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The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law; and, in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin; from the evil of afflictions, the sting of death, the victory of the grave, and everlasting damnation; as also, in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto him, not out of slavish fear, but a childlike love and willing mind. All which were common also to believers under the law. But, under the new testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of. —Westminster Confession of Faith 20.1

The French novelist Victor Hugo (1802–85) writes of the fall and redemption of Jean Valjean, the chief protagonist of his popular book Les Misérables. Valjean found himself released from prison after serving nineteen long and arduous years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his famished family. After his release, he eventually found shelter in a local church. Desperate for money, Jean stole the bishop’s silverware and plates but was promptly captured by the police. When the police came to the bishop to verify that the stolen property was his, the bishop told Valjean: “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to what is evil but to what is good. I have bought your soul to save it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.” This little vignette provides glimmers of what Christ has accomplished for us in our redemption through the price that He paid in His life, suffering, and death on the cross. Westminster Confession of Faith 20.1 explains this as “the liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers.”

out from under satan, sin, and death

To appreciate our freedom in Christ, we first need to contemplate the nature of our previous bondage to Satan, sin, and death. Our captivity is writ large across the canvas of redemptive history in Israel’s slavery in Egypt. The book of Exodus tells us that “the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery” (2:23) as they were in a state of affliction and suffering (3:7). As Israel was in slavery, so we are enslaved to sin. What Pharaoh was to Israel, Satan is to sinners. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul describes our sin-enslaved condition in blunt terms:

You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath. (Eph. 2:1–3)

In his famous diagnosis of fallen humanity, Paul describes us as those who do not seek God, who have become worthless, who do not do good, whose throats are open graves, and who use their tongues for deception (Rom. 3:11–13). As we survey the people whom we see in our day-to-day lives, we certainly observe wicked people doing sinful things, but so many people give the appearance of being decent and moral. Beneath the veil of respectability lies the pallor of death wrapped in the chains of sin and guilt. Because all humans are guilty of both Adam’s first sin and their own personal sins, all humans justly fall under God’s wrath and condemnation (Rom. 1:18–32; 5:12–14).

There are several consequences of our sin-fallen condition. All humans bear the burden of the guilt of sin. Every time we commit sin against God and His law, we incur legal guilt. There is a subjective side to guilt, for we sense that we do wrong as our consciences accuse or excuse our conduct (2:15). Yet guilt is not simply a feeling but an objective legal debt that all sinners incur for violating God’s law. A powerful image of guilt comes to us from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, where the main character, Christian, carries a massive burden on his back that weighs him down. Given that we are guilty of sin, this means that God’s wrath hangs over our heads. As Paul writes, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18, KJV).

The redemption wrought by Christ does not merely wipe our slate clean of sin; rather, God fills our slates with the perfect obedience and suffering of Jesus.

The chief instrument that God employs in the condemnation of sinners is the moral law, to which all human beings are bound by virtue of participation in the covenant of works. In the covenant of works, God bound Adam to personal, perpetual, and perfect obedience to the law, but Adam broke the covenant (Westminster Larger Catechism 20). The covenant-cutting ceremony that God directed Abraham to make graphically pictures the nature of breaking the agreement. God had Abraham take animals and cut them in half to create a path between the severed halves (Gen. 15:9–10). Jeremiah explains the significance of the covenant-cutting rite:

“The men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts— . . . all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf. . . . Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.” (Jer. 34:18–20)

In our sin-fallen, law-cursed state, all people are in slavery to sin and in bondage to Satan, the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2). Of course, all who sin are subject to death, since “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), or as Paul elsewhere writes, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56).

into the freedom of the sons of god

Blessedly, God does not leave us in our cursed state but has sent His Son to redeem us: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4). Christ became a curse for us so that we would not have to bear the law’s awful load (3:13). In The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian bore the burden of his guilt until he arrived at the place of deliverance, and there it fell from his back. In the words of Isaiah, the Suffering Servant “bore the sin of many” (Isa. 53:12). In terms of the covenant-cutting ritual, when God made the covenant with Abraham, He alone walked between the animal halves while Abraham was fast asleep, which signaled that God would bear the curse if Abraham broke the covenant. The redemption wrought by Christ does not merely wipe our slate clean of sin; rather, God fills our slates with the perfect obedience and suffering of Jesus. The Heidelberg Catechism captures this truth when it asks, “How are you righteous before God?” It responds:

Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, of never having kept any of them, and of still being inclined toward all evil, nevertheless, without any merit of my own, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, and as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me. All I need to do is accept this gift with a believing heart. (Q&A 60)

Those who have died to the law (Rom. 7:4) are freed from its curse and, as Paul writes, are led by the Spirit and are sons of God (8:14). The New Testament’s language about our salvation is replete with imagery and terminology drawn from Israel’s exodus. Jesus is greater than Moses and leads us on the last and final exodus. When He was atop the Mount of Transfiguration, He conversed with Moses and Elijah and spoke “about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31, NLTSE). Unlike Moses, who merely led Israel out of bondage, Jesus is both our leader and the very sacrifice that secures our freedom from the slavery to Satan, sin, and death: “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). As a result of Christ’s work, we know God no longer as our condemning Judge but as our heavenly Father (Matt. 6:7–13).

The sixteenth-century poet John Donne stunningly captures our need for the triune God to deliver us from the bondage of sin:

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Our spirits long lay bound by sin and burdened by guilt with God’s wrath and curse hanging over us, but through Christ we obtain the glorious freedom of the sons of God. What, then, is the purpose of our freedom?

the nature of our freedom

Several passages in Paul’s letters show us the purpose of our freedom. For example, he writes: “Now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Rom. 7:6). Notably, Paul uses a result clause (“so that”) to explain the purpose of God’s releasing us from the bondage of sin and the curse of the law, “so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (emphasis added). Likewise, earlier in his epistle to Rome, Paul asks the rhetorical question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” To this question, Paul gives his famous “By no means!” (6:1–2). He reminds the church with another result clause (“in order that”) about the purpose of our freedom: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (v. 4, emphasis added). Paul goes on to say:

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (vv. 13–14)

We are no longer under the thralldom of Satan, sin, and death but under the sovereign rule of Christ and the Spirit.

God has freed us for righteousness—or, to put it in terms of Israel’s Old Testament exodus, He has freed us so that we might serve Him (Ex. 3:12; 4:23; 7:16). Just as the Spirit of God led Israel through the wilderness (13:21), so we too “walk by the Spirit,” and in the Spirit’s power, we do “not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). Old Testament believers knew of these blessings, but not in the way that New Testament believers know them. Westminster Confession 20.1 explains the blessings of new covenant redemption:

All which were common also to believers under the law. But, under the new testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of.

Rather than approaching God through the sacrifices at the tabernacle and later the temple, we can “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” because of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ (Heb. 10:22).

To what end? That we may serve and love God and love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37–40). As the Apostle John explains:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:7–11)

In a sermon, Augustine of Hippo explained that Christ has given us a short precept: “Love, and do what thou wilt.” If you hold your peace, do so in love. If you cry out, give a cry of love. If you correct, correct in love. If you exercise mercy, do so in love. Let every action that we do come from a fountain of love. This fountain has its source not in self but in God’s love in Christ through the Spirit.


Jean Valjean is not the only one who has been freed from evil. As we stand before the throne of God, stained by sin, burdened with guilt, and having the wrath of God hanging over our heads, God speaks words of grace to us: “You belong no longer to what is evil but to what is good. I have bought your soul with the precious blood of My only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to save you from Satan, sin, and death and to walk in the newness of life through the power of the Spirit. Go and use your Christ-bought, Spirit-applied freedom to love Me and your neighbor.” This is the glorious freedom that Christ has purchased for believers under the gospel.

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