One of the most profound and exciting truths about the Christian faith is that Jesus has set us free; “For freedom, Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1),””So if the Son sets you free, you really will be free (John 8:36).” We have been set free from the law (Rom. 8:2), sin, and death. With his life, death and resurrection Jesus fulfilled the law. His perfect life fulfilled the righteousness expressed in God’s moral law, and he gives us that righteousness as a free gift since we cannot gain it for ourselves. He also fulfilled all the parts of the law that were designed to foreshadow deep truths about the New Covenant. Circumcision of the flesh is no longer a covenant requirement because through Christ and the Holy Spirit we are circumcised of heart.
Unfortunately, Christians have misunderstood and abused their freedom since the earliest days of the Church. The abuse usually falls into two categories; using freedom as an excuse for sin, and using it in such a way that it harms our brothers and sisters. Paul addresses both of these abuses when he writes, “For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another in love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love you neighbor as yourself (Gal. 5:13-14).”
The first abuse is fairly obvious and it takes the form of “Well, I live under grace, not the law so I can do as I please.” To this God’s Word replies, “By no means!” The second abuse may be a little less obvious but I believe it happens more often that we would like to admit. The scenario in Corinth provides us with a good example. Apparently, there were some Christians in Corinth who believed that their freedom in Christ allowed them to dine in pagan temples on food that had been sacrificed to idols. In their minds the false gods were no gods at all, especially compared to the one God. True enough (1 Cor. 8:1-6). However, some of their brethren had just been freed from pagan idolatry and had not yet come to the same conclusion (1 Cor. 8:7). When the “weaker” brother or sister saw the one who had “knowledge” eating in the pagan temple, they may very likely be tempted to join in and slip back into idolatry. Imagine someone who has just come clean from drugs and their friends insist on using in front of them. Who is at fault here? The same is true when we use our Christian liberty in such a way that it harms our brothers and sisters. Look at what Paul writes, “So the weak person, the brother or sister for whom Christ died, is ruined by your knowledge. Now when you sin like this against brothers and sisters and wound their weak conscience, you are sinning against Christ (1 Cor. 8:11-12).” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to find myself leading someone for whom Christ died astray. The next stop would be the bottom of the sea with a millstone tied around my neck.
As incredible as our freedom in Christ is there is one thing that trumps it – love. Love for our brothers and sisters must override our liberty. Remember Galatians 5:13, “but serve one another in love.” John writes, “Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God (1 John 4:7-8).” Romans 14:15 teaches that, “if your brother or sister is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love.”
In our culture we are completely obsessed with “our rights” and what “I can do.” It is all about me, me, me, I, I, I. All the moral outrage we see in the media, social media, on college and high school campuses is all rooted in “my rights.” Unfortunately, even our Christian culture has suffered from individualization and the Christian life has been reduced to “my salvation” and “my preferences” and “how can this church, ministry, pastor, etc., serve me.” The Bible, God’s Word, paints a different picture. The Bible teaches us that we have been set free from the law, sin, and death so that we can be bond-servants of Christ who bought us with a price. It teaches us that our freedom is to submit to our love for God and others.
Jesus, of course, offers us the perfect example of this truth. We are told, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important that yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others (Phil. 2:3-4).” That’s plain enough but check out the next verse, “Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus.” Gulp!
Next we are treated to this beautiful Christ hymn that features Jesus emptying himself, being obedient, taking on the likeness of humanity, and so forth. I can’t imagine a being more free that God himself. There is no one greater than God. No one sets rules that God has to obey. He is the acme of freedom, and therefore Christ is too. Yet, because of his love for the Father and his love for humanity (sounds like the greatest two commandments, no?) Jesus put his freedom on hold because that is what was best for us. Jesus’ love trumped his freedom.
That’s a pretty high standard isn’t it? Well, that is the standard we have been called to. We have extraordinary freedom and liberty in Christ. He has freed us from the law, sin, and death. Rather than abusing that freedom for selfish ends, we are to submit that freedom to our love for God, and our love for one another. After all, that love is how people will know that we belong to Christ.