Of Faith and Freedom

by David Morsey


"If the Son therefore shall make you free you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36).

In 1775 the American patriot Patrick Henry sounded a clarion call that has rung down through the centuries to the present hour—"Give me liberty or give me death." While not everyone in search of liberty has such an avid interest in it, it has been nevertheless the heart’s cry of the masses from the beginning of time. The question is, who can really offer it with any degree of validity? Numbers of political systems through the ages have sought to entice followers through the promise of it, but rarely are able to guarantee anything more than a continuous battle in pursuit of it. Hopes and dreams have been broken on the anvil of its promises.

The Bible gives God as the only sure source of freedom in the universe. Indeed the freedom of the galaxies might be a hint as to how broadly His freedom extends.

The Nature of Freedom

It is essential to establish the nature of that freedom which is so offered in the Bible. Is it carte blanche? Are there conditions? Is it for everyone? Do we understand what we mean by the usage of the word in the first place? Semantics is always a problem in the use and understanding of language everywhere. Meanings are often ambiguous; people will often misuse terms; ultimate meanings cannot always be agreed upon. We must establish at the outset just exactly what we mean by freedom as used in this article. Almost universally when people use the word freedom they refer to lack of restriction. The question is, to what degree, lack of restriction? In political circles there is much misunderstanding about the word freedom, with meanings ranging all the way from limited participation in government to absolute anarchy. And then of course there are the many variations of physical disability and inflexibility as well as mental restrictions.

In a more thorough discussion of the word, "freedom," we look at the mental level, the physical side of it being quite obvious. At the mental level freedom becomes a very complex subject. The entire process of thinking depends upon the myriads and myriads of fragments of data collected in the brain from prenatal days right to the end of life. It is out of this reservoir of data that all understanding takes place. Thus, one’s concept of freedom will be greatly affected by one’s experiences throughout one’s lifetime. What is freedom for one may be bondage for another. This is especially illustrated in the issues of government. There is quite a difference between a republic, which is the nature of the United States of America and total democracy which was true in ancient Greece. Complete freedom in the case of government would mean anarchy which some people still try to achieve. The only reason for delving into this subject at this depth is merely to point out that freedom is a very ambiguous word and relates strictly to the brain and nervous system where emotions and the limits of knowledge play a significant role. It would thus be impossible to achieve a uniform concept of what freedom ought to be.

The question we have to ask is not so much what freedom means in terms of society, or personality, but rather what the Bible means by freedom when it offers it with such great assurance. The text quoted above gives strong indication of the fundamental meaning—"Truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is the slave of sin…if the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:34-36). And this of course brings us to the monumental issue of sin and hence the impact of it in the whole process of the human race. God had created man "in His own image and likeness," which meant that he was in a state of sinlessness. However, the all too familiar episode with the "arch-enemy of God" dispelled the sinlessness and man became in bondage to Satan. The entire Bible gives us hence a redemptive history through the recovery of the lost estate. The tragedy was that the Spirit of God had been lost from the state of man. God created Adam. The text says that He "breathed into him the breath of life and man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7). The expression—"the breath of life" is the Hebrew expression nishmath chayah and reflects the fact that the Spirit of God came into the man and he became as God in that respect.

It is this that the humans lost in the "Fall." God had warned that if they should touch the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die. They did die in the sense of mortality, in that instead of living forever, now they would be touched by death. The greatest loss was the loss of the Spirit of God within them so that their eternality was forever jeopardized. At this point they came under the rule of Satan and were in bondage to Him. Deliverance from this bondage would now only be through the covering provided by God in the animal sacrifices. It is this, of course, that Jesus came to reconcile by His death on the cross. "I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you" (John 16:7). The import of these words is that when Jesus died on the cross he satisfied the penalty for sin and upon His resurrection was able to send the Holy Spirit—His own Spirit—to dwell within the believer forever.

At this point, of course, came the great deliverance from bondage. It was not that sin would never again be the experience of humans on the earth, but rather that for sin there was always the "advocate with the Father." John tells us in his first epistle—"My little children I write unto you that you sin not, but if anyone sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (I John 2:2). And thus, while sin is still in the experience of believers they are not in a position of bondage to it but able to have a way of escape. This is, of course, the greatest deliverance of all, since sin is the one thing that keeps humans from identifying with God. In the reborn experience one is completely restored to fellowship with God and once again partakes of His divine nature. The reason there has been some question about the issue of the consequences of sin subsequent to salvation is from a passage in I John 3—"Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. And you know that He was sent to take away our sins and in Him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him" (I John 3:4-7). It is vital that we understand what is meant by "sin" in this passage.

In reading a book, it is essential to know how an author uses a given word in a given book and in a given passage within the book. Here John is using the word as a condition of lawlessness. In fact the correct translation of the text is as follows—"Sin is lawlessness" (I John 3:4). Here John uses the word to mean a condition in which one is indifferent to the law of God. A good analogy of this description would be a traffic ticket where one has inadvertently or carelessly broken the law, but is not indifferent to that law. It is one thing to be careless; it is another thing to be indifferent. What John is saying here is that if the Spirit of Christ is in us we are not going to be indifferent to the law of God. We may sometimes be guilty of an infraction, but are not indifferent or disrespectful of it. It is most important to recognize that if one had indeed lost fellowship with God over the committing of sin, one would no longer be worried about it. This is true of the phenomenon of the "unpardonable sin." When a person asks—"Have I indeed committed the unpardonable sin?" My answer would be, "If you had, you would not be concerned about it." Incidentally, that passage refers not to those who wonder whether or not it was of Satan that one got healed, or of God. The thing Jesus was charging the Pharisees with was not wondering, but making a point of the fact that Jesus did His healing through Satan as His father—a vastly different thing than wondering who was exercising the power in the first place.

So the fundamental issue of freedom throughout the Bible was never freedom from physical bondage or from pain or suffering, or from general discomfort, but freedom from sin and death. Or, to put it another way—freedom from the consequences of the "Fall". And, of course, this is what Jesus was referring to when He said that he that sins is the servant or slave of sin. Caught in the bondage of human failure as a result of the "Fall", the problem of sin, which separates humans from God, is insurmountable apart from God’s intervention. The ultimate triumph is expressed in Paul’s words to the Corinthians—"Behold I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For it is necessary for this corruption to put on incorruption and this mortal to put on immortality, but whenever this corruptible shall put on incorruption and this mortal shall put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, death, is your victory? Where, death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. So then my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (I Corinthians 15:51-58). This is perhaps the most cogent statement available in the Scripture, in terms of the freedom that we have in Christ.

The Faith that Overcomes

So how do we come by such freedom? The answer is faith. But where do we get the faith? Here is where there is a good deal of confusion. It is widely assumed that we must have a certain amount of personal responsibility to accomplish this kind of faith. It is assumed that the larger the task the greater the faith that we have to muster. Both assumptions are egregiously wrong. The truth is that the larger the task, the less capable we are of accomplishing it ourselves. With such feelings come a multitude of misgivings. By the same token it is also assumed that humans need to develop a certain degree of purity before they will be heard by God. Wrong again! It is true, of course, that none of this can be accomplished apart from faith. However the question is, "Whose faith?" Is it some process of faith that we have worked up ourselves? Is it some meager quality of belief that gives us a prior hold on God? The answer is, that the kind of faith that is required to identify a human with God, is the same kind of faith required in establishing a universe. So again where do we get such faith? What is essential now is to understand what the word faith really means. It is, after all, a five letter word in the English language which can mean, and often does mean, anything from feelings of confidence to some vague and transient hope. Like the fairytale wish time—if one holds the wish hard enough and strong enough it will come to pass. In this respect it is almost exclusively a human exercise, engaged in by a brain that is scarcely able to maintain its own agenda of hope for the future.

Ultimate Faith

It is essential that we reassess the entire concept as it was understood by the Greeks, especially when they wrote the New Testament. We have a very significant clue in Hebrews 11:1—"Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." The English word "substance" has a similar meaning both in the Latin and the Greek as well as in English. It means "to stand under something," either as a platform or as the essence of a thing. Thus for example, the substance of a building may be the concrete and steel out of which it is built, whereas the facing of the building of tile or marble is for character and beauty. An even more pertinent analogy to the present meaning is the next phrase—"the evidence of things not seen." It is like the electromagnetism that flows through the copper tube. It is the electricity that is the essence of things, accomplishing the work, but it is, with the exception of certain phenomena, invisible. Applied to faith it means that the faith is itself the substantive element. It is thus an energy process from God accomplishing His purpose, even as electricity is a substantive element of electromagnetism accomplishing certain purposes. In this respect faith is not a matter of what we believe, or how we feel about it, but rather a process that is going on within us by the grace of God to accomplish His particular purposes. What is vital is that we do not get our emotional feelings mixed up with this divine process. One of the common usages of faith has to do with confidence. Much emphasis is placed upon how one feels about what is taking place. It is assumed that if one does not feel strongly about God’s help, then he will not be quick to accomplish the matter for us. And thus belief becomes one of the key points in coming to salvation. This of course puts the matter on the human side and takes it more or less out of the hands of God and puts it in the hands of the individual to work out his own feelings of confidence. It also puts the matter in great uncertainty, since we cannot depend upon our mental capacity to hold us steadfast. Salvation would be on such a flimsy basis that we must ask what hope have we for humans for any kind of stability.

It is here that we must distinguish between the human psyche, or brain and nervous system, and the Spirit. The brain and nervous system are part of the human flesh. They are closely entwined with the physical processes and are subject to the weakness of the flesh, as encountered by the "Fall". What we lost in the "Fall" is the vital link between ourselves and the Spirit of God. We have, since that time, been reliant upon our human faculties, which can do little more than lift us to a religious experience. If the Old Testament patriarchs show us anything, they show us the inadequacy of the human flesh to keep pace with God’s demands. The dossier of "heroes," as outlined in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, show us decidedly that God functioned through the patriarchs in spite of their own continual weakness and inadequacy. For example, when Sarah was told by the angel that she was going to bear a child, she laughed. Her laughter was such that the angel said to her that she would therefore have to name her child Yitsak, which means laughter, because of her unbelief. Nevertheless, she was credited with having the faith to bear the child.

Jesus was with the disciples in the boat and a storm came up at sea, the disciples were greatly afraid, even though Jesus was himself in the boat asleep. They awakened Him in a panic and asked if He did not care if they would perish. Jesus got up and rebuked the waves and then rebuked the disciples—"O you of little faith." The truth of the matter is that He did not expect them to have faith, because the Holy Spirit had not as yet come into them and they were only going on the strength of their Old Testament inadequacy. The New Testament order of things is that the Holy Spirit came to recover the loss of the Spirit that was suffered in the Fall. Faith hence became the accompaniment of salvation and not the means toward it. Thus faith can be identified as "a fruit of the Spirit." One cannot receive the Holy Spirit without faith, but one cannot have faith without the Holy Spirit. That is the dilemma that is overcome by the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is the true sense in which we must rely upon faith as a gift of the Spirit. In the Ephesians letter, Paul said, "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: Not of works lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8). In other words, faith comes as a gift from the Spirit, and not as something we work up in our religious selves. An even more thorough statement is given to Titus—"But when the graciousness and the lovingkindness of God toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He shed upon us abundantly; through Jesus Christ our Savior, in order that having been justified by that grace we have become heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:4-7).

How Do We Acquire Such Faith?

Simply by asking for it. But how do I know I am free? I still have problems with the flesh. The difference is that your spirit is in the care of Christ, and Satan does not have dominion over it. You may have trouble in the flesh, but it does not result in your loss of Spirit life. You belong to Christ and you are a partaker of His divine nature. Forgiveness is granted to you because you are no longer under Satan’s dominion. John makes it very explicit, "My little children I write unto you, that you sin not. But if anyone sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of all the world" (I John 2:1,2). The problem of sin and bondage is addressed by Christ through His death on the cross, and we are given new life by His resurrection. We are completely free of the bondage of Satan. That does not mean that we are free in all aspects of life. We still have to wrestle with the problems of the flesh, but as far as the ultimate death is concerned that was the result of the "Fall", we are completely free. And as far as our spirits are concerned, we are totally free to roam the universe with Christ, its Creator. In summary we must understand freedom as having to do with freedom from death, freedom from bondage of corruption, freedom from Satan. We have freedom to walk with Christ and span the universe with Him. We acquired this freedom simply by turning to Him. It has nothing to do with how righteous we are, or religious, or how emotionally strong. How free we are from human failure has to do only with one thing—we are partakers of His divine nature and we span the universe with Him.

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