Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
To appreciate the concept liberty or freedom as an aspect of salvation, we must understand its counterpart of slavery or imprisonment as an aspect of the curse. These ideas are contrasted in Isaiah 61:1, where the prophet states that he was anointed by the Spirit “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” The chief prophet, Jesus, applied these words to Himself at the synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4:18). True liberation theology is the setting forth of God’s only begotten Son, joined to human nature, as the only way by which man must be saved.
It belongs to the curse of God upon the sinner that he is a slave to sin (Rom. 6:6), a captive to the evil motions of his flesh (Rom. 6:12), a prisoner in solitary confinement with the death sentence upon him. Man’s condition of captivity or liberty is always the outgrowth of his state or relationship to the law of God. Does the holy Judge of heaven and earth declare a man to be innocent according to the law? Then he is a free man. Or, does the righteous Judge declare a person to be guilty and yet under the law’s curse? Then he is a captive, bound fast under the dominion of the law.
The Hebrew word for liberty is very expressive: it means roomy, spacious, or broad. We may think of a child joyfully romping across a broad meadow of grass and flowers, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. The contrast is the cramped experience of a smelly cell where one’s activity and view are severely restricted. The Greek word for liberty expresses the idea of being without restraint, not a slave, exempt from liability, completely free. Again, the contrast is that of being hemmed in, a slave to a cruel master, liable to punishment, without hope in the world.
That Christ proclaims liberty to the captives, that there is a church that enjoys that liberty and gladly preaches the liberating gospel to the ends of the earth, is solidly based on the work of Christ on the cross. He was made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem (purchase free) those that were under the law (Gal. 4:4). Christ has redeemed the elect church from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). Believers, as children of the promise and born of the Spirit, are not children of the bondwoman (Hagar), but of the free (Sarah) (Gal. 4:22-31). But if someone thinks he must do something to be saved in addition to the work of Christ (such as circumcision or any other work of the law), he is a debtor to do the whole law. Then Christ profits him nothing, he is fallen from grace (that is, he may not claim salvation is by grace alone, otherwise grace is no more grace), and he entangles himself again in the yoke of bondage (Gal. 5:1-4).
After Paul has established that justification is by faith alone without the works of the law (Gal. 3:11), he goes on to warn the freely justified sinner not to use liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but to serve one another in love (Gal. 5:13). And Peter instructs those who have been made free “not to use their liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God” (I Pet. 2:16). Being made free from sin by being baptized into the death of Christ, we have become the servants of God, and have fruit unto holiness, with the end everlasting life (Rom. 6:22).
Although the curse of the law has been removed from us in that Christ bore that curse away as our Substitute, strikingly the law continues to occupy an important place in the Christian’s life. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but the law shall never pass away! Freedom and law are not mutually exclusive. Freedom is not to do what one pleases, but to do what pleases God! A life of freedom is not a life of disregard for the commandments of God, but it is a life lived with the law inscribed on our hearts by the Holy Spirit, a life of constant meditation upon the law, a striving to bring every aspect of our lives into harmony with God’s precepts. For the law does not forbid us any good thing! Life under the law of God is roomy, spacious, and broad! The psalmist explains, “And I will walk at liberty; for I seek thy precepts” (Ps. 119:45). And James, as he insists that faith is a living, working faith, calls the law of God the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25), and the royal law of liberty (James 2:8-12). To walk with God, to walk as God walks, to walk thankfully as God decrees, that is glorious liberty (Rom. 8:21).
All the truth as it is in Christ, embraced with a believing heart, makes us free (John 8:32). If the Son makes you free, then are you free indeed (John 8:36)!