5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
This has got to be one of the most debated, misunderstood and abused verses in Scripture. This even begin to understand this verse, we have to unpack what we mean by “freedom.” What does freedom mean to you?
- A day to yourself on the couch?
- You and your best friend going on a hike?
- Something a bit more “naughty”?
Our initial reaction almost certainly and understandably involves something that makes me feel good. It involves removing whatever we feel is binding us down. These can be things that we love and are really good (like relationships) or just the regular things of like (like responsibilities). But when we define freedom from this perspective, we are thinking way way too small. What is it that is truly chaining you down and enslaving you? Isn’t it the fear and insecurity of life? This is the freedom that the Gospel is inviting us into: to accept and actually enjoy the absolute and full approval of God thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus, who exchanged his freedom for our imprisonment, and enacted by the Spirit who breathes a new creation into our being.
This is freedom: that all fear of divine-rejection has been eaten up on the cross, fully and finally securing divine-approval on our behalf. Because of this there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) regardless of our behavior. But because of this secured freedom, we are empowered by the Spirit to live a life of free-gratitude as we perpetually get brought deeper into personally owning the incomprehensible affection of our Father. An affection that is not fickle, being based upon how well we live up to our new identity. When I fail to live a life of love, Jesus’ love doesn’t falter. When I actually love others from a humble heart, Jesus’ love doesn’t rise. This is because all who are in Christ already have 100% of his love. He isn’t holding any back! We’ve got it all. For good. Forever. I don’t have to live in fear of disappointing him and having him begrudgingly accept me. And I don’t have to live in fleeting arrogance when I think I’ve “done better” than others (and I better keep it up, or else). Because it is through Love that we are brought home, and for love that we are empowered to live.
So what does that mean for my life? It means freedom. It means that, as I bask in the warmth of his smiling face, my heart if melted and I smile back. To him and to others.
Saint Augustine put is like this: “Love God, and do as you please.”
Yes, this scary and messy. Yes, it boils up a lot of questions of what I should do and not do. Yes, it forces us to enter an honest, conversational relationship with Jesus instead of leaning on the safer list of rules. And yes, this is the freedom that Jesus has secured on our behalf so that we can do what Malachi 4:2 promised: But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.