Our freedom in Christ isn’t always used by us in liberating ways. Part of that is because living free isn’t anywhere near as easy as it sounds. Many people equate living a liberated life with essentially doing whatever they want to do. That’s nonsense and Paul says so in Galatians 5:17 when he writes “you are not to do whatever you want.” Doing whatever we want is why we needed redemption in the first place!
People who become disciples of Jesus don’t automatically live “happily ever after.” So when Paul is telling us “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (v. 1)—he’s saying something that we need to give some serious thought to. After all, he’s not addressing people in the world who are enslaved by all kinds of things, he’s speaking to disciples! He’s writing to people who have experienced the freedom of Christ and are having problems living the liberated life we are called to live.
Dunn helpfully breaks Paul’s discussion down into “liberated from” (v. 1) and “liberated for” (v. 13). It’s true that one of our challenges in living a liberated life is recognizing, appreciating and appropriating the freedom we have through Christ. Too often disciples are like people we hear about who find out the painting they’ve been storing in their attic for the last twenty years is actually a priceless original by a renowned artist.
In Christ we have the priceless freedoms that need to be dusted off and put on display. We have freedom from condemnation (Romans 8:1-2); from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15); from hopelessness (1 Peter 1:3); and from uncertainty about eternal life (1 John 5:13) to name just a few. We have received the Spirit who (among other things) is a token of the intimacy we now have with God (Galatians 4:6-7; Romans 8:15).
All of this should radically alter the way we think and act. Are we allowing our lives to be propelled by these glorious truths or do we just kind of drift along in our freedom? If others want to remain in bondage to these things that’s their business—but they do it despite God’s wishes and will for them. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!”
And then it’s also true that we sometimes use our freedom in ways that might sound free to us but in reality are something less. Nike unveiled a new “Unlimited” line in conjunction with the Olympic Games. The tag line goes, “Life isn’t about finding your limits. It’s realizing you have none.” This is just the company’s version of our culturally familiar “You can be anything you want to be” that we unceasingly tell our young people. The problem with all of this is it’s simply not true. Not everyone can be an Olympian, president, or a movie star, and allowing them to think they can is just another form of bondage.
But more to the point—we’re using the wrong frame of reference (ourselves and what we want). If we put God where He belongs then it becomes, “You can be anything God wants you to be” and that is a very liberating truth. And it wouldn’t be right to conclude a discussion of what our freedom is for without pointing out that Paul tells us that the greatest use of our liberation is to be found in loving and serving people (Galatians 5:131-4). This is walking by the Spirit (v. 16).
By now you’ve already figured out there’s a lot more to living a liberated life than we usually think about. Let me conclude this piece by pushing the door all of the way open. It is adapted from A Faith Not Worth Fighting For (York and Barringer):
- True freedom is not having the right to say whatever you want without consequences; it is being able to say what is right regardless of the consequences.
- True freedom is not being able to gather and worship without the threat of being arrested; it is assembling with your brothers and sisters to God even if it means your life is at risk.
- True freedom is not won or lost in Congress; it is won on the streets and in homes when we feed the poor, clothe the naked; and give shelter to the homeless.
- True freedom does not come from an army, government, or document; it comes from the risen Christ.
- True freedom does not come from having the loudest voice; it comes from quietly taking up our cross and following Jesus.
With God’s help, let’s live lives that are free!