Exciting phrases, easy acronyms, and memorable lists formed from dense works of systematic theology can be helpful for the everyday Christian. While these reductions of God’s Word and His nature help us understand general frameworks, they are unable to help us understand everything the Bible teaches. It is one thing...
“Freedom” means that you have the ability to do something different.
When Henry Ford rolled his cars off the production lines in 1909, he declared, “You can have any color you want, as long as it’s black.” That was not freedom. I have a friend who says that he was brought up in a family where “everything was forbidden, except for what was compulsory.” That doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for choice, does it?
In America, we have freedoms that people in many other parts of the world do not enjoy. We have the freedom to gather for worship at the church or synagogue or temple of our choice. We have the freedom to elect a new president every four years. We have the freedom to select, it seems, from an unending variety of products that we would like to buy. And the list goes on.
But the truth is, without Jesus, we do not have nearly as much freedom as we think. Jesus said “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Sin is a power. It is like a strong current that carries us along. We may think that we are swimming freely, but as long as we are going in the direction of the current we are not free.
Freedom exists only when we have the ability to swim against the tide or make a different choice. And according to Jesus, this is precisely what he can give to us: “When the Son sets you free you are free indeed” (John 8:36). If you want to see what this freedom looks like, then you need look no further than the example of Jesus himself.
Six Ways Jesus Used His Freedom
Jesus is the Son of God and he is seated at the right hand of the Father. All things were made by him and through him and for him. Nothing is impossible for him. Our God is in heaven, and he does whatever he pleases. All his options are open.
People who have great power normally use that power to make their lives incredibly comfortable. But Jesus used his freedom to make a different choice.
Notice, first, what he did not do.
1. Jesus did not use his freedom to deceive.
He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. (1 Peter 2:22)
There are times where telling the truth can get you into serious trouble. When you get into a situation like that, the pressure to use lies and deception to save your own skin can seem almost overwhelming.
But when Jesus stood before Caiaphas, the high priest, and he was told, “Tell us if you are the Christ the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63).
Jesus responded, “It is as you say, but I say to all of you, in the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). When Jesus said this, the high priest tore his robes and the council of seventy leaders spit on him and struck him with their fists.
Then Jesus was sent to Pilate and he was asked: “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You are right in saying that I am a king. But my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:37).
After that, Pilate had him scourged.
Jesus did not hide the truth even from his enemies.
2. Jesus did not use his freedom to retaliate.
When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate. (1 Peter 2:23)
If you have ever been in situation where you have been humiliated—your dignity has been taken from you, and you have been made to look foolish, you will know that the desire for revenge can seem almost overwhelming.
Think about the insults that were poured out on Jesus. They dressed him in a scarlet robe, placed a reed in his hand, pressed a crown of thorns on his head, and then began to mock him: “Hail, king of the Jews.” Then they spit on him. They took a stick and hit him over the head with it again and again (Mark 27:27-31).
Then when Jesus was nailed to the cross, the crowd shouted: “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Christ (Luke 23:35), and “He trusts in God, let God rescue him now, if he wants him” (Matthew 27:43).
Think of the retaliation that Jesus was capable of! One word from Christ, and the armies of heaven would have turned Jerusalem into a wasteland of scorched earth. But when they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate.
3. Jesus did not use his freedom to threaten.
When he suffered, he made no threats. (1 Peter 2:23)
If someone hurts you, the instinctive reaction is to want to hit back hard. And if that’s not possible now, people make threats about what will happen later.
Think about the threats Jesus could have made! All judgment has been trusted by the Father to the Son. He will decide the eternal destiny of every person who has ever lived. He could have threatened hell, fire, and damnation, but he made no threats.
Notice, second, what he did do.
4. Jesus used his freedom to trust in the judgment of God.
He entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23)
It’s a huge relief to know that the there is one who judges justly. And we can follow the example of Jesus who trusted himself, that is, he trusted every injury inflicted on him, and every insult made against him into the hands of God the Father.
Christians are the only people in the world who can do this. The world is convinced that the only justice that will ever be done happens in this world. So when it doesn’t happen, we say, “There’s no justice.” But if you’re a Christian, you know that there is justice.
Jesus didn’t need to entrust himself to God. He could have chosen a different path. He could have called in the angels and exercised immediate judgment, but he did not do that. He used his freedom to make a different choice. He trusted the world’s most terrible injustice and most awful abuse into the hands of God.
And when Jesus did this, he knew that one of two things would happen. Either those who perpetrated this awful evil would be brought to justice in the presence of God, or they would cast themselves at the feet of Jesus in repentance and find forgiveness because of what he suffered.
5. Jesus used his freedom to absorb pain.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree. (1 Peter 2:24)
This is one of the most profound and wonderful statements in the whole of the Bible. It goes to the very heart of the Christian faith. When Jesus died on the cross, our sins were laid on the Lord Jesus Christ: “All we like sheep have gone astray we have turned everyone to his own way and the Lord has laid on him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
Only Christ can bear the sins of the world. But if you choose not to retaliate, you will absorb pain or insult or injury too. It may be at the simplest level. Somebody said something unkind, and you had the best comeback line in the world, but it would have hurt them so you held it back. So you absorbed the pain of their insult. And in that simple choice, you reflected the example of Jesus. The pain ended with you. You did not pass it on.
6. Jesus used his freedom to act redemptively.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness. (1 Peter 2:24)
Jesus created room for reconciliation. He made it possible for us to turn around. The reason that he bore our sins in his body on the tree was so that we could experience a freedom from the constraints of our sin.
When Jesus experienced appalling injustice he did not ask, “How can I get even?” Instead he asked, “How can I act redemptively?” What course of action will lead to people dying to their sin and beginning to live for righteousness? And what was his answer? “I must bear their sins in my body.” That is why he chose that course of action.
The Way Jesus Used His Freedom Is an Example for Us
Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you may follow in his footsteps (1 Peter 2:21).
How did Jesus use his freedom? He suffered for us. The suffering of Jesus was a sacrifice for us; it was also an example to us.
The impact of your life will depend, in large measure, on the way you use your freedom. Acting redemptively is more important than being heard. It is more important than winning the argument. It is more important than getting your rights.
The question is: “How can I act redemptively?” Sometimes it is easy to win the battle and then to lose the war. I want to encourage those who have chosen to create room for grace rather than demand your rights.
- You could have ended your marriage. You had the grounds to do so. But you wanted to create room for grace, and that’s what you did. You acted redemptively. Retaliation is easy. Redemption is hard.
- You could have brought a law suit. You had a good case. But you chose to act redemptively.
- You were wronged, and you could have broken fellowship. You could have spread gossip or stirred up division, but you made a different choice. That’s freedom!
Using your freedom this way reflects the character of Jesus. He came into the world and laid down his life so that you could exercise your freedom like this!