Christ Has Set Us FreeFr. Barnabas Powell
I’ve never yet heard a politician boldly proclaim “Vote for me and I’ll take away your freedom!” They are always going on about “protecting democracy” “restoring your freedom” or “protecting your rights.” Even those politicians bought and paid for by special interests are desperate to tell you they aren’t bought and paid for by special interests! The older I get, the more comical in the classic sense this appears.
But, to be honest, I also genuinely believe people desire freedom. They desire to protect their homes and families and their ability to live free.
Ah, but here’s the problem: What is real freedom? What does the word “free” mean?
You may be surprised to learn that the word “free” doesn’t now, nor has it ever meant, “the ability to do whatever I want.” That’s not freedom. That’s perpetual immaturity, especially when those “wants” aren’t matured and tamed by wisdom. A person driven by those passions ends up a slave every time. That is not freedom.
But the Apostle Paul says “Christ has set us free.” What does he mean? Let’s explore.
Look at our lesson today in Galatians 4:28-31; 5:1-10:
Brethren, we, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now. But what does the scripture say? “Cast out the slave and her son; for the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brethren, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love. You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine; and he who is troubling you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.
St. Paul continues his loving and fatherly correction of these Galatian Christians by reminding them that they are the children of the free not of the slave.
And that change of revelation changes everything. You weren’t created to be a slave to your desires, your fears, or your appetites. Christ has set you free from the slavery of the time-bound, the mere animal desires that turn us into monsters and not humans. You were made to be free and master your appetites and tame them and make them servants to you! So, if you were made for freedom, why aren’t you living that way? Where are you driven by your desires, fears, and selfish motivations? It is precisely in those places that you are not, in fact, free!
The key here is the Christian understanding and Biblical understanding of “freedom.” Christian freedom is slavery to Christ! Christian freedom is the active embrace of the radical notion that my life, my behaviors, and my priorities cannot be what they are created to be unless I actively and purposefully conform my life to my Creator’s purpose for my life. Period!
Paul insists we embrace the gift of freedom offered to us by Jesus Christ SO THAT we will be who we really are. We aren’t meant to be enslaved by our greed our fears or even our good intentions. We are set free by Jesus Christ to start the hard work of seeing that freedom seep into every nook and cranny of our lives, to heal our broken “want to.”
As we finish up the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Orthodox Christianity simply will not allow you to pretend to be a follower of Christ is anything other than an embrace of the paradox of “the first will be last,” “if you wish to live, you must die,” “to be free, you must be a slave.” Like Bob Dylan sang about years ago “You gotta serve somebody.” The crux is being willing to choose rightly. Your choice is seen in every decision you make, your priorities, all the way down to how you spend your money and time! The freedom Jesus offers you is a death sentence to a selfish way of life. But that selfish way of life was going to kill you, anyway. So following Jesus is truly a slavery to freedom! It is the way of the Cross.
Today, know that God never does anything for Himself since He is already complete and whole. Everything He has ever done said, or taught, has been for you and me. This is our path, dear one to true freedom and a healed “want to.” The Path of robust love sets me free to selfless liberty that makes me like my Creator. Risky? Yes. Painful? You bet. Is it worth it? Only if you call eternal joy and peace and discovering and becoming who you were really meant to be worth it. Only if you can be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Lord, save Your people and bless Your inheritance, grant victory to the Faithful against the adversary of the Faith, and protect Your people by Your holy Cross.