A Free People but Accountable
“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”—JOHN 8:32.
1, 2. (a) How has freedom featured in human history? (b) Who alone is truly free? Explain.
FREEDOM. What a powerful word that is! Mankind has endured uncounted wars and revolutions as well as incalculable social turmoil because of the desire of humans to be free. Indeed, The Encyclopedia Americana says: ‘In the evolution of civilization, no concept has played a more important role than liberty.’
2 Nevertheless, how many people are really free? How many even know what freedom is? The World Book Encyclopedia says: “For people to have complete freedom, there must be no restrictions on how they think, speak, or act. They must be aware of what their choices are, and they must have the power to decide among those choices.” In view of this, do you know anyone who is truly free? Who can say that they have “no restrictions on how they think, speak, or act”? In truth, only one person in the whole universe fits that description—Jehovah God. He alone has absolute freedom. Only he can make any choice he wishes and then carry it out despite all opposition. He is “the Almighty.”—Revelation 1:8; Isaiah 55:11.
3. On what condition do humans usually enjoy freedom?
3 For lowly humans, freedom can only be relative. It is usually granted or guaranteed by some authority and related to our subjection to that authority. Indeed, in almost every case, a person can only be free if he recognizes the authority of the guarantor of his freedom. For example, individuals living in the “free world” enjoy many benefits, such as freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. What guarantees these freedoms? The law of the land. An individual can only enjoy them as long as he obeys the law. If he abuses his freedom and breaks the law, he is held accountable by the authorities, and his freedom may be drastically curtailed by a prison sentence.—Romans 13:1-4.
Godly Freedom—With Accountability
4, 5. What freedom do worshipers of Jehovah enjoy, and for what will he hold them accountable?
4 In the first century, Jesus spoke about freedom. He said to the Jews: “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32) He was not speaking of freedom of speech or freedom of religion. He was certainly not speaking of liberation from the yoke of Rome, for which many Jews longed. No, this was something much more precious, a freedom granted, not by human laws or the whim of some human ruler, but by the supreme Sovereign of the universe, Jehovah. It was freedom from superstition, freedom from religious ignorance, and much, much more. Freedom granted by Jehovah is real freedom, and it will endure throughout eternity.
5 The apostle Paul said: “Jehovah is the Spirit; and where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17) Over the centuries Jehovah has been dealing with mankind so that faithful ones will eventually enjoy the finest and greatest kind of human freedom, “the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21) In the meantime, Jehovah grants us a measure of freedom by means of Bible truth, and he holds us accountable if we abuse that freedom. The apostle Paul wrote: “There is not a creation that is not manifest to his sight, but all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.”—Hebrews 4:13.
6-8. (a) What freedoms did Adam and Eve enjoy, and on what condition could they keep those freedoms? (b) What did Adam and Eve lose for themselves and their offspring?
6 Accountability to Jehovah came to the fore when our first human parents, Adam and Eve, were alive. Jehovah created them with the precious gift of free will. As long as they used that free will responsibly, they enjoyed other blessings, such as freedom from fear, freedom from sickness, freedom from death, and the freedom to approach their heavenly Father with a clean conscience. But when they abused their free will, all of that changed.
7 Jehovah placed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, and for their enjoyment he gave them the fruit of all the trees of the garden—except one. That one he kept to himself; it was “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.” (Genesis 2:16, 17) By refraining from eating the fruit of that tree, Adam and Eve would acknowledge that only Jehovah was free to set the standard of what is good and bad. If they acted responsibly and refrained from eating the forbidden fruit, Jehovah would continue to ensure their other freedoms.
8 Sadly, Eve listened to the Serpent’s subtle suggestion that she should ‘know good and bad’ for herself. (Genesis 3:1-5) First she, and then Adam, ate of the forbidden fruit. As a result, when Jehovah God came to speak with them in the garden of Eden, they were ashamed and hid themselves. (Genesis 3:8, 9) They were now sinners who had lost the sense of freedom of approach to God that came from a clean conscience. Because of this, they also lost freedom from sickness and death, both for themselves and for their offspring. Paul said: “Through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.”—Romans 5:12; Genesis 3:16, 19.
9. Who are on record as having used well the measure of freedom they enjoyed?
9 Nevertheless, mankind still had free will, and in the course of time, some imperfect humans used this in a responsible way to serve Jehovah. The names of some of them have been preserved for us from antiquity. Men such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (also called Israel) are examples of individuals who used the measure of freedom they still enjoyed to do God’s will. And it went well with them as a result.—Hebrews 11:4-21.
The Freedom of God’s Chosen People
10. What were the terms of the covenant Jehovah made with his special people?
10 In the days of Moses, Jehovah liberated the sons of Israel—then numbering in the millions—from slavery in Egypt and made a covenant with them whereby they became his special people. Under this covenant, the Israelites had a priesthood and a system of animal sacrifices that covered their sins in a token way. Thus, they had freedom to approach God in worship. They also had a system of laws and regulations to keep them free from superstitious practices and false worship. Later, they would receive the Promised Land as an inheritance, with the assurance of divine help against their enemies. Their part of the covenant called on the Israelites to keep Jehovah’s Law. The Israelites willingly accepted this condition, saying: “All that Jehovah has spoken we are willing to do.”—Exodus 19:3-8; Deuteronomy 11:22-25.
11. What resulted when Israel failed to keep her side of the covenant with Jehovah?
11 For more than 1,500 years, the Israelites were in that special relationship with Jehovah. But time after time they failed to keep the covenant. Repeatedly they were seduced by false worship and came into bondage to idolatry and superstition, so God permitted them to be physically enslaved to their enemies. (Judges 2:11-19) Instead of enjoying the liberating blessings that came from keeping the covenant, they were punished because of transgressing it. (Deuteronomy 28:1, 2, 15) Eventually, in 607 B.C.E., Jehovah allowed the nation to become enslaved in Babylon.—2 Chronicles 36:15-21.
12. What eventually became evident regarding the Mosaic Law covenant?
12 This was a hard lesson. They should have learned from it the importance of keeping the Law. Nevertheless, when, after 70 years, the Israelites returned to their own land, they still failed to observe the Law covenant properly. Almost a hundred years after their return, Jehovah said to Israel’s priests: “You men—you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble in the law. You have ruined the covenant of Levi.” (Malachi 2:8) Indeed, even the most sincere among the Israelites could not measure up to the perfect Law. Instead of being a blessing, it became, in the words of the apostle Paul, “a curse.” (Galatians 3:13) Clearly, something more than the Mosaic Law covenant was needed to bring imperfect, faithful humans to the glorious freedom of the children of God.
The Nature of Christian Freedom
13. What better basis for freedom was eventually provided?
13 That something more was the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ. About the year 50 C.E., Paul wrote to the congregation of anointed Christians in Galatia. He described how Jehovah had freed them from slavery to the Law covenant and then said: “For such freedom Christ set us free. Therefore stand fast, and do not let yourselves be confined again in a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) In what ways did Jesus set men free?
14, 15. In what wonderful ways did Jesus set believing Jews and non-Jews free?
14 After Jesus’ death, Jews who accepted him as the Messiah and became his disciples came under a new covenant, which replaced the old Law covenant. (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:7-13) Under this new covenant, they—and non-Jewish believers who later joined them—became part of a new, spiritual nation that replaced fleshly Israel as God’s special people. (Romans 9:25, 26; Galatians 6:16) As such, they enjoyed the freedom that Jesus promised when he said: “The truth will set you free.” Apart from setting them free from the curse of the Law of Moses, the truth liberated Jewish Christians from all the onerous traditions that religious leaders had imposed upon them. And it released non-Jewish Christians from the idolatry and superstitions of their former worship. (Matthew 15:3, 6; 23:4; Acts 14:11-13; 17:16) And there was more.
15 Jesus, when speaking of the truth that sets free, said: “Most truly I say to you, Every doer of sin is a slave of sin.” (John 8:34) Since Adam and Eve sinned, every individual who ever lived has been a sinner and thus a slave of sin. The only exception was Jesus himself, and Jesus’ sacrifice released believers from that slavery. True, they were still imperfect and sinful by nature. Now, though, they could repent of their sins and beg forgiveness on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice, confident that their petitions would be heard. (1 John 2:1, 2) On the basis of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, God declared them righteous, and they could approach him with a cleansed conscience. (Romans 8:33) Moreover, since the ransom opened up the prospect of a resurrection to endless life, the truth even freed them from fear of death.—Matthew 10:28; Hebrews 2:15.
16. How was Christian freedom more inclusive than any freedom offered by the world?
16 In a wonderful way, Christian freedom was opened up to men and women no matter what their situation, humanly speaking. Poor people, prisoners, even slaves, could be free. On the other hand, the high ones of the nations who rejected the message about the Christ were still in slavery to superstition, sin, and the fear of death. We should never cease to thank Jehovah for this freedom that we enjoy. Nothing the world offers comes close to equaling it.
Free but Accountable
17. (a) How did some in the first century lose out on Christian freedom? (b) Why should we not be deceived by the seeming freedom in Satan’s world?
17 In the first century, likely the majority of anointed Christians rejoiced in their freedom and maintained their integrity whatever the cost. Sadly, though, some tasted Christian freedom with all its blessings and then spurned it, returning to slavery in the world. Why was that? The faith of many doubtless weakened, and they just ‘drifted away.’ (Hebrews 2:1) Others ‘thrust aside faith and a good conscience and experienced shipwreck concerning their faith.’ (1 Timothy 1:19) Perhaps they fell to materialism or an immoral life-style. How important that we guard our faith and build on it, keeping busy in personal study, association, prayer, and Christian activity! (2 Peter 1:5-8) May we never cease to appreciate Christian freedom! True, some may be tempted by the laxness they see outside the congregation, thinking that those in the world are freer than we are. Really, though, what looks like freedom in the world is usually just irresponsibility. If we are not slaves of God, we are slaves of sin, and that slavery pays a bitter wage.—Romans 6:23; Galatians 6:7, 8.
18-20. (a) How did some become “enemies of the torture stake”? (b) How did some ‘hold their freedom as a blind for badness’?
18 Further, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote: “There are many, I used to mention them often but now I mention them also with weeping, who are walking as the enemies of the torture stake of the Christ.” (Philippians 3:18) Yes, there were onetime Christians who became enemies of the faith, perhaps becoming apostates. How vital that we do not follow their course! In addition, Peter wrote: “Be as free people, and yet holding your freedom, not as a blind for badness, but as slaves of God.” (1 Peter 2:16) How may an individual hold his freedom as a blind for badness? By committing serious sins—perhaps secretly—while still associating with the congregation.
19 Remember Diotrephes. John said of him: “Diotrephes, who likes to have the first place [in the congregation], does not receive anything from us with respect. . . . Neither does he . . . receive the brothers with respect, and those who are wanting to receive them he tries to hinder and to throw out of the congregation.” (3 John 9, 10) Diotrephes used his freedom as a blind for his own selfish ambition.
20 The disciple Jude wrote: “Certain men have slipped in who have long ago been appointed by the Scriptures to this judgment, ungodly men, turning the undeserved kindness of our God into an excuse for loose conduct and proving false to our only Owner and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 4) While associating with the congregation, these individuals were a corrupting influence. (Jude 8-10, 16) In Revelation we read that in the Pergamum and Thyatira congregations, there was sectarianism, idolatry, and immorality. (Revelation 2:14, 15, 20-23) What a misuse of Christian freedom!
21. What awaits those who abuse their Christian freedom?
21 What awaits those who abuse their Christian freedom in this way? Remember what happened to Israel. Israel was God’s chosen nation, but Jehovah finally rejected her. Why? Because Israelites used their relationship with God as a blind for badness. They boasted that they were sons of Abraham but rejected Jesus, the Seed of Abraham and Jehovah’s chosen Messiah. (Matthew 23:37-39; John 8:39-47; Acts 2:36; Galatians 3:16) “The Israel of God” as a whole will not prove similarly unfaithful. (Galatians 6:16) But any individual Christian who causes spiritual or moral pollution will eventually face discipline, even adverse judgment. All of us are accountable for how we use our Christian freedom.
22. What joy comes to those who use their Christian freedom to slave for God?
22 How much better to slave for God and so be truly free. Only Jehovah grants the freedom that really counts. The proverb says: “Be wise, my son, and make my heart rejoice, that I may make a reply to him that is taunting me.” (Proverbs 27:11) Let us use our Christian freedom to Jehovah’s vindication. If we do so, our lives will have meaning, we will bring pleasure to our heavenly Father, and eventually we will be among those who enjoy the glorious freedom of the sons of God.
Can You Explain?
□ Who alone is truly free?
□ What freedoms did Adam and Eve enjoy, and why did they lose them?
□ What freedoms did the Israelites enjoy when they observed their covenant with Jehovah?
□ What freedoms came to those who accepted Jesus?
□ How did some in the first century lose or abuse their Christian freedom?
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The freedom Jesus gave was much better than any freedom man can grant