.org
Mike Riches is pastor of Harborview Christian Fellowship in Gig Harbor, Washington, director of the Sycamore Commission, and author of Living Free.