What is Christianity all about? Freedom? The Apostle Paul, in Galatians 5:1 wrote, “Christ has liberated us into freedom. Therefore, stand firm and do not submit yourselves again to a yolk of slavery.” Or for a more classic rending of the text: “It is for freedom you have been set free.” But… Freedom from what? Freedom to what?
Freedom from bondage to sin. Freedom to live a meaningful life. Freedom from condemnation. Freedom to acceptance. Freedom from insecurity and uncertainty. Freedom to purpose and assurance. Freedom from rigid, habitual repetition. Freedom to forgiveness under grace by faith.
When abused, however, freedom can be a dangerous reality. Paul recognized this. Only 12 verses later, he writes (Gal. 5:13), “You are called to freedom, brothers; but don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.” What does this mean for us today? Did Paul know something that we are missing? Why would he be so adamant that the Galatians understand Christianity = freedom, yet as soon as he explains it, he says, “But in some instances, you shouldn’t exercise this freedom…” …? Is our culture so far removed from the Galatians of the first century that we don’t need to worry about the abuse, misuse, or relinquishment of our freedom? Because in the popular Christian culture of our day, we sure do act like it. Many of us seem to be much more interested in the exercise of our spiritual freedom than about the bridling of that freedom when it would be used as an opportunity to satisfy the sinful fleshly nature.
You know who was the ultimate example of freedom… when to exercise it, and when to relinquish it? Jesus. Philippians 2:6-8 says that Jesus willingly gave up everything He was and everything he had for the glory of God and the benefit of others. The Creator of all things (Col. 1:12), equal to and One with God the Father (Phil. 2:6, John 10:30), stepped down from His eternal throne and became like men. Demoted Himself. Emptied Himself of His glory. Humbled Himself (Phil. 2:8). He did not need us, but He loved us. Jesus willingly and consciously gave up His freedom and took on the form of a slave (Phil. 2:7)… because He loves God, and because He loves us. And how does this apply to us today? Phil. 2:5 – just before explaining how Christ willingly gave up His freedom as God for our benefit – reads, “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus.”
I once heard a wise preacher define freedom as “the Christian’s unique ability to live responsibly before God.” We are called as Christians to pattern our character and our actions after the Lord Jesus. He is the standard – the only standard – by which we are to evaluate our effectiveness and our sincerity in Christian faith and practice. Jesus was not interested in what he could get away with keeping/doing and still please God. He was ready and willing to give up everything. Everything He had, and everything He was. A complete and total relinquishment of freedom… for your benefit and for the glory of God. That’s the standard. That’s the goal. Complete surrender.
The Christian life is not about “What can I get away with?” or “Why can’t I _____?” or “Does the Bible say it’s okay to _____?” It is about “What do I need to give up to live at peace with men and to glorify God?” If all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial (1 Cor. 6:12, 10:23) the question should never be, “Can I _____.” It should always be, “If I give up _____, will it promote peace, love, and truth?” “Which of my freedoms can I surrender to win people for Christ, promote unity within the church body, and offer myself as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God?“
I fear that as a Christian culture, we are becoming more interested in the exercise of our freedom than in the discipline of self-sacrifice. “Because I am free to” is never a good answer to “Why would a Christian do that?” If anything you practice in freedom (not including biblical mandates and instructions such as evangelizing the lost, participating in the ordinances, committing to a local church, etc.) is causing controversy, alienating people, or causing others to stumble, it is a freedom worth giving up. Make your attitude that of Christ Jesus and humble yourself. Give it up.
Living for the satisfaction found in personal spiritual freedom is a bottomless pit of a temporal existence (just ask King Solomon – Ecc. 2:1-2).
Do more with your earthly existence.
What activities, experiences, or preferences are you holding onto simply because you are “free to ___” in Christ? Are they things that need to be given up for the promotion of peace, the propagation of the gospel, and ultimately, for the glory of God? Be like our Lord and humble yourself – asking yourself what freedoms you need to relinquish for the glory of God and the benefit of others.
Give up the selfish Christian lifestyle of freedom-flaunting, and sell-out for the glory of God and for the benefit of others.
Grace and Peace,