If there is one word that could sum up the Letter to the Galatians it would be the word “freedom.”
I would like to focus on this word, especially as we mark our nation’s celebration of freedom, the Fourth of July. What does freedom mean from a Christian perspective?
As Americans, we are passionate about our freedoms. But we tend to think of freedom as being free from something. Free from unfair taxes. Free from big government. We really get upset when we feel that these rights are being violated; freedom of speech, freedom to carry a gun, freedom of religion, and so on.
When it is perceived that these freedoms are being threatened, people in America start to protest. We will not let ourselves be subordinated to foreign rules, like back in the Revolutionary War days. It gets to be all about the individual, but not much about the other person. It’s more about me and my rights. Freedom here is like a possession, something you own. Christian freedom, on the other hand, is an activity, not a possession. It is something you actually do for the benefit of others.
You may have heard it said before, but it bears repeating, Christian freedom is not so much about being freed FROM something, but being freed FOR something.
Now, it can be right to speak about freedom from, but freedom from what? If there is anything that we need to be freed from as Americans, it is to be freed from ourselves. I need to be freed from my selfish ways, my self-centered perspectives. Believing in Christ, however, frees me from myself. Faith helps me to look outside of myself to see God and to see the needs of others, to put the lives and well-being of others before myself.
This is what St. Paul is talking about in Galatians 5:24 when he says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
Freedom, if it is seen as purely freedom from something, can deteriorate into what Paul calls the “works of the flesh.” And what starts out looking like freedom can really become a new bondage.
But into this mess of confusion about freedom comes St. Paul’s beautiful words that seem to come from the mouth of Jesus himself. Consider instead, the fruits of the Spirit; “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
As Jesus said, “You know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) Knowing the Truth frees us from the tyranny of ourselves, it crucifies the old self, and helps a new self to arise, just as Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning.
You have been set free FOR the exciting possibility of serving others. This Fourth of July, think more clearly about what freedom really is, what you have been freed from, and what you use your freedom for.
The Rev. Rich Larson is pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Bayport.