By Francine Grace Tan, Class of ’19
I wept the first time I watched Disney’s Aladdin, when I heard Aladdin tell the Genie, “You’re free.” It was incredibly moving to see the Genie’s reaction as the shackles fell off his wrists and he gazed at the lamp in his hands that once held him captive. For the first time, he experienced life outside of bondage. With all the Genie’s power, no matter how he tried, he was powerless to free himself. He needed the master to come and declare over his life, “Genie, you’re free.” If you’re rusty on your Disney movies, the climax of Aladdin shows the villain, Jafar, succumbing to the tempting allure of power—the longing to be God—and in doing so choosing the chains of captivity, just like Adam and Eve. As their descendants, we were born into the same slavery, held prisoner by sin and death, and each of us has chosen to exchange the glory of our Creator for something He created—namely ourselves.
At its core, sin is an issue of worship. It is falling short of the glory of God, replacing the ever glorious One with something far-less than (Romans 3:23). One of the greatest lies that we tell ourselves is “I’m a good person”. We continue to place ourselves at the center of our own affections and worship anything else but God Himself. Look at Isaiah. He was a prophet, the mouthpiece of the living God. Isaiah was about as righteous as you could get, but in Isaiah 6, when he stands in the presence of the holy God, he fell down to his face and wept, “Woe is me!” because the chasm of God’s holiness and his sin is far too great for him to bear. The bible tells us that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:11-12). Another lie that we tell ourselves is that surely God must allow some lenience; He can’t possibly condemn us to hell. However, the Bible warns us that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he will be thrown into the lake of fire for eternity (Revelation 20:15).
The truth is we are all dead in our trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1). Any righteousness we could earn for ourselves through good works isn’t really righteousness at all. All our “holiness” counts for nothing when we stand before an infinitely holy God. You and I are plagued by our own demons, and the sins we carry can make us feel tormented, shackled and powerless. Perhaps you’re experiencing an inescapable guilt from past failures, or debilitating condemnation over the habitual sins that you’re struggling with even now. Maybe you have been sinned against and cannot move on from bitterness into forgiveness. Maybe you can’t stop comparing yourself to others and as a result, you feel that you will never be good enough by your own standard. In many ways, you are like the Genie, desperate to escape but unable to set yourself free by you own accord. This is why we all need imputed righteousness and holiness to be given freely to us. We need the liberating King to say, “You’re free.”
We need a miracle. We need a Savior who is able to set us free, not someone who is bonded to the tyranny of sin as we are. God cannot merely ignore our sins. That would be unjust. Instead, He justly forgives every sin in the most remarkable way—by nailing it to the cross of Christ. God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:4-10). God made Christ who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). God who is our Master sets us free through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Although we are more sinful than we dare believe; yet at the same time we are more loved than we dare hope.
This is the good news we as Christians boldly proclaim. Our salvation from the bondage of sin is not in anything that we can bring to the table, but solely based on the person and the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus assured us that if the Son sets you free; you will be free indeed (John 8:34-36). God does not call us to do better and try harder. Rather, the Savior beckons us to rest in His finished work on the cross and to worship all that He has accomplished for us. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” He meant it (John 19:30). Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us (Romans 8:1-4).
Likewise, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Essentially, Jesus is saying “I am here to set you free from the tyranny of sin and whoever believes in Me will have eternal life” (1 John 5:11-12). Jesus Christ is our only way out of bondage and into freedom. Nonetheless it isn’t freedom to do whatever we want, but to live a Christ-centered life. This is because our sinfulness, which is worse than we think, is paid for at an infinite cost. For freedom Christ has set us free; therefore let us stand firm, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).
This free blood-bought gift of grace overflows from the heart of God and when we receive this gift of grace, we are adopted as His children and we can now enter into a perfect relationship with God. Jesus said, “I have come to give you life and life in abundance” (John 10:10). In and through the person of Jesus Christ, we discover meaning, joy and purpose in life, and most importantly the gift of an incomparable salvation. If you have yet to receive Jesus Christ as your Savior, I urge you to reflect upon this free gift of salvation that God delights to give you. He wants to love you. He wants to value you. God demonstrates His own love for you in this: while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you (Romans 5:8). The liberating King has come to set you free and give you eternal life. The Bible says, “If you confess with you mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Truly, the assurance of salvation is the uniqueness of the Judeo-Christian worldview: Jesus’s starting point is every other religion’s finishing point.
However, to my brothers and sisters in Christ, I hope you’ll continue to rehearse the truth of Christ’s atoning work in your prayers and meditation and remind yourself of your greatest identify: you are an adopted child of God, not because you earned it, but because Christ died on the cross for your sins. The Scottish pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” Your life is not your own. Christ was broken so that you might be made into a new creation. Your hands weren’t made for sin, but rather to raise in worship. Your eyes weren’t made for lust, but rather to gaze upon the power and glory of God. Your heart wasn’t made to love anything else but the object of love—God Himself. As apostle Paul exhorted Timothy, “Flee from these [evil] things, pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:11-12). Since we have been justified by the sacrifice of Christ, we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling until the time of glorification in the future (Philippians 2:12).
But when you fail, because you will, run to Christ, confess your sins, fight them and know that God will cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). You can fight your sins and have victory in this battle because Christ has already conquered sin and death and is alive forevermore (1 Corinthians 15:56-57). One of my favorite hymns “Before the Throne of God Above” by Charitie Lees Smith reflects this incredibly freeing truth:
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.
Let the splendor of the Gospel wash over you. Worship is the only fitting response when you see what God did to crush the weight of sin—out of love, He put to death His own son Jesus Christ at the cross. We ought to continue to bring our sins to light by the conviction of the Holy Spirit and dethrone all idols so that we can exalt the one true God to His rightful place upon the throne of our hearts.
Since Jesus our Risen King conquered death for our sake, how can we turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves we want to be once more? (Galatians 4:8). By grace and grace alone, we are set free. Let us not fall back into the captive of sin.