I’m really appreciating how significant the theme of freedom is in the Bible.
Freedom is opposed to compulsion, captivity or slavery.
Utterly free of compulsion, God freely acts to create and sustain a free creation, particularly free and dangerous human beings, which constantly, continually and consistently become enslaved, manipulated, captive or otherwise enslaved to and by various kinds of anti-freedom things (aptly summarised as sin and evil).
The work of Creation is a risky yet grace-filled work of giving freedom to that which is created. But then there’s the work of Redemption.
Utterly free of compulsion, God freely acts in many ways to lead his creation, particularly humans, out of bondage, captivity and slavery and into freedom. The Israelites are freed from slavery in Egypt, and are given a Law which instructs them how to be free – the anti-enslavement people, the counter-compulsion people, the bondage-breaking people.
Paul, writing in the 1st century to a community at Rome, writes, however, that this freedom-oriented Law Code was unable to make them truly free, and that it had actually served to make their enslavement all the more obvious. For human beings to be truly and fully free, their hearts and minds must be freed first. For Paul, this freedom – a liberation which the whole creation waits eagerly for – happens by way of a wholly new kind of Law, which he calls the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus.
Christians are to be freed from all that enslaves them, and to stand firm in that freedom and not be held by any possible thing that could enslave them. Sin itself and the various schemes at managing, decreasing, hiding or otherwise ‘fixing’ sin (in short: ‘religion’, Jewish or otherwise) both drive humans deeper and deeper into bondage, self-un-control, frustration, un-peace and slavery. With brotherly yet passionate (and often stern!) affection, Paul continually guarded his loved ones to not be enslaved to anything – food, sex, ideas or religion to name a few.
The vocation (note: a freely given and freely received vocation!) for these freed people is to be God’s vessels of freedom-bringing in God’s world. To be used by God to release those who are held captive by any and all things that enslave them.
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As I spend Christmas, New Year’s Day and my wife’s birthday in my home country of the United States, I am struck by an irony. Many (not all!) American Christians are worried about whether or not United States Law will reflect their beliefs.
The irony is not that I disagree with the desired outcomes. The irony is the methods by which they imagine them to be realised. Sermons, Books, Websites, Newsletters and Radio Programmes all across the country warn Christians not only of the demise of the nation, but also of the means of rescue – political muscle.
I am not advising withdrawal from the political realm (quite the contrary, actually), but merely am calling to remembrance Paul’s conviction that true freedom does not come by way of any Law or any sin-‘fixing’ schemes, no matter what country or race they are attached to.
I am persuaded to believe that for Paul, the worst news would not be that abortions happened to be legal or even government funded (or that same-sex couples had the same state tax status as male/female couples). I think Paul might well be more saddened by the failure of the Church to trust God to bring true and complete freedom to the world – the kind of freedom that cannot come through Law (religious or national).
Is this a pro-abortion stance (or pro-homosexuality for that matter)?? Absolutely not. It is merely an attempt to remember that true Freedom comes not through sin-‘fixing’ systems. I don’t think American Christians need to choose between democratic process and spiritual transformation – I’m definitely a ‘both/and’ kind of person. But at the end of the day, a Christian puts their ‘eggs’ in the ‘basket’ of the freedom-bringing Gospel of Christ. A law can be changed easily enough –especially in the States!– if enough Christians persuade each other to vote the same way on a given issue. But changing a heart – freeing a human being… now that takes something else.