The meaning of freedom in the Christian life.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” --Galatians 5:1
What does it mean to be free? Are there requirements and expectations attached, or is it simply the given potential to do whatever we want, whenever we want? On the one hand, we can quickly and correctly define freedom as the absence of slavery. To be free is to be out from under the dehumanizing subjugation of another. But is freedom more than that? Is freedom more than simply the absence of something else?
Freedom is an idea cherished by Christians. When we consider what Christ accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection we might think of Romans 6:18, “having been set free from sin” or Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus.” To have a saving faith in Jesus Christ is to be free. But free from what? And are we freed for anything?
First, what are we freed from? As we just saw in Romans 6:18, we are freed from sin. But what does this mean? The Bible teaches that sin is not merely deeds and actions. Yes, there are sinful actions such as greed, lust, selfishness, and pride. But sin is also the primary disposition of the heart apart from a relationship with God. It is a posture that is turned away from God (Acts 3:19). This is a problem for mankind because the Bible teaches us that we were made to live in the presence of God. Before the fall, Eden was a paradise because God was there and Adam and Eve lived in his presence. God is man’s source of life (John 14:6), without him there is only death. So when Adam and Eve turned from God and towards sin, death entered into the world (Genesis 3).
To answer our first question—What does it mean to be free from sin?—it means to be free from death, darkness, and directionlessness. To be free from sin is to be restored to God’s presence, where we find abundant life and true freedom to live as he desires his creation to live.
Second, what are we freed for? After saying that we are set free by Christ, the Bible goes on to demonstrate, in part, what that means. In Galatians 5:6 we read, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” Let’s focus on the phrase, “faith working through love.”
When Paul says that “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything” what he is saying is that it is not by moral deeds or ethical earning that Christians try to become free men and women. We were in slavery to sin, and Christ paid the full price of our release from bondage. There is quite literally nothing left on the ledger for us to earn. Now we are freed from the works of the law in order that our faith might be worked out through the love we have received from God.
Romans 5:8 tells us that, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We are freed by faith in the love of God, and now that faith shows itself by working through love. If we are to ask ourselves, “What are we freed for?” we can answer, “To love.”
Jesus shows us what this means in John 14:15 when he says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In the Christian life, love and obedience go together. They go together because when our hearts understand the love God has lavished upon us, we can think of nothing better than to follow and obey him.
Lest there be any confusion, this love is not of our own creation. We neither create it, nor conjure it. Rather the love out of which we live is the love we have received. As 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.”
There is no more robust understanding of freedom than that which is given to us in Scripture. We are freed from sin and death. We are liberated for righteousness and life. This is the good life. This is the free life. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Rev. Will Stockdale is Ministry to State's Director of D.C. ministry.