What does freedom mean to you? Commonly today we see freedom in political, financial, and personal terms: the right to vote as per one’s conscience, the ability to do as one pleases without hindrance, the liberty to think and act as one sees fit in themselves. One definition says: “Freedom is the power to act, speak, or think without hindrance or restraint.” It isn’t necessarily a bad one, but begs one massive question – from where does such power come? Freedom is one of the fundamental concepts of Western society, but as the West moves further from its Christian foundations freedom is rooted more and more in personal autonomy. Not that this is new for humans, for from our forebearers in the Garden to every generation since, our natural tendency is to root freedom in ourselves and outside of God’s gracious, loving rule. Evidently, we are slow learners! Generation after generation, when we are honest with ourselves, recognize that just like Paul we ‘do not do what we want to do, but do the very thing we don’t want to do (paraphrase from Romans 7:15)’. And yet the human response is to retreat further and further inward toward personal autonomy as our only answer to personal bondage. How do you identify with Paul? Are there ways of thought or habits of action that reflect bondage to law and sin rather than freedom in Christ?
Paul warns us that this is a continual battleground for the Christian. “For freedom Christ has set you free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)” As we have seen over the past few months Paul’s letter to the Galatians has much to say to our desire for freedom and wherein true freedom is found. In fact it is a particular concern of the closing two chapters, and leading to this is Paul’s closing biblical argument advancing true Christian freedom against human slavery (Galatians 4:21-31). He shows us two ways to live: free or enslaved; two covenants: law or promise; two mothers: the slave or the free woman; two sons born of the two mothers; two birthplaces: Mt Sinai or heavenly Jerusalem; and thus two birth means: of the flesh or of the Spirit. To turn again to law-keeping as the way to be a true covenant child of God was so tempting to the Galatians – a simple work of the flesh (circumcision) to be identified with mother Sarah. Paul pleads with his spiritual children to remember that they are children of the promise, and as such they were born of the Spirit. Like Isaac, we are children of the promise of a powerful, sovereign God, not a work of the flesh such as Ishmael. As “Isaacs” we are transformed at the very core of our lives such that our desires are now for God and his gracious, loving rule in our lives. We cry “Abba Father” and long to flourish under the power and wisdom of his sovereign grace toward us. We hate what remains in our lives that drives us to be self-centred, self-governing, and self-sufficient; to, in short, trust ourselves rather than God. Our “delight is in the law of the Lord (cf Psalm 1:2).” This is what it feels like to be born according to the Spirit, the true you and your true identity is rooted in Christ – so stand firm in it! Say as Paul says: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20).” His loves, desires, values, and passions become ours. We are then no longer slaves suffering under a burden of doing what we don’t want to do, but are free to do what he (and we) loves us to do. “For freedom Christ has set us free!”