Read the text here: Galatians 5
Sing for Freedom
For Freedom Christ has set us free…
What does “freedom” mean to you? There is always lots of talk about what “freedom” really is? We hear people on all sides of the political spectrum using freedom as a point in debate – “we live in a free country!?” But what does this really mean? Does freedom mean that we can do whatever we want? As we are coming close to July 4th and our annual celebration of American freedom do we really want to hold the position that young men and women of our military for over 2 centuries have died so “I can do whatever I want?” No, I don’t think so. Unrestrained “freedom” – that is doing whatever I want, with no boundaries is not really freedom, it is a kind of bondage.
Perhaps bondage is the place to start. So, what is bondage? A simple definition would be that one is in bondage when one is compelled, forced or enslaved to another person, idea or institution. 207 years ago a group of men meeting in a hot and uncomfortable meeting house in Philadelphia issued a declaration that they would no longer allow themselves to be compelled, forced or bound to England. They declared that they, representing the 13 British colonies, desired freedom – that is the right and ability to order their own economic affairs, manage their own legal system, govern themselves, worship (or not) freely as they saw fit, and to question, write and debate without fear of prosecution. That was a tall order in 1776. But the wave that started in Philadelphia would soon wash over other places in the world – most notably France. This is an interesting comparison, for in many ways the French Revolution was a failed revolution in that one tyranny was simply replaced with another. The American Revolution had a different outcome. The seed of freedom grew into a democratic system that continues to stand and function today.
So what is freedom in this context? It is obviously not always getting my own way. It is not being allowed to do anything I want. Freedom in a political context means that “we the people” have chosen to be a community – a nation – together and that we are thus willing to make compromises and accept a certain amount of self-constraint for the good of the community! We don’t often think of our nation as a community, but that is what it is and we are a part of this community. Consequently we have to accept that freedom is not all about me, myself and I. Freedom is about “we the people!”
This moves me back to the passage from Galatians 5. Paul has written this rather harsh letter to a group of churches in the region of Galatia and in this passage has come to the climax of his argument. And it also revolves around an understanding of bondage. Paul says that in Christ believers and followers of Christ are set free – free from the law, free from social categories and prejudices, free from human passions and weakness. In other words followers of Christ are no longer bound to a conditional legalism or, in other words, an understanding or belief that in order for God to love you and accept you, you are required to do x, y and z. Followers of Christ are no longer defined by the categories that society has constructed – “rich, poor, slave, free, Jew, Greek, male, female.” All the definitions of what makes an acceptable person – things like race, gender, economic status, sexual orientation – are no longer viable “for we are all one in Christ.” Followers of Christ no longer live in fear of an angry or vengeful God, but are freed by the experience of God incarnate in Christ Jesus our Lord. In other words, freedom in Christ means we are free to love and to serve others. We are freed from the tyranny of my whims and desires, my way or the highway, what I want, or what is best for me. The gift of freedom in Christ means that we are free to love, to care for, to be gracious towards and to give of ourselves to others – to the “neighbor.”
The gift of the Spirit is the spirit of freedom that frees us for service to others. Perhaps Martin Luther summed it up the best in his short essay “The Freedom of the Christian” when he wrote this:
A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.