What it means to live free

Pastor Jeff Struecker

If you have been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ, you are free. This is a celebration of freedom. What we’re going to do is continue this very short sermon series. For those of you who are new, we’re describing 2 Cities Church’s core values. The title of this whole sermon series is called, At Our Core. Our core values are not just things that are really important to us. They’re so important that they make us who we are. And we want you to fall in love with 2 Cities Church, because these are who you are, too.

Our second core value is living free. We’re going to talk about what it looks like to live free. This subject gets me fired up, and I am so excited to be able to talk about what we mean as a church by being free. In fact, if you stumbled across our website and you don’t know anything about us, I’m going to show you a sentence that’s already on our website, because it will perfectly describe what we’re talking about. You ready? Here it is.

It is for freedom, that Christ set you free. 

Unfortunately, many churches are defined by the rules or the religious restrictions that they place on people, but that’s not 2 Cities Church. You see, we believe that our great God has set us free from the law of sin and the law of death and King Jesus has given us the power to live by the Holy Spirit. And because all human beings have this human tendency to try to get into heaven through our good works, 2 Cities Church stands against this burden, which is the basis for all legalism. 

It’s the human attempt to try to get into heaven by following a set of rules, a bunch of religious restrictions. And here’s why we call that a burden: This idea of trying to earn your way into heaven distorts the gospel, and it makes people slaves.

So, I want you to hear where we’re going to go with this sermon. I’ll give it to you in two short sentences: 

Only a free life is worth living. They can’t put chains on your soul!

If you’re saying, “Jeff, I feel like I’m a pretty free person because I was born in the United States, and I have this unprecedented level of freedom,” let me describe what I mean because I don’t think you understand what we mean by a free life. We’re talking about soul level freedom. And when your soul is free, no one and nothing can put chains on the human soul. So what we want for you is, we want you to be soul-level free in Jesus Christ.

I really should spend a month talking about this one verse from the Bible, but everything that you’re going to read here comes from Galatians 5:1. Now, we’re going to use a couple of other verses from this Bible book to describe Galatians 5:1, but here it is for you from the book of Galatians in the New Testament. This is what the writer of this Bible book describes as living free. 

Ga 5:1 For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm, then, and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Let me just break down what this verse is challenging Christians about. It’s saying that there is only one free being. There is only one totally free, absolutely unrestricted being in the universe. It is our great God. There is nothing and no one that can put any limitations on him. When God decided to create, he created human beings in his likeness. And because he created us a little bit like him, he created us to be free.

Then, unfortunately, if you go back and read the beginning of the Bible, sin entered the equation. And when sin entered into the equation, free people in the Garden of Eden became corrupted, and they became slaves to sin. So, God had a plan to rescue people to set them free once again through the blood of his son, Jesus Christ. And what this Bible verse is saying to you is, once you’ve been free (I mean, totally soul-level set free), don’t return again to the slave free that was holding you at the soul level. Don’t ever return to that lifestyle after you’ve been set free by the blood of Jesus Christ. So what we’re going to do is, we’re going to look at four ways that Jesus set his people free. 

Free from your Flesh

Ga 5:16–17 I say, then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want.

The first way that Jesus set you free is, he freed you from your flesh. Now actually, what I mean by this statement is, he freed you from you, and only Jesus can give that kind of freedom. The Bible scholars will tell you that the guy who’s writing this book of the Bible is considered the “Apostle of Freedom”. If you were to look at every time the word liberty or every time the word freedom shows up in the New Testament, the guy who’s writing this passage today, his name is Paul. 

He writes this word two times more than every other author in the New Testament combined. If you put everybody else’s material in the New Testament together, they don’t even equal half of the times that Paul writes about freedom. And he says,”You really need to be made free from sin.” 

So here’s the truth: Sin makes people slaves in one of or all four ways. There are basically four weapons that sin uses to make people slaves, and we’re going to look at all four of those weapons today. We’re going to see how Jesus has set you free in all four of these areas, and the first is at the flesh level or the soul level. What the Bible is describing for us today is that you are a whole person, body and soul. And when King Jesus has set you free, he didn’t just free your soul from the power of sin; he also freed your flesh.

In fact, if you want to keep reading in Galatians 5, you’re going to stumble across these two verses in 16 and 17. And here’s how the guy who writes this Bible verse describes being free at the soul level, being free in your flesh. He says it this way: ”I say then, walk in the spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desires of the flesh.” (Now look at how these two things are at war with one another.) “For the flesh desires what is against the spirit, and the spirit desires what is against the flesh.” These two are opposed to each other, the Apostle Paul says, so that you don’t do what you want.

When he says the word flesh in Galatians, I want you to think about the word soul. He’s saying, “Jesus Christ, the King of Kings has the power to free you both, body and soul. And all of those things that are used to tempt you, all of those things that you used to struggle with before becoming a Christian, that temptation may remain, but you don’t have to give into it anymore.” 

Those struggles that you dealt with before you became a Christian, he frees you at the soul level. And then he starts you on the path of being free at the flesh level. And now, you don’t have to give in to the things that you’ve been wrestling with for all of your life.

You see, Jesus Christ alone can free you. Look at these words: You can’t outrun your flesh. You can’t dress it up. You can’t make it pretty enough. You can’t cut it off. There’s no way to escape the flesh. And Paul says that the flesh is at odds against the spirit (capital S) the Spirit of God. And then when Jesus Christ moves in, when Jesus Christ does a work of freedom in your soul, he frees you from your flesh, and now your soul and the Spirit of God are in harmony once again, the same harmony that God created people to be with him in the Garden of Eden. That’s the freedom at the flesh level that he provides for you, and you don’t have to give in to temptation.

Tomorrow, you’re going to be tempted like I am but you don’t have to go down that road anymore because you now have the power of the Spirit of the Living God dwelling inside of you, who frees you from you. 

Free from religious Rules

Not only does he free you from the flesh, but when Jesus sets his people free, he frees you from all of those crazy religious rules and religious restrictions out there. God sets us free from legalism. And this will be a church where people are free to follow the Lord, Jesus Christ, without a whole bunch of judgmental, hypercritical people that are putting rules and restrictions on you.

The truth is that when many pastors preach a sermon, they talk about how good God is. They talk about the freedom that Jesus offers them in the middle of their sermon. And then when you get to the end, if you listen pretty carefully, what you hear is a bunch of rules. Now that Jesus has done this for you, do this, don’t do this, don’t do that and do this. And what those pastors are really preaching is legalism. They’re preaching, “Follow these rules, and it will get you into heaven.” 

Now, we’re the church that stands for free people that are free to follow the Holy Spirit, and you don’t have to wonder about the rules because you have the Spirit of the living God guiding you and directing you.

Paul really is the preacher of freedom. He’s the theologian or the pastor of Freedom in the New Testament. And Paul wants his people to be free even from the rules that once governed God’s people. He says it this way in the book of Galatians:

Ga 3:24–26 The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith. 25 But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for through faith you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus.

The word law here means all of those religious rules and restrictions in the Old Testament. But, now that the Lord Jesus Christ has died for your sins, we are no longer under the guardian of the law.

Paul is saying that back in the Old Testament, people had a bunch of rules to follow. And when Jesus showed up on the scene, he perfectly completed the Old Testament law. And now, you don’t have to follow those rules anymore. Now, all that he asks of you is to follow him. In fact, Jesus was put on the spot about all of these religious rules of the Old Testament. The religious rule keepers challenge Jesus with this trick question: “Hey Jesus, there’s a whole bunch of commandments in the Old Testament; which one is the greatest one?” 

They were thinking, we’ve got him here because no matter what he says next, there’s another commandment that can compete against it. And Jesus said, “That’s an easy one. I’ll give it to you.” “Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, your soul, your mind and strength. And by the way, love people as yourself.”

Jesus said that if you do these two things, and you have just accomplished all of the commandments. “Follow me, and you will fulfill all of the commandments. You don’t have to live by those rules anymore.” 

Paul was a world expert in the religious rules. In fact, if you go back and learn who this guy was before he met Jesus, I should say, before Jesus saved him on the road to Damascus, he was the world’s greatest rule follower. He was out to kill anyone and everyone that didn’t follow the rules like he was following the rules. And maybe he writes about freedom more than anybody else in the new Testament because he remembers how oppressive this was. He remembers how miserable this felt, trying to follow the rules.

And then when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus and Jesus changed him, Paul doesn’t worry about the rules anymore. How many of you have run into some super judgmental, hypercritical Christian that just put a lot of guilt and a whole bunch of rules on you? Virtually everyone has run into somebody who gave them a bunch of rules to follow.

2 Cities Church is not going to be a group of people that are trying to follow a bunch of rules. No, we’re a group of people that fell in love with Jesus and are following him, and we believe he will be the one that helps us figure out what it looks like to follow the rules. We’re not a bunch of judgmental, hypercritical, very critical Christians that are just out to put a guilt trip on you because of what you did last night or what you didn’t do this week. 

Living free looks like free from you, free from your flesh. Living free means you don’t have to try to follow the rules anymore because let’s just be honest, none of us can follow the rules perfectly. It’s impossible. We need supernatural help to do that. We need the Holy Spirit to help us follow the rules.

Free from Evil

And living free also means you don’t have to worry about evil anymore. I’m talking about very real, very present evil around us. We put this subtitle on our website. We broadcast this subtitle around our community and around the world: this church exists to push back darkness. 

If you’re saying, “Jeff, I’m not sure I totally understand what that means.” Well, let me use this as an analogy. You can’t necessarily see evil, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. You can’t see the COVID virus, but that doesn’t mean that that virus is any less real. You can’t see the temperature in this room, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not acutely aware of it when you walk in and it’s way too cold or way too hot. 

And you can’t see evil, but just because you can’t see it with your eyes, doesn’t mean that evil doesn’t exist. In fact, when Paul was writing in this letter, “It is for freedom that Christ set you free,” he starts the letter by talking about evil. He says it this way in Galatians 1:

Ga 1:3–4  Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.

“The reason why I’m writing this letter,” Paul is telling you, “Is so that you’re rescued from the evil that’s all around you all of the time. And you don’t have to fall into that evil, you don’t have to give in to that evil anymore.”

You see, what makes me so angry about those preachers who preach the Gospel that Jesus sets you free and then they end their sermon with a bunch of rules is that they’re putting this burden of slavery back on God’s people all over again. Jesus came to set you free from that kind of slavery. He came to set you free from that kind of evil. He came to free you from those kind of rules. And you don’t have to wonder if you’re made free. You don’t have to worry about evil. You don’t have to stress out about the city that you live in anymore because you have been made free at the soul level.

I came across the story of a woman who was born and raised in Egypt. She became a Christian, and she became a passionate follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now this was years ago, when Egypt was under an evil leadership and under this pervasive presence of evil. It was so bad that this woman (her name is Annie) couldn’t live under those circumstances anymore. So her family picked up, left Egypt and came to the United States. 

Annie went to school, she got a PhD, moved across the border into Canada, and she started to teach students in Canada. But Annie loved her country. She just felt like that country is so evil, the leadership of that country is so wicked, that as much as she loved her people and would love to go back there, she couldn’t until January, 2011, until the Arab spring uprising.

When the people of her country decided, “We’re sick of living in this evil land; we want a new government.” And they overthrew their president. Basically, what swept across Northern Africa is this plea for freedom all across Northern Africa, people longing for and looking for freedom from their government. When Annie saw what was happening in her country, it moved her so much that she made the decision, her and her husband, to pick up their family, their four children, and move back to Cairo, Egypt. Annie is today a Professor of Theology at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo. Annie uses these words to describe what happened to her.

Listen to these words; I think they’re brilliant. She said, “I went through my own personal Exodus in reverse. Instead of getting out of slavery and out of Egypt, I went back to Egypt because I want my people to have the same freedom in Jesus that I found.” You see, Annie, like us, is a free woman. She’s a daughter of the King, and free people want freedom for other people. That’s why this church is so passionate about living free and about pushing back darkness so that others can live free. Annie did the unthinkable. She left all of the prestige and all of the money and all of the powerful position here in North America to move back to her homeland, so that she could help her brothers and sisters in Egypt become free.

That’s what it looks like when you’ve been freed from evil, and you don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen to you next because you know that the King of the Universe has you in the palm of his hand. 

Free for Eternity

The fourth and final thing, an this may be, in my opinion, the most important thing that you’re going to hear from me, is when he sets you free, it’s not just right now, right here, in the country that you live in. When he frees you, he frees you eternally. You are free body and soul, right here, right now, to live the abundant life and your free body and soul to live the eternal life. That’s what the writer of the Book of Galatians is trying to convince us of when he says, “You’ve now been set free, and you don’t have to worry about heaven and hell and life and death anymore.”

Paul says this to us in Galatians 2. Listen to these words because this is a man who was the expert in following the rules until Christ met him on the road to Damascus. And then the Pharisee Saul died and the Apostle Paul took his place. He says this in Galatians 2:20:

Ga 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

When Jesus was having a discussion about eternal life in John 11, when his good friend Lazarus died and Lazarus’ family came to Jesus and said, “Jesus, if you were here, he wouldn’t have died,” Jesus said, “Don’t you understand that I am the resurrection, and I am eternal life?” And they said, “Yeah Jesus, we get that, but he’s dead and we won’t see him again.” 

And then Jesus says these words: ”Anyone who believes in me, though he dies, yet he will live again.” You see what Paul is saying in Galatians 2 is, “I died.” When Jesus met me on the road to Damascus, that old man died. And there’s now a new man that lives inside of me and this new man will never die. This new man lives on for eternity. That old man died while it was still in the flesh. And there’s new and an eternal man (or maybe you would be able to say a new eternal woman) living inside of me that knows no boundary. You see, that kind of freedom came at a great cost. All freedom comes because of sacrifice.

In fact, this week, one of the privileges that we have in the United States is, this week in the United States we will celebrate Veteran’s Day. It’s our way of recognizing that some people paid a great cost for our freedom. I hope that this week, you’ll take a little bit of time out on the 11th of November and you will remember what it took to make you free, the warriors that fought, bled and died for your freedom. 

But more than anything else, let Veterans Day point you to the one who can set you free eternally, to the guy, the only one that can free you from your flesh, can free you from religious rules, can free you from evil.

He’s the one that can free you eternally. Sin will try to make you a slave in one of four ways. It uses four weapons against you. But Jesus defeated all four of these ways. Jesus sets you free from your flesh. Jesus set you free from those religious rules that super critical Christians try to place on you. You don’t have to live under those rules anymore. Jesus freed you from this present evil age that we live in.

And though your body is here on earth (this is what we call city number 2), your soul belongs city number 1, the Eternal City of God. That’s why we call ourselves 2 Cities around here. And Jesus freed you eternally. 

When you put freedom from the Flesh and freedom from the Rules and freedom from Evil, freedom for Eternity, you get what? You get the word FREE, real freedom, true freedom, the only kind of freedom that comes from Jesus Christ. That’s what our King came to give us.