Limitations of Liberty in Christ

“Come unto me [Christ], all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” —Matthew 11:28-30

TODAY VIRTUALLY THE whole world is yearning and striving for liberty. Much progress toward liberty has been made, with small underdeveloped nations emerging from the oppressive authority of their colonial masters. Millions of denominational religionists are seeking to be free from the fettering creeds that have held them in restraint, and are insisting upon mingling with other groups to a larger extent, that they might come to a better understanding of the religious world around them. The cry for more liberty is making itself felt in almost all lines of human endeavor. Even the youth of the world are seeking to be free from what they feel to be undue restraint on the part of their elders.

Actually, of course, there is no such thing as complete liberty. Christians and non-Christians alike are more or less restricted by the circumstances with which they are surrounded. No one can be a law unto himself and disregard the viewpoints and wishes of others unless he desires to be at war with his surroundings. Even in free countries there are restrictive laws and regulations to which all must conform if they expect to live in peace and happiness.

In a free society the restrictions placed upon individual activities are designed for the welfare of the majority. There are rules governing the operation of cars on a highway. To break those rules might mean the injury, or even the loss of life of others to say nothing of one’s own life. A driver might well have a great urge to speed his car up to a hundred or more miles an hour, but he does not have the liberty to do this, for the restrictions usually limit him to about fifty miles.

We become accustomed to the many restrictions upon our personal liberties, and they are not burdensome to us. Those who choose to disobey the laws of a free society may do so, but sooner or later these find themselves restricted still further behind prison walls. These exercise their liberty of choice, and the ‘free and easy’ life they choose results in their imprisonment.

Man was created a free moral agent, but this simply implies the freedom of making a choice. Adam was given this freedom. It did not mean that he had the liberty to partake of the forbidden fruit and go unpunished. It only meant that he could choose, without coercion, to eat or not to eat; to obey the law of his Creator, or not to obey it. If he chose to obey, he could continue living and enjoying the blessings of the garden home the Creator provided for him. If he chose not to obey, he would die. He exercised his freedom of choice, and came under the bondage of sin and death.

Adam’s progeny have all been born slaves to sin and death. They have not had the liberty to choose whether or not they would live or die. Because of God’s love in providing a Redeemer from death, all of Adam’s children will yet be given the opportunity of choosing life rather than death. Upon the basis of faith, the called ones of this Gospel Age have had that opportunity, but generally speaking, up to the present time the human race has been in bondage to sin, a bondage which terminates in the sleep of death. Nor do the people have liberty to choose anything different.

When God, through Moses, gave the Israelites his Law, he gave them the choice of life conditional upon their full obedience to that Law. “Choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live,” he said. (Deut. 30:19) But the people, in bondage to sin, were unable to rise above the restraining cords which held them. They were not able to keep God’s perfect law, so failed to obtain life. Instead, they found themselves under the additional bondage of the Law. The Law itself was good, but its high standard of righteousness simply emphasized the imperfections of those who endeavored to keep it.

In Jesus’ Day

The Israelites in Jesus’ day were under a still greater bondage than that originally imposed by the Law, in that their religious leaders had placed additional burdens upon them through their interpretation of the Law. Jesus said of these, “They bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders.” (Matt. 23:4) It was among a people oppressed by these burdens, in addition to being in bondage to sin and death, that Jesus conducted his ministry. It was to these that he extended the invitation, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”—Theme Text

In these wonderful words Jesus is offering a choice between one form of bondage and another. Jesus said of the Pharisees in his day that they sat in Moses’ seat, and therefore should be obeyed by the Israelites, to the extent that they were God’s spokesmen. (Matt. 23:2,3) But Jesus, who was superseding the Pharisees, offered the people a choice. He told them that if they became his followers, severing their connection with the religious leaders of that time, he would give them the opportunity of bearing his yoke.

To some of the people of Jesus’ day his invitation was appealing. He emphasized that the burden he would give his followers was light. He coupled this information with the fact that he was meek and lowly in heart. This would assure his disciples that Jesus would not be austere, dictatorial, and ruthless in his demands of his followers, as were the Pharisees. But even so, a ‘yoke’ would be involved in accepting his leadership. A yoke is a symbol of servitude, and those in servitude to others are not free to do as they please.

So here again the only exercise of liberty offered to the disciples by Jesus was to make a choice. They were free to choose between the bondage of the Law, with the increased burdens heaped upon them by the Pharisees, and his yoke of servitude. “My yoke is easy,” he said, “and my burden is light.” But there would be both a yoke and a burden for all those who became his followers. The lightness of this burden is largely in the fact that the Lord helps those who are bearing it, giving them strength in times of need. This also was to be in contrast with the Israelites’ experience under their religious leaders. Of these Jesus said, “They themselves will not move them [the added burdens] with one of their fingers.”—Matt. 23:4

Truth Makes Free

John 8:31,32 reads: “Then said Jesus to those Jews who believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Jesus did not mean that his disciples were to be given the liberty to chart their own course in life as rugged individualists who would be responsible to no one for their actions. The freedom here referred to is again freedom from the bondage of the Law, and from the burdens heaped upon the people of that day by the scribes and Pharisees. It is also freedom from the universal bondage of sin and death which holds the whole world of mankind in slavery.

But Jesus did not offer his disciples freedom in the sense of throwing off all personal responsibilities and restraints. Notice what he said: “If ye continue in my word, then shall ye be my disciples indeed.” What are some of the words of Jesus to those who would be his disciples? Here is an example: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever cloth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”—Luke 14:26,27

We know, of course, that Jesus did not mean that his disciples should actually hate their own families. The thought here is, rather, ‘to love less’. In other words, to be a disciple of Christ we must give him the supreme position in our affections and lives. The will of the Lord must come before any desires we may have with respect to our families. This is restrictive. Besides, we are to take up our cross and follow Jesus into death, suffering, and dying with him. The flesh would not ordinarily choose a course of this kind.

Jesus also said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matt 16:24) To deny oneself is certainly in exact contrast to indulging oneself in a false liberty of action which is not sanctioned by the Bible. When we deny ourselves, we acknowledge that we have no liberty but to do the will of the Lord, and his will is that we lay down our lives in his service, enduring all the weariness and persecution which such a course might and does often entail.

Liberty to Choose

As we have seen, all that Jesus offered the disciples so far as actual liberty was concerned was the liberty to choose his leadership and the yoke which it entailed, or to continue their servitude under the scribes and Pharisees. Those who are now drawn to the Lord by the truth have this liberty. They may accept or not accept the invitation to become bond slaves of Jesus Christ.

After all, this is just about the extent of the liberty that anyone is able to exercise—that is, the liberty of choice. In a free society a person may choose to support one political party or another; or he may choose not to support any. A young man may choose to become a physician, or a lawyer, or an engineer. But having made his choice, he then becomes subject to all the laws and restrictions governing that profession. Unless he accepts the responsibility of abiding by these restrictions, he becomes more or less of a failure in that respect.

So it is with the Christian. If we have made our choice to be followers of the Master, then we have the responsibility of abiding by all the rules and regulations of discipleship. In effect, they mean that we are not allowed to use either our time, strength, or means as we might think best, but must always endeavor to discern what the Lord’s will might be in these matters. We are to lay down our lives, not preserve them. We are to think of the best interests of others rather than our own. Being followers of the Master, we are to endeavor as far as possible to determine what he would have us do in any circumstance, and remember that we have no choice but to do as we believe he would have us to do.

If we have taken Jesus’ yoke, it means that all our movements are restricted to the basic principles of his movements. We can only go where we believe he would go, and serve where and in the way that he would serve. Jesus said to those who became his disciples that they would know the truth, and the truth would make them free—free, that is, to do the will of the Lord, because through the truth they would know the will of the Lord. One does not have the liberty of choosing something of which he has no knowledge. So to be free to do the Lord’s will we must know his will, and it is through the truth that this knowledge reaches us. This is one of the ways in which the truth makes us free.

Just what is the truth which makes the disciples of Christ free? It is the same truth by which Jesus said we are sanctified, and this, he said, is the Word of God—“Thy Word is truth.” (John 17:17) Jesus himself is the central figure in the truth of God’s Word. The coming and work of this great Redeemer and Deliverer is the central theme of the entire Bible. It is Jesus, through his sacrifice on behalf of the people, who eventually will give all mankind the opportunity to be made free from the bondage of sin and death. Paul explained it this way: “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.”—I Tim. 2:36

Clustered around this great fundamental of God’s plan of salvation are the various other teachings which reveal the manner in which the benefits of the ransom are made available both for the church of this Gospel Age and the world in general during the Millennial Age. In addition there is the great truth concerning God’s purpose in the creation of man, and his fall into sin and death. We need to have a knowledge of man’s fall into the bondage of sin and death in order to appreciate God’s grace in making provision for release from this bondage. The Law Covenant into which God entered with the Israelites reveals that man could not, by his own righteousness, deliver himself from death.

The teachings of the Word with respect to God’s work during the Gospel Age of selecting a people from the world of mankind who are given the opportunity to prove worthy of living and reigning with Christ in his kingdom are very fundamental to our understanding of God’s plan as a whole. God’s promises to establish a kingdom on the earth, over which the foretold Messiah will be the chief Ruler, reveal another basic truth of God’s Word. This truth of the kingdom is another feature we need to understand in order to see clearly just what the will of the Lord is for us today. The purpose of all the truths of the Bible is to reveal the will of God for his people.

God’s covenant with Abraham, his promise of a New Covenant, the purpose of the First Advent, and the purpose and fact of Christ’s second presence, are all basic because they have a bearing on how we serve the Lord—how his will is expressed through our mortal bodies. The truth concerning Christ’s second presence is related to the harvest, which is the end of the age. If we did not know that it was harvest time, it would make a difference as to the message we proclaim as the ambassadors of Christ. To know that Christ is present, and that we are living at the close of the Gospel Age, just prior to the new age of Christ’s kingdom, also helps to govern the message we proclaim.

Knowing these truths gives us an understanding of the meaning of world events, and the manner in which they are fulfilling prophecy. Having this knowledge, we can go to the people with a message of comfort, rather than one which would help to generate a greater fear in their hearts. How wonderful, indeed, is the privilege we now have of comforting those who mourn, by pointing out to them that the blessings of the long-promised kingdom of Christ are near! It is in proclaiming this, and the other great truths of the Bible, that we have the privilege as bond slaves of Jesus Christ, to lay down our lives, following in his footsteps.

Serving Together

One of the truths clearly set forth in the Word of God is that he desires his people to work together. Our liberty in Christ does not make us freelance in the service of Christ. Where even two or three are able to meet together for fellowship, the Lord blesses them in this, and in their united effort to carry out the terms of their consecration. Where more than one is involved, it calls for the restraint of each in deference to the best spiritual interests of the others. Peter mentions this. He wrote: “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace unto the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”—I Pet. 5:5,6

Here Peter makes it plain that being subject one to another is one of the ways in which we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. This language is a far cry from describing the concept of personal liberty which is held by many in the world. Instead, it suggests restraint of our liberties, of making our actions subject to others, that the general good of all might be served. “All of you be subject one to another,” Peter wrote.

The Law of Liberty

The Apostle James wrote: “Whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” (James 1:25) The New English Bible translates this, “The perfect law, the law that makes us free.” This reminds us of Jesus’ promise that those who know and continue in the truth are made free—free, that is from the Law, from condemnation, from Adamic death, and from the shackles of human theories and creeds.

Looking into this perfect law that makes free, the law of liberty is the same as looking into the Word of God. No one need fear looking into the Word of God in order to know the truth, and how to apply it in his life. To look into that Word sincerely, however, will strengthen the cords by which one is bound to Christ as his yoke-fellow in divine service. Every “thus saith the Lord” which applies to our relationship with Christ reveals our bondage to him. At the same time we will find that his “yoke is easy, and his burden is light,” (Matt. 11:30) for the simple reason that divine assistance is given us to wear the yoke with joy, thankful that we have been made free from the law of sin and death, and because of our love for him.

At the beginning’ of this article we mentioned the great cry for liberty that is abroad in the earth. Much of this clamoring for liberty is proper on the part of the world, some of it is not. Our reason for mentioning it is that the followers of the Master find themselves being influenced at times by what is taking place around them in the world. There is a danger that the world’s cry for liberty could influence us to demand our supposed rights in the church of Christ. But let us remember that no matter how good or evil the world’s viewpoints might be, it is still the world, and we are not to be guided in our viewpoints and actions by what is taking place in the world. We are in the world, but not of it.—John 15:19

We have been made free in Christ, and this is a freedom concerning which the world knows nothing. It is not a freedom to do as we please, but liberty to do God’s will. It is not a freedom to further our own interests, but liberty to lay down our lives following in the footsteps of Jesus. It is not a freedom to do what we can to shine before men or the brethren, but liberty to be subject one to another, and to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God that he might exalt us in due time.

Ours is a liberty, not to go our own way and serve the Lord as we might want to serve him. If we think we have special talent, we should wait on the Lord as to its use. We are to be a part of the entire anointed company, and to blend our efforts with those of others, that through cooperation in the ministry, greater good may accrue to all. Let us be so thankful that we have been made free from the law of sin and death that we will gladly accept servitude under Christ and the banner of the Gospel. Having exercised our liberty to choose this better way of life, let us continue in it.

As we have noted, the world in general during the Millennial Age will also be given an opportunity to choose the way of the Lord. God will then turn to the people a pure message of truth that they might all call upon him to serve him with one consent. (Zeph. 3:9) But serving the Lord then will not mean doing as they please. There will be restraints on personal liberty, even as now. There will be a law to be obeyed, and those who do not obey that law will be destroyed from among the people.—Acts 3:23

As for ourselves, let us ever remember that our liberty in Christ also means responsibility to one another, to Christ, and to our Heavenly Father. This responsibility is to be discharged in the spirit of love and self-effacement. We are to bear one another’s burdens. It is thus that we will fulfill the law of Christ as it applies to us who have taken his yoke upon us.

It is inspiring to think of the glorious hope of living and reigning with Christ, but much is involved in the attaining of such a high position. It is with us as it was with James and John, whose mother asked that one sit on the Master’s right hand, and the other on his left hand in the kingdom. Jesus asked if they were able to drink of his cup and to be baptized with his baptism. Through the Word he asks us this same question, and we know that ability to meet these requirements implies sacrifice, the bearing of burdens, sufferings, and trials. To meet these experiences in the strength which the Lord provides is the choice which we are privileged daily to make. Let us determine that in every instance we will exercise our choice in the right manner, choosing always to do the Father’s will even though knowing that it will finally lead to death.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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