The Holy Spirit Sets Free

Dr. Brian Allison

Are you free in Christ? The language that I hear quite often from Christians (and it seems more so recently) is the language of bondage. Some Christians are in bondage to some vice; others are in bondage to some fear; others are in bondage to some past memory; and still others are in bondage to some particular situation. Are you free in Christ? The Christian in bondage feels disheartened and often in despair. For example, I received a communiqué from a pastor a little while ago; he shared with me that he was going through some pretty dark days (and I have the freedom to share the contents of this communiqué). He writes, "I still feel in bondage to the problem of anger, though I feel I have grown somewhat spiritually. I am usually an optimist, but this struggle has been a challenge to that outlook. I am hoping I will soon find some answers to the many questions I have so I can begin to climb out of the hole I feel I'm in." Now, that is a pastor writing! He went on to say in that communiqué that he was even wondering if he could fulfil his pastoral duties and responsibilities as he considers the depth of the darkness of the days through which he was presently passing. Does this pastor's experience resonate with your own? Are you in bondage? Jesus says, "If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed" (Jn. 8:36).

Jesus Christ is present as Spirit

2 Corinthians 3:17 reads, "Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." According to John 14:16-24, to have the Spirit with us and in us is to have Christ Himself with us and in us. That is, the Spirit's presence is simultaneous with Christ's presence. To be sure there is a distinction of persons in the Godhead: the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father. Yet, there is an intrinsic, inextricable unity amongst the persons of the Godhead, which means, of course, that there is an intrinsic, inextricable unity between Christ and the Holy Spirit; and that is how we are to understand the phrase: "Now the Lord is the Spirit." This phrase, in effect, could be translated: "Now the Lord is intrinsically identified (not identical) with the Spirit;" or, "Now the Lord is the Spirit in presence, though not in person."

Similarly, recall, for instance, the farewell words of Christ to His disciples in the Upper Room. He said, "'If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.' Philip [scratching his head] said to Him, 'Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.' Jesus said to him [and it is a mild rebuke], 'Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, 'Show us the Father'?" (Jn. 14:7-9). Now, Jesus was not saying that His own person is identical with the person of the Father. His point was that an essential unity exists between Him and the Father; and thus to see Christ is to see the Father. Accordingly, the Lord continued, "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works" (Jn. 14:10).

Again, when our text says, "Now the Lord is the Spirit," it means that the presence of the Lord and the presence of the Spirit are indistinguishable. Now, the question is this: why is the Lord even mentioned in this verse? As you consider the flow of the passage it seems to be kind of out of place. Why make the statement? How does it fit in with the argument of the passage? Well, as you follow the passage, commencing at the beginning of this chapter, it is clear that a contrast is drawn between the old covenant and the new covenant, that is, between the Law and the Spirit. So, we read, "Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter [i.e., not of the Law, the Mosaic dispensation], but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:5,6).

Now, Moses is the human leader and mediator of the old covenant, and Christ is the human leader (though He is God) and mediator of the new covenant. Moses is contrasted with Christ. Accordingly, we further read, "But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones [i.e., the ten commandments], came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how shall the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory" (2 Cor. 3:7,8). Now, having referred to the glory of Moses, notice that an implied comparison, and contrast, with Christ's glory follows – "But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord [as opposed to the glory of Moses], are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18). So, in this connection, we read, "For the Law was given through Moses; but grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (Jn. 1:17).

Practically speaking, this is the 'good news': the new covenant replaces the old covenant; no longer is the Law in place, no longer is there a need to pursue good works in order to be saved. With truth and grace coming through Jesus Christ, we now personally know God; we now enter into intimate fellowship with Him; we are accepted apart from personal merit. We do not need to earn our salvation. We are freely received in Christ, and His salvation is a gift. All that is required of us now is that we believe in Christ. Thus the Lord invites, "HO! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost" (Is. 55:1). That is the Gospel! No longer are we burdened by the stipulations, commandments, and statutes of that old covenant, a covenant that no one could keep. "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons [and daughters]" (Ga. 4:4,5). So, we have come to the age of the Spirit, to the new Jerusalem. We are in a new covenant, having access to God, freely accepted in Christ, and thus we know Him and we know that we know Him. God is pleased to dwell amongst His people. He brings us into His presence and He grants us His fellowship.

Now, Christ is present – actually and directly involved – in bringing different ones into that new covenant – "Now the Lord is the Spirit." Christ is actively at work bringing salvation to believers through the Spirit. The Spirit reveals Christ and brings Him to the heart of the believer. Christ is seated at the right hand of the majesty on high; the heavens have received Him for a season. His physical body is in the glorious realm of the concentrated presence of God; and yet He is with us and in us here on the earth. Yet, there are some Christians who talk like this: "If only I had an opportunity to talk with Christ face to face. If only I had the opportunity to walk with Christ on those dusty roads of Palestine. Wouldn't it have been wonderful to hear Him teach, to see what He looked like?" Accordingly, I want to suggest to you that this kind of language is spoken by the uninformed. What we need to remember is that Christ is really with us. He is really present. The 'Lord is the Spirit,' and so the promise that Jesus gave to His disciples prior to His ascension is also for us. "And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Mt. 28:20b). My Christian brothers and sisters, you do not have to see His face; you do not have to see His body; you do not have to hear His audible voice. He is here – really here – just as much as he could be physically. Do you believe that? I know that you acknowledge that; I know that you confess that, but do you believe that? I know a Christian brother who (and you may think this sounds rather strange) has a chair in his apartment that he reserves only for Jesus. He is very conscious that the chair is Jesus' chair. That reminds him of the continual, and real, presence of Christ with him.

The Spirit of the Lord effects salvation

Though the Lord is the Spirit, it is the Spirit Himself who has the role of actually applying the salvation accomplished by Christ – "And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." So, the Lord is the Spirit in presence, but, strictly speaking, the Spirit of the Lord ministers Christ's grace. What the text is saying is this: there is no experience of salvation apart from the presence and work of the Spirit of the Lord. You are not saved by your personal brand of religion. You are not saved by your good works or deeds. You are not even saved by the sincerity of your profession. You are only saved by the Spirit. Thus, we read, "You are our letter [i.e., the clear communication or reality of our ministry], written in our hearts [a note of affection and love], known and read by all men [the work of grace is clearly demonstrable]; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ [He Himself has spiritually effected change, and you belong to Him], cared for by us, as His servants, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of the human heart" (2 Cor. 3:2,3). This vivid imagery is referring to regeneration. The point is that those who are believers have been born anew, not because of anything they have done, but because of the regenerative work of the Spirit. You are only saved by the Spirit; and if He does not work, there can be no salvation.

I think of my own conversion. Prior to my conversion, I tried to earn my salvation. Prior to becoming a Christian, I prayed, I fasted, I ceremonially washed feet. I attended Church religiously. I even became a vegetarian, believing that this was what the Bible taught. But I was not saved, and I remember one evening going, in my self-righteousness, to talk to a pastor. From the time he opened his mouth to the time he closed it, I did not say one word. I couldn't; the Spirit had a hold of my heart and He was squeezing it; and I remember the spiritual disarming and conviction I experienced as I sat there listening to the truth of the Gospel, a truth that whittled away all my pride, self-confidence, and arrogance. I walked out of that office a broken and a humbled man. I knew that the Spirit of God had breathed new life into me. What about you? Do you know assuredly that it is the Spirit who has changed your heart? Are you sure that you are not endeavouring to parade your religiosity, work for your salvation, earn your own salvation, trying to be a good Christian woman or man, trying to 'keep your nose clean,' going merely through the religious motions? My friend, you cannot save yourself, you simply cannot do it. The Spirit must save and He alone. You know that there has been a work of the Spirit when there is that sense of freedom or release, and ensuing joy.

The Spirit brings about freedom

The saving work of the Spirit is one of bringing about spiritual freedom – "And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." The saving work of the Spirit is His freeing work. Now the question is this: what does He free us from? Well, specifically speaking (confining our initial thoughts to the immediate context), He frees us from the demands, the stipulations, the statutes, etc. of the old covenant. He frees us from the need to conform to the external law as a way of life with God. So, we read, "But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read [i.e., whenever the Law is read], a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a man [or woman] turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away" (2 Cor. 3:14-16). In turning to the Lord Christ by faith, through hearing the Gospel, there is spiritual freedom.

Generally speaking, the Spirit frees from Satan; from sin; and from death. If the Spirit is not present, one remains in a state of bondage. So, we read, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death [i.e., that principle that keeps you imprisoned to your own passions, desires, aspirations, thoughts, and agenda]." (Rm. 8:1,2). My stepfather claims to be a Christian. He is a reformed alcoholic; it was pretty tough growing up in a home involving that. Even today, he has a foul mouth and shows unkind actions. Some of his personal practices are reprehensible. Now, I say unhesitatingly that he is not a Christian, regardless of his profession of faith. The Spirit's presence frees us from sin, frees us from the clutches of Satan, frees us from the principle of death; again, if the Spirit is not present, you remain in spiritual bondage.

Experiencing the Spirit's freedom by faith

Now, if you are a true believer, you are free, but the reality is that you may not always feel free. Isn't that right? Objectively, you are Christ's freeperson; subjectively, you may still feel enslaved. Accordingly, we need to distinguish between what is actually the case and what are our feelings lest we become unduly confused and discouraged. As a Christian believer you are free – "Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin [bound by our passions and desires]; for he who has died [in Christ] is freed from sin" (Rm. 6:6,7). Similarly, John 8:34ff. reads, "Jesus answered [the Jews], 'Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. If therefore, the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.'" If you are a Christian, the chains of sin have been snapped; sin no longer has dominion over you, you are no longer the lackey of sin.

So, you may be asking yourself, "Why don't I feel free? Why does it seem like I am always struggling to keep afloat or to move ahead? Now, the following is a simple, but crucial point. The issue is not whether you are free or not free; that, as we have said, is an established fact. The issue is acknowledging and accepting this freedom. Do not be offended by the simplicity of this principle. It will make all the difference in the world in your life if you can really grasp and assimilate it. You need to confess that you are free in Christ and you need to live in the light of that confession. What I am saying is this: by faith, you must enter into your freedom in Christ. In fact, the whole of our Christian life is one of faith. You need to personally appropriate the truth. All the spiritual blessings in Christ are ours only through faith. They come by grace, but they are realized in our experience only through faith. And if there is no faith, there is no realization. As the Scriptures teach, "And without faith it is impossible to please [God] for he that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder [a blesser, a giver] of those who seek Him" (Hb. 11:6).

There is a difference between knowing about Christ and actually experiencing Christ. You personally know Him by faith, but you must also experience Him by faith. You can know the truth, but unless you personally appropriate the truth (that is, acknowledge and accept it), you are not going to feel the truth. As a result, there will be little power in your life. Is it any wonder there are so many defeated Christians? They know what the Bible says; they just have not accepted it by faith. They say, for instance, "That may be for others, but not for me. I will never overcome." That is negative thinking. That is nothing less than doubt, and doubt is the opposite of faith. Such negative thinking counters and undermines faith. Faith entails right thinking (which is Biblical thinking). Of course, Christians who persist in negatively thinking this way are not going to experience victory. They will never have victory until they begin to change their thinking. Their thinking must be informed by the teaching (and promises) of the Scriptures. What I am suggesting is this: how you began the Christian life is how you need to continue in it. That is, every step of the way is a step of faith. Christ has purchased freedom for you, as well as joy, peace, wisdom, self control, patience, longsuffering, etc. It is a done deal. Now, you must continue to enter into them, and faith is your passageway. Are you ready to acknowledge and accept what you already have in Christ? All things are yours if you believe.

You may be reading this article and know that you are not a Christian. Did you know that you are still in a state of bondage? You are still in the grips of the evil one. You are still plagued with fear, guilt, and doubts, though you try to deny it. Yet, Jesus says, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed." My non Christian friend, that is the good news for you. There is an answer to your deep problems. There is a solution to your bewildering questions. There is help for your need, if you will only believe. Won't you believe in Him this day? "Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost." Jesus offers you this gift freely. Will you take it?