Question: "Why is there liberty where the Spirit of the Lord is (2 Corinthians 3:17)?"
Answer: For many citizens, liberty is as cherished as life itself, prompting the American revolutionary Patrick Henry to declare, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” The apostle Paul said, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17, NKJV). He was likely drawing a connection to Jesus Christ’s words at the start of His ministry when He opened the scroll of Isaiah and read this:
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD” (Luke 4:18–19, NKJV; cf. Isaiah 61:1–2).
The Greek word translated “liberty” in 2 Corinthians 3:17 means “personal freedom from servitude, confinement, or oppression.” Jesus came to set us free spiritually. To the children of God, Christ says, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). When a person receives Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the Spirit of the Lord takes up residence in that individual (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 12:13; 2 Corinthians 3:18). Believers are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13–14) and made alive by the Spirit of the Living God (2 Corinthians 3:3, 6).
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty because those who are in Christ—those born of God’s Spirit (John 3:5–6)—are freed from the law of sin and death (Galatians 4:3–7). Paul told the Romans, “And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death” (Romans 8:2, NLT; see also Romans 7:4–5). “We have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit” (Romans 7:6, NLT).
Liberty and freedom are words Paul often used to sum up the experience of salvation in Christ. He said Christians no longer live in bondage as slaves to sin: “Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace” (Romans 6:14, NLT). Paul warned believers not to fall back into slavery to the law: “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law” (Galatians 5:1, NLT).
In Jesus Christ, believers are set free from the guilt, influence, and punishment of sin (Romans 8:1–6). Jesus is “the truth” (John 14:6), and He told His hearers who believed in Him, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32, NLT).
The biblical concept of liberty is quite different from the world’s idea of freedom. Christian liberty is not the worldly freedom to do whatever we want. Such freedom inevitably leads to another kind of slavery—that of serving our own passions and lusts (see 2 Peter 2:19). But where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is the liberty to deny the flesh and our own selfish desires for the purpose of obeying God, pleasing Him, and bringing glory to His name (Romans 6:16–18; 1 Corinthians 7:22–23).
The ultimate liberty is freedom from death through the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ (John 17:2–3; 1 John 5:11–12). Believers can live free from the fear of death and the sting of death because our Lord Jesus Christ gives us victory over these foes (1 Corinthians 15:53–57).
Before we received the Spirit of the Lord, our lives were characterized by servitude to sin, the law, and death. Now that we are alive in Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit, we have a new life (2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 6:4). We are set free to serve God in the fullest sense of liberation. One game-changing, life-transforming aspect of our spiritual freedom is knowing that this present world is not our real home (Hebrews 11:13; 13:14; Philippians 3:20; 1 Peter 2:11; 1 John 2:15–17). There is liberty where the Spirit of the Lord is because, as God’s children, we live with the future expectation of glory. We have God’s promise of freedom from death and decay in our eternal heavenly home (Romans 8:21).