Nothing of real value is ever accomplished without a sincere belief in its being accomplished. At the core of all enterprise lies the hope for success. Robbed of his hope, a man loses every ounce of strength and motivation to continue trying. Knowing this, the enemy does his utmost to breed hopelessness and despair, especially in men who struggle with addictions and habitual sin. Every failure or setback is followed by the foul stench of some devil’s breath as he condemningly whispers, “You see! You thought you could be free, but you will never be free!”
Why does the enemy fight so vehemently against a believer’s faith? Because he knows it is one of the most powerful weapons in the battle with habitual sin. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” was the apostle Paul’s confident claim. (Philippians 4:13) To the man who has tried time after time to quit his besetting sin, these words can seem like a mockery. Nevertheless, they stand as a testimony of truth to every blood-bought child of God. The defeated Christian’s problem, then, is not any failure on the Lord’s part but his own lack of faith in the veracity of the statement. God has already fulfilled His end of the bargain by sending His Son. It is therefore left to the Christian to believe and then act in faith on that belief!
Paul faced his own internal struggles with his fallen nature—as the 7th chapter of Romans candidly describes. With utter transparency he penned his deepest personal battles. “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” he cried out. But then, at the darkest moment of despair, it seems that Paul received a fresh revelation from on high: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!... For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (Romans 7:24-8:2)
Inherent within these verses is a promise, but it’s a conditional promise. Until a man truly believes there is hope of freedom—believes the truth of God’s Word—he will never take the necessary steps to claim the promise of freedom. This life of liberty was purchased at Calvary for every child of God. It was there on the Cross that Jesus forever broke the hold of sin on the believer. Freedom for the captives has been declared! The chief problem is simply that many Christians don’t realize the magnitude of what was purchased for them. They don’t realize that they are free.
The Emancipation Proclamation
This reminds me of a story written by Hannah Whitall Smith about some Southern slaves who lived during the Civil War. President Lincoln had recently issued the Emancipation Proclamation and news of it was sweeping across the land. The Proclamation secured freedom for every slave as soon as it was issued. However, each slave, wherever he might be, had to believe and act on the report before this freedom would actually become his. Mrs. Smith tells the story:
“In a little out-of-the-way Southern town, a Northern lady found, about two or three years after the war was over, some slaves who had not yet taken possession of their freedom. An assertion of hers, that the North had set them free, aroused the attention of an old colored auntie, who interrupted her with the eager question: ‘O missus, is we free?’
“‘Of course you are,’ replied the lady.
“‘O missus, is you sure?’ urged the woman, with intensest eagerness. ‘Certainly, I am sure,’ answered the lady. ‘Why, is it possible you did not know it?’
“‘Well,’ said the woman, ‘we heered tell as how we was free, and we asked master, and he 'lowed we wasn't, and so we was afraid to go. And then we heered tell again, and we went to the cunnel, and he 'lowed we'd better stay with ole massa. And so we's just been off and on. Sometimes we'd hope we was free, and then again we'd think we wasn't. But now, missus, if you is sure we is free, won't you tell me all about it?’
“Seeing that this was a case of real need, the lady took the pains to explain the whole thing to the poor woman; all about the war, and the Northern army, and Abraham Lincoln, and his Proclamation of Emancipation, and the present freedom.
“The poor slave listened with the most intense eagerness. She heard the good news. She believed it. And when the story was ended, she walked out of the room with an air of the utmost independence, saying as she went, 'Ts free! I's ain't agoing to stay with ol massa any longer!’” (1)
The point of this story is clear: The woman was by all rights free, but it was not an experiential freedom. Until she believed the report and acted on it, she remained bound to her old master. So it is with the children of God. We were once held in Satan’s malevolent bondage to sin. Then we repented and believed the good news. At that moment, our own Emancipation Proclamation was issued. We now only needed to act upon it.
The Biblical Pattern of Freedom
Thus, a biblical pattern emerges. First, a man must hear the report that he is free. Second, he must believe it by faith. Third, he must act upon that faith by fulfilling any conditions attached to it. After doing all of this he will begin to feel the freedom that was being offered all along. This, Smith points out, is the divine order of faith. Regrettably, many Christians want to reverse this order. They desire the feeling of freedom before the actions of faith. But, feelings follow behavior. We feel free when we act like free men. Living by feelings rather than faith, they doom themselves to a life of defeat.
The Word of God is heaven’s “emancipation” report, signed with Christ’s own precious blood, and sent to God’s people on earth. It boldly proclaims liberty for the captive soul. If we will only believe and follow through on what we have been told, we will find God’s grace is there to set us free and keep us free. “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free… So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:31-36)
(1) Hannah Whitall Smith, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, © 2004 by Hendrickson Publishers Peabody, MA, pp. 51-53.
Steve Gallagher is the Founder and President of Pure Life Ministries. He has dedicated his life to helping men find freedom from sexual sin and leading Christians into the abundant life in God that comes through deep repentance.
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