On this Remembrance Day, once again we remember and pay tribute to those who fought and died for our freedom. As we watched the ceremonies in Ottawa, Canada, today, I thought of the many who committed themselves to serve in this way—many dying, many sustaining life-long injuries and trauma. All of us know of relatives and friends who served, or who are now serving. Some, like my own father, didn’t enlist in active service but did take over the management of the family farm to provide for those who served otherwise.
Today is a day to think about freedom and the cost involved in achieving it. Without discounting the significance of human sacrifice and political freedom, I can’t help but think of the greatest freedom of all purchased for us by the sacrifice of the only One who was able to do it for us.
In Romans 8, we read these beautiful words: Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
No condemnation; freedom from the oppression of slavery of one kind or another. What is freedom? Foundationally, freedom is the privilege of living our lives in such a way that we can go about our daily activity without fear of control or compulsion – something forced upon us by those who care only about themselves. The dictionary definition of freedom is the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action. Here are some words that come to mind as we think about freedom:
- Security – that we need not worry about physical danger, invasion, or persecution
- Dignity – that human value and worth is affirmed
- Relationship – that we can live our lives in love for others without hindrance
- Work – that we have the privilege of meaningful and profitable employment based on the value of our gifts and abilities.
- Worship – that we can worship according to God’s revelation in scripture without fear of retribution
- Service – that we can freely give of our lives in service to others according to our convictions.
- Speech – that we can speak freely about our beliefs without fear of reprisal.
- Travel – that we can move about with out fear of restraint or restriction
- Financial – that we can have income that enables us to have enough to live and share with others
- Happiness – that we can enjoy the blessings of daily life amidst the wonders of God’s creation
I’m sure there are many other ways to describe freedom, but perhaps the best way to describe freedom is that we are no longer bound by evil powers of one kind or another. As has often been said, Freedom is not the right to do as we please, but the power to do what we ought.
On a political level, of course, freedom is what our nations’ engagement in war has been all about—that we wouldn’t have to live under an evil regime of one kind or another. In WW II alone, more than 44,000 Canadians gave their lives in sacrifice for our national freedom.
But on a personal level, freedom means that we have a clear conscience. It means that there is no sense of self-judgment or judgement from God. The observance of Remembrance Day is an occasion to ask, how is it possible to experience true freedom?
On occasions like this, it’s important to recognize that true freedom is never possible without sacrifice. Sacrifice is always the true price of freedom. But what is sacrifice? Sacrifice speaks of giving up something valuable to achieve something of even greater value. It might involve giving up personal comfort for someone else’s well-being, giving time to achieve a valuable personal goal in education or work, giving up money for the sake of worship, to accomplish a mission, or to reach out to someone in need. But, of course, the ultimate sacrifice involves giving up one’s life for someone else, or others.
It’s popular for us to think and sing about the fact that we are born free. But the truth is that none of us are born free. We are born with a whole variety of limitations – some physical, and some imposed. But the greatest bondage that we all experience is our inability to live by the principles of God’s law—to make him the most important affection of our lives, and to love others around us like he does. All of us struggle with jealousy, selfish ambition, idolatry, immorality of one kind or another. In short, we are all slaves to ourselves. We want to be king of our own lives. We think that is freedom, but we fail to understand how our own limitations enslave us. We resist the idea that true freedom comes from God.
The Bible speaks of the fact that there is a constant battle going on in our hearts. We know what God desires and that it is good, but something within can’t quite achieve it. We struggle with anxiety because we feel like we’re losing control. We struggle in relationships because we don’t feel we’re being treated as we deserve. We struggle with discomfort in our souls because we never feel like we’re measuring up to be what we should be.
The Bible’s answer to the quest for true freedom always points to Jesus who said of himself, if the Son makes you free, you will be truly free (John 8:32).
According to the Romans passage, we are able to be set free from our inner weakness to live according to God’s law through what Christ did for us. It says, what the law could not do, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.
For one thing, this shows that God cares about our freedom—that he cared enough to send his very own Son to become one with us in our sinful lives. Though he himself knew nothing of personal sin, he came to this earth to identify himself fully with us. That is what Christmas is all about. That is what his baptism was all about. In being baptized, he not only was showing obedience to his Father in heaven (Luke 3:22), but he was demonstrating his identity with us (2 Corinthians 5:21), and, in a prophetic way, it pointed to his own ultimate death and resurrection.
Jesus achieved freedom for us by laying down his own life for us—by becoming a sin offering for us. Evidently, a sin offering was required from God’s people when they sinned unintentionally or were not aware of the sin they had committed (Leviticus 4:2). Of course, that would have happened often—as it also does in our lives. A sin offering involved an animal sacrifice for unknown sins. The blood of the animal was sprinkled and poured out in the meeting place of the people of God, and then most of the body of the animal was burnt on the altar. The rest of it was taken outside of the camp of Israel and burnt on the trash heap (Leviticus 4:3-35).
In the same way, Jesus became an offering—a sacrifice for the sin of everyone in the world. His blood covered over the sin of the world when he died on the cross (Hebrews 2:9). He too suffered outside of Jerusalem so that God could condemn sin and forgive the sin of the whole world. What the apostle writes about here in Romans is that by Jesus’ sacrifice, we have been freed from the judgment of the law (see also Hebrews 2:14). By putting our faith and trust in Jesus, we receive the Spirit who enables us to live in freedom from sin and the law (Galatians 5:1, 13).
It’s wonderful to live in a country that is free from danger, from those who want to control us for their own ends. It’s right that we should be truly grateful for those who were willing to sacrifice their lives for our political freedom. But it is even more wonderful to be free from the judgment and power of sin through Jesus’ sacrifice for us! Because of what Jesus did we are free to live in the fulfillment of God’s law, free to do his will, free to serve him. How wonderful that we can live in this reality each day!