October 1, 2015

Experience True Freedom

What does freedom look like to you? The word freedom means different things to different people. Those of us who live in the United States of America celebrate freedom on July 4, looking back to that date in 1776, when the founding fathers of our country declared the thirteen colonies to be independent of the British crown. They deemed their new nation to be self-governing, and felt God had endowed them with that right, viewing independence from British rule as freedom.

Free from religious oppression

Freedom was a deeply appreciated blessing to the Chris Botofan family when they arrived here in Portland, Oregon, on July 5, 1979, and stepped into an Apostolic Faith camp meeting which was in progress. To them, freedom looked like liberty from the oppression they had felt in Communist Romania until just a few months earlier when they immigrated to America. They had a view of freedom which those of us who have not lived under that type of regime perhaps cannot fully appreciate.

Brother Chris was fulfilling a dream that had originated forty years before when someone showed him a Light of Hope paper published by this church which included a photo of the sign, “Jesus, The Light of The World.” After immigrating to this country, the family stayed briefly in Chicago, Illinois. From there, Brother Chris took a flight to Portland where he saw the sign he had seen in the picture so many years earlier. He determined to bring his family here, so he and his wife and seven children set out from Chicago in a yellow 1973 Pontiac station wagon filled with all of their belongings.

When the Botofans stopped at rest areas, they found that coffee was available for free. When people met this big family that could not speak English, they would offer them meals for free. When their car broke down, they pulled into a garage to have it fixed and the mechanic refused to charge them. There was a hotel nearby, where they were given a stay without cost and were fed for free. They thought to themselves: We like America. Everything is free!

When the Botofans arrived at camp meeting, they found many hundreds of people gathering together in church services. In Romania, worship was strictly regulated. If church services were allowed at all, they were permitted only once or twice a week, and that under government control. At the camp meeting there were three services a day. Christians did not have to meet in secret; they could assemble openly, without fear of reprisal. The preachers did not need government permission to declare the Gospel. They were free!

Free yet not truly free

In the years to come, other Eastern European families came to worship with us in Portland, and to this day many of them remain in our church and enjoy the freedoms of the United States of America. Like them, we appreciate the rights and privileges we have here, including the blessing of freedom to worship. However, it is possible to live in a free nation and still not be truly free.

Recently two prisoners who escaped from a maximum security institution in New York State were in the news. The inmates were able to cut through the walls of their cells, cross a catwalk to a network of utility tunnels, and cut into a pipe leading to a manhole outside the facility’s walls. Can you imagine how those men must have schemed and planned to make that happen? They had one thing on their minds: escape to freedom! As they crawled four hundred feet through the pipe and approached the manhole cover, adrenalin would have been flowing. No doubt they thought, We’ve almost made it! We’re almost free! However, their joy was short-lived. As soon as they crawled out, they began to encounter problems. Their get-away vehicle was not waiting for them, and before long they were on the run. They were “free” for a number of days, but their attempt did not end well. While these two convicts viewed escape from confinement as freedom, what they experienced was not true freedom.

Paul and Silas were captives in prison but in reality were free. Their jailer, who thought he was free, was in reality a captive. 

In the sixteenth chapter of Acts, we find an account in which two men of God, Paul and Silas, were captives in prison but in reality were free. Their jailer, who thought he was free, was in reality a captive. Paul and Silas spoke the words which resulted in the jailer finding true freedom, telling him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:30). True freedom is having deliverance from sin and a relationship with God that brings peace in the midst of life’s darkest hour.

If you would have asked the jailer that morning, “What does freedom look like?” he would have told you that freedom looks like a man being in charge of captives. Perhaps he would have said of the prisoners, “They are in the inner prison, and their feet are in stocks. They are confined; they can’t come and go as they please. I can!” However, the jailer was also in prison. He was a captive—he just did not know it.

If you would have asked Paul and Silas, “What does freedom look like?” their answer would have been quite different from that of the jailer. They had cast an evil spirit of divination out of a woman, and for that they had been taken before the magistrates, beaten, and thrown into prison. Their backs were bleeding and their feet were held fast in stocks. What does freedom look like in that dismal situation? Paul and Silas were praying and singing praises unto God! They had peace, they had victory. That is what true freedom looks like!

Freedom from sin

At midnight, as Paul and Silas sang, a great earthquake occurred. The foundations of the prison were shaken, the doors were opened, and all the prisoners’ shackles fell off. The jailer knew that his future was in jeopardy. If the prisoners went free, he would pay with his life, so he drew his sword to kill himself. However, Paul called to him in a loud voice, saying, “Do thyself no harm . . .”

Silas could have added, “Mr. Jailer, can’t you see that sin is harming you? You are captive to it. You need to be freed from it, and that is what salvation does.

Sin harms. It destroys. Some people are reluctant to surrender their hearts to Jesus because they think He will upset their lives. That is true! He will turn their lives completely around. However, Jesus did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them. Paul and Silas could have added, “Mr. Jailer, can’t you see that sin is harming you? You are captive to it. You need to be freed from it, and that is what salvation does. It unshackles you!”

Although those were not the words they used, they did tell him what to do. When the jailer fell on his knees before Paul and Silas and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” the two men responded and “spake unto him the word of the Lord.” We read that the jailer “took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house” (Acts 16:31-34).

Salvation makes a change. When the jailer cast Paul and Silas into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks, we have no indication that he was polite and gentle. He probably had no interest in the Christ that the two men of God served. However, when he was facing death because he assumed his prisoners had escaped, everything changed. He knelt before them, pleading for help.

Like the jailer, we need to surrender our hearts to the Lord. The Bible says he who seeks to save his life shall lose it, but the one who loses his life for Christ’s sake shall save it. We must put our lives wholly in the hands of Jesus, not questioning or debating. A drowning person does not negotiate with the one who is trying to save him. He is out there being tossed about in the waves, knowing his life is about over. When someone throws him a rope, he does not say, “I really don’t like that rope. I want a different colored rope!” No, he frantically reaches for the lifeline that offers hope. He wants to be saved!

Those who are unsaved are facing a situation that is far more grave than physical death. They are facing a lost eternity. Anyone in an unsaved condition today ought to be frantically reaching for the lifeline that Christ offers. The cry should be, “Lord, help me! I want to be saved. I want to be free.” You can be. Salvation is available.

A blessing to others

Paul and Silas told the jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” The same action is required of us. Like the jailer, we will find that the decision to yield to God will not only benefit us, it will benefit others. We will learn what deliverance and freedom are, and it will benefit our household and associates as well.

I picture the jailer as being a cantankerous man prior to his conversion. When he left for work that day, his wife may have been happy that he was leaving and not anxious to see him return. Perhaps his children would cower when their father was around and were also relieved when he left. They were not expecting what they saw when the jailer came home that night. He had changed, and he brought company. He must have walked in with a smile on his face and an apology on his lips to his wife and children, and making a declaration that things were going to be different from then on. Something had happened to him at the jailhouse! Jesus had saved his soul and he was a new creature. We can make those assumptions because it is clear that the rugged old jailer became a compassionate nurse to Paul and Silas. He washed the blood from their backs and set food before them. Paul and Silas delivered the Gospel message to the jailer’s household, and before the night was over, they were all saved and water baptized.

Salvation changes you for the better. The word “saved” in this passage is translated elsewhere in the New Testament as “made whole.” So the jailer’s words could be translated, “What must I do to be made whole?” Salvation speaks to the condition of the soul. Physically, you may be young and strong and healthy or you may be older and frail. Either way, salvation will make you whole and complete. It will remove the disease and corruption of sin and make you what you ought to be. It will make you what you want to be but cannot be without the help of the Lord.

Salvation brings freedom from sin. The jailer who had left his home and gone to the jail a captive left the same jail a free man. That can be your testimony as well! You do not have to live in defeat and condemnation, and go to bed at night with a guilty conscience wondering, Why do I live the way I do? You can be saved. You can be free! The Bible says that whom the Son of Man sets free is free indeed (see John 8:36).

Freedom is a clear conscience. Freedom is peace with God. Freedom is having no fear of death or eternity. Freedom is knowing that Heaven with its streets of gold is just ahead.

What does freedom look like? It looks like two men who were able to sing praises to God in spite of having bleeding backs and their feet in the stocks. It looks like a liberated jailer—a transformed jailer. It looks like a happy family who were impacted by the change in the jailer. Freedom is a clear conscience. Freedom is peace with God. Freedom is having no fear of death or eternity. Freedom is knowing that Heaven with its streets of gold is just ahead. Freedom is the hope of seeing those loved ones who have gone on before. Freedom is looking forward to the Rapture—that moment when we will lose gravitation, and rise to meet our Lord in the air. Freedom is exchanging these old corruptible bodies for new incorruptible ones. Freedom is eternity with our Lord and Savior.

Freedom can be yours today!

apostolic faith magazine