For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
I rarely what might be called “holiday posts,” with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas. With the division and chaos troubling the United States, this seemed an appropriate time to do otherwise and give us some reminders.
We Americans have long seen freedom largely as the right and ability to do what one wants. In somewhat of an extreme correction, some segments have defined freedom, however, as the right and ability to do what one should. This definition often rings true to people professing faith in Christ. The biblical perspective of freedom, however, differs from both of these.
Slaves vs. Sons
In the New Testament, we see several ideas of what it means to be free. We first turn to a well-known verse in John:
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 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’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31–36)
In this passage, Jesus is speaking of two types of freedom–or better yet, two results of true freedom. He speaks of both freedom from the enslaving power of sin and freedom to fully enjoy God as members of God’s family. All humanity is born enslaved to sin due to the sinful nature we inherited from Adam. Since there is no reforming the flesh through education, enlightenment, or psychological treatment, the only way to free us is to kill the sinful nature and remove it.
Because all are enslaved to sin, none is naturally a child of God. Note Jesus’ words on the difference between a son and a slave. A slave may (and often did) serve in the house, but at the end of the day, he or she had to return to the place where slaves dwelt. It is the children who “remain in the house forever.” In these comments, Jesus is saying that the freedom he offers is the freedom to enjoy God fully as his children (John 1:12-13)
Called to Liberty
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we find some of his strongest words on the subject of freedom. He writes:
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. . . . For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:1, 13)
In the context of Galatians 5, Paul is talking about freedom of conscience. We are free to live in the way that pleases God without condemnation of the law for failing to do so perfectly (Romans 8:1). This goes far beyond the typical, “free to do as we want/should” argument. This is the freedom to live according to who we are. Since the entire Trinity consists of three self-giving Persons who seek not their own but the good of the others, we also were created to seek the good of others rather than our own.
And we can live that way because the Son has truly set us free (John 8:36). We have a new heart and a new Spirit (Ezekiel 36:25-26). Paul’s words on freedom remind us that it’s okay that we aren’t perfect yet–we haven’t arrived. We are free to grow in love, holiness, and obedience without the law’s condemnation. Will we stumble along the way? Yes. But that is a far cry from not being able to do anything but sin.
We are no longer slaves but children of God. We were seated at his family table and invited to join in the Great Family. We all know what families look like here–loud, messy, joyful (and at times painful). God invites us to bring all of that as we learn to live out our new identity in Christ. That is true freedom, and living in a free country can never compare with that. Because that freedom can never be taken from us.
There is true freedom at the foot of the cross.