Hartog_inlineThe relationship of Christians to the Law—whether it is conceived of as the Mosaic Law or the moral law of God—is a sticky theological issue. Sounding a note of optimism and grace, Paul Hartog kicked off Tuesday morning’s conference session with a message titled “Union with Christ: Our Freedom.”

“Freedom is a powerful word. Wars are waged for it. Revolutions are staged for it. Lives are lost for it. We are told that freedom is not free,” Hartog says. For the Christian, of course, freedom from the Law—and freedom from sin, for that matter—was not free; indeed, it was purchased with the highest conceivable price, the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. “But many do not naturally think that freedom and religion go in the same sentence,” Hartog reminds us. “To them it shackles, it entombs, and it enslaves.” This negative assessment, so often fueled and fanned by overbearing legalists, is the result of a Law-centered approach to religious duty and spirituality. (Hartog refers to this as “running [oneself] ragged on the hamster wheel of religious performance.”)

But the New Testament renounces such an approach unambiguously and in the most forceful possible terms. The apostle Paul wrote to Galatians, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). “Logically, the order cannot be both we are loved and fully accepted by God, therefore we live righteously, and also, we live righteously and therefore we are loved and fully accepted by God,” Hartog notes. He locates the source of this newfound freedom from the Law in our organic union with Christ: “Christ has fulfilled the Law’s demands. I died with Him! Therefore I am free from the Law. You were co-crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20) because of your union with Christ at Calvary.” In light of this truth, Hartog challenges believers not to envision three silhouetted crosses jutting up from Golgotha’s rocky ground, but four crosses: one for Christ, two for the co-crucified criminals, and one for the believer himself.

Of course, such a strong message of liberation from the Law’s demands is likely to invite a major criticism: doesn’t this lead to antinomianism and moral anarchy? Hartog says no, because love for Christ transforms the believer’s innermost desires and motivates him to a righteous lifestyle freely. “Consider a young man growing up in your household. You constantly have to remind him, ‘Comb your hair! Brush your teeth! Wash your face! Put on your deodorant!’ You feel like you’re beating him down with a law,” Hartog says by way of illustration. But then, what happens when a special young lady comes into the young man’s life? Suddenly the necessity of compulsion evaporates. He starts doing all the things he is supposed to do, but now he does so voluntarily. It is much the same with the Christian. “We need to have our desires changed,” Hartog says. “True freedom is doing what we ought to do because we love to do it.” Thus the law principle is abrogated, the believer is freed to live a life of righteousness through the empowerment of the Spirit, and God gets all the glory.

Paul Hartog is vice president for academic services and dean of Faith Baptist Bible College and an active member of Maranatha Baptist Church, Grimes, Iowa.

Hear the sermon audio below: