Quick review of Unchained by Noel Jesse Heikkinen

Freedom in Christ is a tricky, tricky, tricky subject to get right. Christians believe (actually, Jesus taught) that holiness and obedience are crucial to the faith (John 14:15). But what is obedience? Obedience to what? What happens if we disobey?

How does God feel toward Christians when we break His commands?

The same as He felt toward Jesus when He obeyed perfectly. Yes, really.

See? It’s tricky.

Which is why I am so excited about Noel Heikkinen’s new book, Unchained. Now, I like to claim Noel as a friend (as do thousands of others.)  He’s a long-time acquaintance through Reliant (formerly Great Commission Ministries) – with whom I was on supported missions staff for a few years after college. I was excited for him when I heard he was writing a book, and I’m excited for the church now that I’ve read it.

Noel will be accused of being antinomian. He will be accused of overemphasizing grace and deemphasizing obedience and holiness. I’m excited for him. :) To his accusers, I’d just say read the book more carefully.

Two things stuck with me after I read through it. I’m going to steal these for future sermons and counseling sessions.

  • Does being set free mean it is now okay to sin? (In other words, we’re not really free, are we? We’re not free to sin!). The answer Noel lines up is brilliant: “The unspoken logic behind the question goes something like this: if I am truly set free, the best use of my freedom is to sin. By asking the question, we betray that the thing we want most is to sin without consequence.” The problem with the question is the heart behind it. This is Romans 6 in a nutshell.
  • “Go on a do hunt.” – When thinking about obedience to the scriptures, we usually think of all the “don’ts” we’re supposed to avoid. Noel’s advice is to focus on the “dos” – in so doing, the don’ts take care of themselves. Rather than focusing on avoidance of sexual immorality, see 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 (don’t have sex outside of marriage, don’t look at pornography, etc) – focus on verse 20 “So glorify God in your body.”

A quick overview of the contents:

Wrong Definition of Freedom

There are two ways we get the idea of freedom wrong (typified by the traditional labels of “legalism” and “license”) – A Christians can have that faulty idea that we are now “free to obey” God, and then strap ourselves into slavery to a works-based righteousness. (See Galatians). The problem here is that at root we want to be able to control and measure our spirituality and our relationship with God. We want to earn it and deserve it, so we come up with spiritual activities that help us measure how well we’re doing, and by extension, how God feels about us. This is an unbiblical idea. God feels about us the way He feels about His son Jesus, because God is judging us according to Jesus’s performance, not ours.

The other direction we can go wrong is to have the world’s definition of freedom: being left alone to do whatever we want. In other words, we confuse the idea of freedom with autonomy (self-rule). The Bible points out that being left to ourselves and our own rules and our own way of thinking is actually bondage, not freedom. (See Ephesians 2:1-3).  A biblical definition of freedom is what Noel spends the rest of the book unpacking. And he does it well.

Set Free From

We have been set free from The Law. (Noel does an excellent job talking about the relevance and purpose of the Mosaic law here). We have been set free from religion (that is, performance-based standing before God.) Noel moved me to tears in this section in a story about he and his dad during Noel’s freshman year of college. We have been set free from sin: we are no longer condemned, even when we do sin. (See my first takeaway bullet above.)

Set Free For

We have been set free for freedom from guilt and shame, and we have been set free to say yes. In his trickiest section, Noel talks about how we are set free to obey. He threads a delicate needle here. One of my favorite quotes from the book is in this section: “the real threat to our faith is when we actually succeed in obeying.” Our obedience is in essence saying yes to Jesus. That we are now His friends and followers and are trying to be like him. It is not a measure of our fruitfulness, or even necessarily our maturity. You will struggle with this concept. This chapter is why you need this book.

Set Free To

We have been set free to love and set free to live free. Noel walks through 1 Corinthians 13 and Galatians 3 to talk through what the life of a person who has been set free looks like. Namely, it looks like love, humility, joy, and gratefulness.

Some problems with the book.

Noel is a recovering hypocrite. He also has no academic pedigree. He probably leans antinomian. I’m pretty sure he’s a sinner. Other people have probably written better books than this guy. He has a lot to learn, and will probably receive some flack for this book which he can learn from. There are imbalances in the book that could probably use some clarification or expansion or balancing.

At least, these are the things he says about himself in the book.

I love Noel. I’m proud to have made his acquaintance over the years. I like to drop his name in conversation when I can. I’m a Noel fan. I was excited that he was writing a book and I was going to recommend it because hey, he’s Noel. But this is a seriously good read on its own merit. It will help you. Get it.


Required disclosure: I was graciously provided a copy of this book for review purposes by Litfuse group as part of their promotional campaign. But I’ll tell you, I pulled some strings to get it. If you want it, you may have it. I’m going to buy an extra copy to support the sales of the book, and I’d urge you to do the same. The link to purchase the book through Amazon above is an affiliate link.