Freedom is a word that has been appropriated over the years to every imaginable cause and issue—from noble pursuits such as the deliverance of people from injustice and oppression, to not-so-noble causes like recreational drug use, abuse of natural resources, aborting the unborn and selling the body parts . . . well, you get the idea. It should be clear that not everything that’s that’s spoken of under the guise of freedom brings liberation. In fact, many things just bring a different version of the same bondage.
When all is said and done, we can define our own freedoms or we can trust in our Creator to tell us what freedom is. The problem with defining freedom ourselves is that we don’t have the perspective that God does. We tend to see things in light of our own self-interests (which can be often remarkably short-sighted).
It’s been a few years, but I remember watching one of those journalistic shows covering some teenagers at the beach on spring break. They were doing all of the things their parents told them not to do and that many young people make the decision to refrain from—getting high, engaging in all kinds of sexual activity, and drinking excessively. The journalist interviewed some of them about halfway through the week. By that time the place they were staying was just this side of squalor with trash, dirty clothes, and leftover food everywhere. They were disheveled in their appearance with tousled hair, bloodshot eyes, and rumpled clothing. Nonetheless, all they could talk about was how great it was to be “free!” Their situation wasn’t much different than that of a young man Jesus spoke about who left home to pursue his version of freedom (Luke 15). It wasn’t until he was eye to eye with a pig that he began to rethink his position and eventually returned home where he found true liberation he was seeking.
While it differs greatly in specifics, in principle this same kind of thing was taking place in the churches of Galatia. False teachers had come in behind Paul promising freedom and blessing if the Gentile disciples would adopt a Jewish lifestyle and identify with Israel. (You can still hear a little of this today when certain people urge us to support the nation of Israel carte blanche or speak of some future time when we’ll return to Jewish ways). The idea then (and now) is that there is still something in Israel that we need and without it, we’re not totally free.
Paul lets the Galatians and everyone else know in no uncertain terms that it is Jesus and no one else who brings true liberation (5:1). Furthermore, He delivers us “for freedom”—that we honor His rescue by living lives that are free. For the Galatians, this meant realizing that by coming into God’s family, receiving the Spirit, and relating to God as their Father, they were experiencing the blessings of Abraham (4:6-7). They needed nothing more.
It’s instructive as well as sad, that often times the initial response of the liberated is to immediately seek an oppressive structure to hide behind. This is exactly what the Galatians were doing (4:8-9) and what some do today. Like prisoners who have been institutionalized for so long they can’t handle freedom on the outside, we struggle with our liberation. Too often the freedom of Christ doesn’t lead to lives that are free. We hide behind what’s convenient, comfortable, and familiar rather than stepping out into the open country of God’s freedom.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!