Christian Freedom

Galatians 5:13, Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

I’ve been dreading this day for a while now, but July 5th is my last day here at St. Paul, just one day after Independence Day. So, I thought it apropos that I leave you all with words on our Christian freedom.

As American patriots, freedom is our highest value. The bald eagle is our icon for freedom. Yet what does it mean to be free? Lack of slavery? That is, forced subjugation and labour to a tyrannical authority? The ability to do whatever we want, when we want? The ability to do as our conscience allows without the hindrance of an opposing force? America is arguably the freest nation in the world; I fought for our country to preserve that very ideal. Yet there are some who question whether we’re truly free since we still have to obey laws.

So, what does Paul’s “freedom” mean here? For this, we need context. Earlier, he wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1). Christ has set us free from what? Is he talking of a political freedom from slavery or a spiritual freedom from slavery? For this, we need even more context. The theme of Galatians is Paul’s contrast between works and faith, so it is one of spiritual slavery. Before faith came, Paul says, “we were held captive under the law” of God (3:23). In other words, we were enslaved to the Law to do the work of the Law in order to earn a reconiled status with God.

But no more. “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian [the Law], for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith' (3:25-26).  And this faith is for everyone regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or gender (3:29).  By faith in Christ, we have been set free from the works of the Law and are now free to live as holy creatures.

As Paul continues his theology on Christian freedom, he comes to say we should not

use this freedom from the Law as an excuse to sin, or “as an opportunity for the flesh.” This means that licentiousness—the licence to sin—is not permitted. Christian freedom does not mean we have freedom to sin, but freedom from sin; therefore, we are free to love and serve one another. If our liberation in Christ meant we are free to sin however we want, would that not render His death and resurrection meaningless? For Christ died to set us free from sin, not free to continue living with what once enslaved us without conscience and regret, like we’re spiritual psychopaths or something.

Contrary to popular belief, freedom comes with boundaries. And there must be—at least on this side of the eschaton—because as sinners, we are bound to hurt one another. Because of our inclination to hurt one another, it is necessary that government is established to produce laws that help prevent us from hurting one another and to punish those who do hurt others (cf. Romans 13:1-7). In America, we are free to live to our heart’s desires—or as the Constitution says, the right to the pursuit of happiness—but even this right comes with boundaries.

In America, we have the right to pursue happiness—whatever this may mean for someone—without prevention from the government, but not to the extent that we prohibit good living for others and neither does it promise the government needs to make it happen. This right is basically a derivative of the second table of the Ten Commandments (commandments 4-10).

In the same way, freedom from sin does not mean we are free to live in sin without regret. Although we are free from sin, as Christians we still live with boundaries—that is, not to sin. In other words, being free from the Law does not mean we no longer have to obey it; being free from the Law means we are free from obeying it for the purpose of becoming right with God. You have been made right with God already (reconciled, justified) by faith in Christ, whose death and resurrection has set you free from the Law. Now that you are free from the Law, you are free to do its work not to earn God’s favour since Christ has already done that for you on your behalf, but for the love of your neighbour who needs your good works, which the Law tells you how to do this. 

In Christ,

Vicar Ricky


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