“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”
I’d probably read that in my Bible a hundred times, but on one particularly difficult day, I found myself wondering how on earth it could be true. If Jesus had already set me free, then why did I feel so bound up? Why did I still struggle with the same issues that I struggled with before I came to know Him? And if the church is supposed to live in freedom, why did so many others, not just me, still seem to be in slavery? Why does freedom seem so unattainable?
And so began my journey to find out what freedom really is, and how can I walk in that reality.
I’ve come to believe that freedom is both a one-time gift and a process. The moment we come to Jesus Christ, He gives us freedom through the Holy Spirit so that we are no longer slaves to sin.Romans 6:17-18 But that freedom is something we need to learn to walk out.
The epistles often use the analogy of the Christian walk being like running a race or training like an athlete, so I use this analogy: Those who will one day become elite athletes have the gifts and natural talents they need to become elite athletes when they are born — but you would never put newborns at the starting line of the Boston marathon and expect to see them at the end. First, they need to learn to walk. Then they can jog. And then run.
And the first run they go on will probably not set a world record. They must train to become elite athletes, even though the potential is there.
As believers in and followers of Jesus Christ, it’s the same for us. While in that moment when we first come to Christ we have everything we need for life and godliness2 Peter 1:3 and we are free in ChristJohn 8:36, Galatians 5:1, we still need to learn to walk out that freedom. We need to train ourselves to respond differently than in the past, both in our actions and in our thought lives.
So how might we walk in the fullness of the freedom that is available to all of us?
There are a lot of different things that have helped me cultivate freedom. One important one is to get to know God. What better way to find out how to attain freedom than to spend time with the One who gives it? There is nowhere I can go and not be in God’s presence, of course. But while I’m always in His presence, that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily spending time with Him. And I can’t be in a relationship with someone I don’t know.
I brought a lot of misconceptions about God into my Christian walk. Often, these would surface at times when I was really struggling to see how God was working in a situation. I realized that deep down, I thought God was distant, insensitive to the difficult realities of life, preoccupied, unconcerned with my struggles, and intolerant of my doubts, my questions and my failures. In my head, I knew these things weren’t true, but that’s what I felt in my heart. So often my perceptions, experiences and feelings can paint a very inaccurate picture of who God really is. So I need to confirm that what I believe about God is consistent with who He says He is in His Word.
Another thing I needed to do to learn to walk in freedom is to say yes to grace and say no to sin.
Accepting grace into my daily life was one of the keys to helping me overcome my struggle with habitual sin. I used to try to achieve obedience, freedom and mastery over my sin by my own strength. I would pray and ask for God’s help, of course; but then when I’d fall, I’d beat myself up for a good amount of time because of my fall.
This behavior fit right in line with how I treated myself before I became a Christian, especially as it pertained to my struggle with an eating disorder. If I ate too much (in my faulty opinion) or didn’t exercise enough, or if I woke up one day and my weight was too high, I’d belittle myself and make resolutions about how to change whatever it was that I didn’t like.
This way of thinking made me pretty legalistic. I made all sorts of rules for myself in an attempt to measure my faith — because I thought it would be easier to follow rules than to try to live in the reality of grace. After realizing the futility of what I was doing, that not only does it not work, but that it’s actually not biblical, I began to more thoroughly explore what grace is and how it can help me in my battle with sin.
I’ve found this to be one of the most difficult truths to grasp in my Christian walk. Though I would have never argued that I needed to do anything to achieve salvation, somehow I carry that striving to achieve into my Christian walk. If I messed up, I made myself mope around as a sort of penance. I would try to appease God with my actions rather than with my heart.
I finally came to terms with the fact that though my sin upsets God, it has less to do with my actions than it has to do with my heart. Sin says something about the condition of my heart, and ultimately, God just wants my heart.
Look at the Pharisees. God said that in their worship of Him, they may have honored Him with their lips, but their hearts were not set on drawing near to Him. Externally, they seemed to do everything right. They followed all the rules, but they wouldn’t give God their hearts. God just wanted to connect with their hearts.
As I allow myself the freedom to experience the goodness of God’s grace, I realize that I have the freedom to say no to sin. I can embrace the truth of God’s Word that says in Christ, I have everything I need for life and godliness. I begin to see how I used to be enslaved by sin, but through Christ I no longer am, that the reason God called me is so that I can be free. God’s intention was never that I would struggle through life, just barely holding on till heaven. In fact, Jesus died so that I could have an abundant life here on earth — not just in heaven.
Saying no to sin is a learning process. Again, we’re back to the analogy of training, running a race. When we were slaves to sin, our body and mind were trained that, when faced with temptation, we sin, we give in. And most of the time, we don’t think twice about it. So like athletes need to discipline themselves to train, even though it feels much more natural to sit on the couch and watch TV, we too need to train and discipline ourselves spiritually so that when we are faced with temptation, we, like Joseph when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him, flee the scene rather than give in and say yes.
So being able to accept grace into our struggle with sin actually can enable us to say “no” more often.
Another way I’ve found to cultivate freedom is to be honest about my faults. Learning to walk out our freedom always happens in the context of Christian community. This isn’t something we can learn alone. I think one of the biggest lies the enemy tries to convince us of is that all I need to heal is me and God. That’s simply not true; it’s simply not biblical. James 5:16 says, “confess your sins to one another” (notice it doesn’t say “To God alone”) “and pray for one another so that you may be healed.”
I’m not trying to imply that it’s simple or easy to confess our sins to one another. And in some ways, it seems illogical. Shouldn’t we just confess our sin to God, or to the person we sinned against, if applicable? Why should I confess my sin to someone who had nothing to do with the situation?
That’s a really good question. All I can do is challenge you to try it sometime. I’ve found so much freedom in bringing my sin into the light and having people say, “I’ve been there” or “I’ve struggled with that, too.” Even in situations where the person had no idea what it was like to struggle with that particular issue, they can generally find common ground in one of their own struggles. Once they know what I’m dealing with, then we can pray that God would help me and give me the grace and the strength to say no in the face of temptation.
You may be concerned that your sin is just too ugly to share, that there’s no way anyone could possibly understand, or you’re too embarrassed or ashamed of your sin to bring accountability into your life. I’ve been there, too. Not only did I struggle with same-sex attraction for years, I had an eating disorder where I was addicted to laxatives (talk about embarrassing) and I self-injured. I cut myself with anything I could get my hands on, and when I decided that was not acceptable, I punched things, punched myself and banged my head against walls. Talk about ugly.
But I came to the point where I just didn’t care what anyone thought about me. I couldn’t live this way anymore — my desire for experiencing freedom in my life began to outweigh any shame or embarrassment I felt. I became more disgusted by the sin in my life than I was concerned about what anyone thought about me.
Ultimately, it only matters what Jesus thinks about me and how I present myself to Him. So I took God at His Word, and I’ve found James 5:16 to really work in my life. There is truly something about confessing our sins to one another that continues to put our sinful nature to death, silences the lies we’re believing about ourselves and about our sin, and ultimately brings healing into our lives.
These are just some of the many things that I’ve learned about walking in freedom. Today, I can honestly say that I feel free. I no longer feel bound and burdened by my struggles. That doesn’t mean I have all the answers, and it certainly doesn’t mean I’m not tempted or that I don’t stumble. What it means is that when I do fall, I’m quick to accept grace and the help I need to keep on going and try again.
Maybe that’s what true freedom is — not that we never struggle, but that we are willing to embrace the process that leads to freedom. Maybe freedom is not just our heavenly destination, but a lifelong journey as well.
Copyright 2008 Brenna Kate Simonds. All rights reserved.