30 “Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. 31 And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” (Acts 26:30–32 (ESV)
Freedom is a much discussed and debated topic; especially in the United States of America where personal freedom is prized by all but sought to be restricted by some. Many people define freedom as their personal sovereignty with no restrictions. It means to do whatever you want to do, no matter who it hurts.
However, true freedom is liberty, independence, and the ability to make responsible choices. With this definition of freedom, we see that it means living responsibly and doing what you ought to do rather than doing only what you want to do.
Within the context of Acts 22-26, Paul was in the custody of the Roman government. He was their prisoner. He was in jail. Politically, lawfully, and technically he was not free. Yet, the incarcerated apostle was freer than the Jews, the Roman Governors Felix and Festus, along with King Agrippa II, his sister Bernice and the Roman garrisons in Jerusalem and Caesarea.
Paul’s freedom was not that he was able to go where, and when he wanted. His freedom was true liberty in Christ. Christ had set Saul of Tarsus free from the penalty, power and eventual presence of sin. This was what Paul repeatedly proclaimed to his captors in this context.
John 8:31–38 says, “31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
New birth in Jesus Christ (regeneration) is the work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:1-8). It is accomplished on the basis of the virgin birth, sinless life, substitutionary death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus did not speak of political freedom to the Jews, and neither did Paul to his audiences. True freedom is serving the LORD and not serving sin.
When King Agrippa II said to Governor Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar,” he was speaking in political, lawful and technical terms. What Agrippa did not understand was that Paul was freer than the king could ever hope to be.
Galatians 5:1 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Freedom in Christ is not seeking justification before God on the basis of one’s good works. Rather, it is resting in the finished work of Jesus Christ. All efforts contrary to the person and work of Christ results in personal and eternal bondage. May each of us know the freedom which is found in Jesus Christ alone, by grace alone through faith alone.
Soli deo Gloria!