Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am intrigued by the variety of things celebrated in the nations of the world. In the U.S., we celebrate freedom each Fourth of July (Independence Day). On July 4, 1776, America adopted the Declaration of Independence, declaring that the 13 American colonies, no longer regarding themselves as part of the British Empire, would henceforth be called the United States of America.
Though highly regarded by most Americans, Independence Day does not have the same significance for most people living elsewhere. However, the U.S. has several celebrations that might be of interest to many. For example, July 4 is also National Barbecued Spare Ribs Day and National Caesar Salad Day. July 6 is International Kissing Day, established to remind us of the simple pleasure of a kiss (though kissing is cited as a direct cause for National Mono Day!). And don’t forget World Chocolate Day on July 7.
While I love ribs, kissing my wife and chocolate (not in that order, my wife comes first!), I have a particular appreciation for Independence Day. While it reminds me of our freedom as a nation, it also reminds me that Jesus Christ has set us free from slavery to sin thus granting us spiritual independence. Indeed, the freedom we have in Christ is worthy of great celebration!
By the Spirit, all who follow Jesus receive the freedom that comes with the gift of the new life that is theirs through our Lord’s death, resurrection and ascension. As Jesus, who is the Truth, said, “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 14:6; 8:32). As we trust in him, believing his word of salvation, we are set free from the sin and death that imprisons all humanity. The apostle Paul celebrates that gift in one of my top ten verses in the Bible:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened [entangled] again by a yoke of slavery. (Gal. 5:1)
Physical death cannot rob us of this freedom for it has to do with the gift of eternal life, which greatly impacts how we live now. Paul shows how the life of freedom in Christ involves much more than behavioral conformity to a code of law. Instead, it involves being conformed to the righteousness of Christ with our whole being, including our thoughts and attitudes. Though we fall short of that deeply personal righteousness, we trust Christ to be our true “righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30 NRSV). We trust Christ to share with us by the Spirit his salvation in all its parts. There is great comfort in knowing that Christ, our righteousness, never leaves or forsakes us. Though we struggle against our sinful nature (which, thank God, is passing away!), we do so trusting Christ to stand with us and strengthen us. Confident in that grace, we receive God’s forgiveness and, by the Spirit, join Jesus in extending that forgiveness to others, that they too may receive it.
Spiritual freedom is not something that can be earned through our own efforts. The only way we can escape the condemnation under which all humanity has fallen is through an act of grace by which God grants us freedom. Jesus is that grace, that freedom—he is “the way” (John 14:6). Because of Jesus and what he has done for us, we do not fear the Day of Judgment. On the basis of Christ’s righteousness and faithfulness (and not our own) we have been justified before God. By grace, we are saved by Christ’s works not our own, and now the Holy Spirit enables us to participate in Christ’s works—in his faithfulness. Though our participation, on this side of glory, is always incomplete, one day we will share fully in Christ’s completed work on our behalf. May God speed that day!
What are we to do with our God-given freedom besides celebrating? The answer is somewhat different for each of us. But one thing is true for all—Christ has not purchased our freedom merely for us to live selfishly. As Paul notes, we have not been set free only to return to the slavery of our passions: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Gal. 5:13). The Greek word translated serve is douleo, the verb form of doulos, meaning slave. Christ has not set us free only to return to slavery to the sinful nature. Nor has he set us free to become slaves to the law. Instead, we are to be slaves who, in humility, serve one another in love. Imagine what the world would be like if we all lived that way!
As Paul goes on to note in his letter to the churches in Galatia, now that Christ has come, living according to the law and living according to the Spirit are mutually incompatible, for “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18). As Christ-followers, our allegiance is not to the law but to the Spirit of Jesus who gives us a renewed nature. Our obedience is now by faith in Jesus our living mediator. The Spirit leads us not into old covenant rituals, but into joining Jesus in his acts of love. Jesus, not the law, is the solution to sin.
Paul instructs us to go beyond the law by living in ways expressive of the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23). The law does not deal with most of these things, but the Holy Spirit does. Led by the Spirit, we go beyond what the law required—we go beyond trying to justify ourselves by our works. We go beyond trying to “qualify for the kingdom.” Instead, we live out of our union and communion with Christ, which leads us to focus on others, acting in freedom to join Jesus in loving them that they too might be set free from bondage to guilt, shame and the power of sin and death.
People who are fixated on the old covenant have set their sights far too low. It is much more life-enhancing to focus on the high calling we have in Christ to live and share the gospel. I like the way the old Kings James Version puts it: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14 KJV).
In Christ we have true freedom—the kind worth celebrating every day of the year, July 4 included!
Enjoying the freedom that is ours in Christ,
PS: Due to the July 4 holiday, we will not publish GCI Weekly Update on Wednesday, July 5. Our next issue will be published on July 12. However, we will publish the July issue of GCI Equipper on July 5. It includes part 4 of Gary Deddo’s essay, “Clarifying our Theological Vision.” I encourage you to read it carefully.
PPS: One more thing: in the U.S., July 9 (as designated by the National Association of Evangelicals) is “Pray Together Sunday.” For information and registration, click here.