CHRIST the LIBERATOR – Freedom for What?
If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed…John 8:36
In the letter to Galatians, the apostle Paul focuses on Christ as the Liberator. Thus, he starts chapter 5 with the amazing words: For FREEDOM Christ has set us free…!
This is an amazing and soul-catching statement. Who does not want freedom?It seems that everybody is interested in this overused word. Capitalists talk about free enterprise, communists about the freeing of the proletariat, businessmen about free trade, young men about free love etc. Obviously – there are many types of freedoms, and different people mean different things when they use this word. I get the feeling that my baby Isaiah’s idea of freedom is to run around without any clothes (since on Sunday morning I have to hold him down while my wife dresses himJ).
In this context it is important to ask ourselves about the type of freedom that Christ brought. What has he freed us from? It is a very important question, because if we do not understand and know what we have to be freed from, we won’t know what we are freed for.
In his book Why I Am a Christian – John Stott gives the following as one of his reasons: I have found Jesus Christ to be the KEY to FREEDOM… And freedom and salvation are almost equivalent terms. When we are being freed from something, we are also being saved. What is Christ freeing/saving us from?
The answer is found in the 3 tenses of salvation, and the following sketch should be useful for our understanding:
1) I have been saved (or freed) in the past from the penalty of sin and guilt by a Crucified Savior.
2) I am being saved (or freed) in the present from the power of sin by a Living Savior (sanctification).
3) I shall be saved (or freed) in the future from the presence of sin by the Coming Savior (glorification).
We can say that we have been saved frees us from quilt, and the struggle to keep the law in order to be accepted by God. We also know that “there is no condemnation” for those who are in Christ. “The fact that we are being saved frees us from the bondage to sin = our own self-centeredness. And in the fact that we shall be saved frees us from all FEAR about the future (see Gal 5:5).
It is great to celebrate this Christmas the coming of our Liberator and Savior Jesus Christ.
He has freed us and is freeing us from the power of sin and death. And he is freeing us to love (Gal 5:13): 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.
In true Christianity the freedom that counts, is the freedom in which “faith works through love” (Gal 5:5). We were not freed to loaf around, rather we were freed to serve, and to do that with love.
Perhaps the most famous exposition of this paradox is by Luther. In his treatise on Christian liberty he says:
A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.
He goes on to explain that we are freed from works (we do not need them for salvation), sin, the law, and “harm from all things.” And our freedom is to be voluntary servants to God and other men motivated by love for God. Thus, Christians should do good works, follow the law, and serve other humans.
We are being freed from sin and its consequences to work/serve in love. This is where the true Christian, and the true human really lives. If we do not understand this, we do not understand why Christ came on earth. We were made for love – for loving God and our neighbor (see the teaching of our Savior in Mt 22:37-39).
Robert Southwell (16th cent poet) phrases this concept in poetry:
Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live.
Thus “the soul lives when it loves. An authentically human existence is impossible without love.” Thus, “freedom is the exact opposite of what most people think it is…It is liberation from a preoccupation with my silly little self in order to be free to love God and neighbor.”
It is not freedom to indulge the flesh – but rather to control it (see Gal 5).
It is not freedom to exploit the neighbor – but rather to serve him.
It is not freedom to disregard the law – but rather to fulfill it.
If we do not know and understand what we need to be freed from, we will not get right what we are freed for. A sad, but relevant example comes from the life of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. At the beginning of his most influential work The Social Contract we find his famous line, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”
For Rousseau, freedom meant liberation from the forms and institutions of society: family, church, class, and local community.
Nothing could be more wrong and farther from truth than this diagnosis. Man is not born free, and it is not the institutions that chain humans. The problem is sin and the devil.
A man who is freed from sin by Christ the liberator feels free and joyful even if he is thrown in the darkest prison and lives under the most repressive government. While a man who lives in the bondage to sin feels oppressed and bound in the most democratic society.
In Rousseau’s case, five of the children that he fathered, he took one by one and left on the orphanage steps. These either died or became beggars. They were a hindrance to his idea of freedom and success.
In his last book he grieved that he had lacked the courage to bring up a family.
The problem started with his misunderstanding of the kind of freedom that humans need. He did not understand what he needed to be freed from (his self-centered heart), nor what he should be freed for. In his thinking, it was the state that should take care of children. In his selfishness, he was not free to love even his own children.
The Christian way is different. It is harder, but also easier.
By the grace of God and the work of our Living Savior who works in us, we are being freed from sin, and are being freed for love. That is where the authentic human existence is found: Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live.
May our good Lord help us all to understand this important dimension of Christ’s work in our lives this Christmas and in the coming year.