If the Apostle Paul held anything dear, it was the fact that Jesus had set him free, and he wanted Christians to recognize their own freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:1). When the Spirit had him write to the church a Corinth a second time, Paul picked up again on the theme of freedom Christ. He treasured it, and he wished that people everywhere would treasure it. God desires today that we would treasure the freedom we have in Christ, to rest in it, to be assured of it, and to walk rightly in it.
I am convinced Christians aren’t quite sure what to do with their freedom. What are we free from? And what does it mean to be free?
The verse from 2 Corinthians 3 is part of a larger passage and much larger concept than I’m going to deal with here today. I do, however, want to hit the high points and give a few observations.
By freedom Paul is talking about freedom from the Mosaic law. If you’re like me, you’ve heard 2 Corinthians 3:17 used time and time again to mostly justify behaviors in worship services: “Go ahead, jump and shout for where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty!” This may be true to an extent, but that’s not what Paul had in mind when speaking to the Corinthians. (Go to 1 Corinthians if you want directives for church gatherings.)
If we look at this verse in context, which is essential to understanding what Paul’s trying to convey, we’ll see it is part of a lengthier discussion on the New Covenant. Paul says in no uncertain terms that the Old Covenant (i.e., the Mosaic law), though having glory, because it is, after all, God’s Word, was still unable to make a person right with God. He describes it as a “ministry of condemnation” (3:9).
The Mosaic law, in particular that which is summarized in the Ten Commandments, was never given with the intent that it would or could make humans right with God. The commandments were given to show in human terms God’s expectation for righteousness, and just how far from God’s standard we are.
Paul also explained that, for those outside of Christ who is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30), the law was insufficient to make one spiritually alive (3:6). Those who do not know Jesus are essentially blind (3:16).
Therefore, the picture Paul paints is of those who are under the law (unbelievers) as hopeless, blind, condemned, and dead.
But, for the Christian, the bounds of the law are broken, we have been set free! We no longer have need of a set of rules written in stone or regulations to motivate and govern our righteousness as it extends to every aspect of our lives (Galatians 3:24-25), because Christ has fulfilled all these in himself (Romans 10:4; Matthew 5:17).
In Christ, we are now free to love and serve him without fear of punishment or motivation of reward: “For the love of Christ controls [motivates, guides, compels] us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). Paul’s only warning is that we not use our freedom from the law to become self-serving and to justify sin (Galatians 5:13).
If God’s Spirit dwells within you, you are filled and constrained by the Spirit of Christ and your new found love for him. Sin no longer reigns in your mortal body (Romans 6:11-12). His law is written on your hearts, you have no need for the law written on tablets of stone (3:3). They are glorious, as Paul said, but they did not save you, nor do they guide you any longer. You are sinning by attempting to place yourself back under the law (Galatians 2:18).