It is common for people to want to be free from all kinds of chains. In a sense, history can be summarised as repeated attempts for freedom from oppression, whether it be oppression connected to economic deprivation or social manipulation or national enslavement. To such people, Peter’s instruction in verse 16 will sound odd: ‘Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.’
Peter’s description of Christians is that they are free, which leads us to ask, ‘From what are they free?’ We need to ask this question because its answer will enable us to use our freedom correctly. They are free from several causes of slavery.
First, Christians have been set free from the penalty of sin. Every person is a sinner, and each of their sins has consequences. There is a day coming when every person who has not trusted in Jesus will stand at God’s judgement seat and receive the penalty that they deserve, which will be condemnation by the Judge who will pronounce the sentence of eternal punishment. Yet there is also a sense in which everyone is condemned already because each knows that they have broken God’s law. A thief who has been caught does not have to wait until he appears in court before finding out what will happen to him.
The way for escaping this condemnation, of becoming free from it, is by believing in Jesus, who has already paid the penalty for those who will trust in him. There on the cross he bore the punishment due to his people and made full payment for their sins. They enter into the state of pardon when they believe in Jesus.
Second, Christians have been set free from the power of sin. We can imagine a thief who has been pardoned but who then resumes his practice of stealing. The pardon in itself was not sufficient to change his way of behaviour. Those who trust in Jesus have not only been pardoned, they also are given power to live a different kind of life. This power is from the indwelling Holy Spirit, who enables them to deal with remaining sin in their hearts. Sometimes they can sense the power of indwelling sin and it makes them afraid. Yet they have to remember that they are no longer in bondage to the power of sin. They have been set free from it and are therefore able to live according to God’s revealed will.
Third, Christians are free from the opinions and notions of other humans regarding faith in God. A Christian cannot be compelled to believe something about his faith that is not found in the Bible.
Yet they have not been set free from all ownership. Although they are no longer the servants of sin, they have become the servants of God.
In what ways do we belong to God? Obviously we belong to him by creation – he is the one who has made each of us with our individual personalities. We belong to him by election, because in the mystery of his purpose he chose each of his people. And we belong to him by redemption – Jesus purchased us when he paid the penalty of our sins on the cross. Then we belong to him by regeneration because he came to us when we were dead in our sins and made us alive. Finally we belong to him by consecration, as Paul exhorts at the beginning of Romans 12 when he tells us to present ourselves as living sacrifices.