Freedom - Galatians 5:1, 13-25 (Wednesday Night Reflection)
With July 4th landing in the middle of week the celebrations began last weekend for many and for others it will run through this coming weekend, folks around this country gathering with family and friends, to celebrate our nation’s independence. Some here may have headed to the Cape earlier this week, or even today, and with plans to return before the weekend is out. There have been and will be parades, picnics, dips in the pool, fishing poles cast, corn hole games played, sand sculptures, and so much more. There will be fireworks…either of the man-made or God-made variety. We do all of this as celebrating our nation declaring its freedom from England’s tyranny 242 years ago. With that in mind, last week I posed the question on Facebook for the last week, “When you hear or read the word “Freedom,” what is the first thing that comes to mind?”.
Some of the responses I received were:
· Red, White, and Blue
· Our military
· Valley Forge
· Harkers Island
· Doing what you want
· Running and Breathing Freely
· William Wallace of Braveheart
· Nothing left to lose
· No more chains/Not being bound
· Responsibility to use it wisely…
As we can see “freedom” means many things to many different people. Some of these answers were offered by more than one individual, while other responders were unique in their offerings. Among the most popular of these answers were “America,” “Flag,” and “Military.” These three come to mind quite readily as 4th of July celebrations are held to honor the freedom so hard fought and won in our nation, especially following a year in which it seemed that patriotism and athletics appeared to clash.
Yet, as precious as the freedom is that we have in this nation, there is a freedom far more precious that was won for us long before 1776, and on soil in a land over 6,000 miles away. That freedom was won for us around the year 30, give or take a few years, on a hill called Golgotha.
Some of the respondents must have had this freedom in mind as they offered up answers such as:
· God’s Love
· Life on the Lord’s Path
· Jesus’ Sacrifice
· Free Will
· Wesley’s Covenant Prayer
Despite the fact that I categorized the responses as I did, there were many from the first group that could fit in here…including costly, no more chains/not being bound, discipline, responsibility, peace, possibilities, and even war.
It was this latter freedom that Paul had in mind as he wrote to the Galatians. Paul, writing the Romans and Corinthians, refers to the spiritual warfare in which Christ has claimed final victory. Jesus was the only soldier that went to that war. He sacrificed His life for us. Jesus defeated our enemy, our slave-master and set us free. The question that Paul puts to the Galatians, and to us, though, is not so much about the victory, but about what we are going to do with the freedom that, through God’s grace, Jesus has offered to us. Paul questions us all on whether we will use the freedom that God has given us with honor, responsibly, and integrity.
We understand, to some degree, the kind of freedom that we enjoy living in the United States. If not, that is for civics class and not here. Our question is, what kind of freedom do we find in Christ? My brothers and sisters, while we sometimes have difficulty wrapping our heads around this, we were slaves to sin. Before Christ came into the picture, we had no choice but to sin. God had set His Law before His people, yet they could not, and we cannot, achieve living by that Law on our own, we would always and still constantly fall short---sometimes in little ways, sometimes in huge ways. There is nothing we could do entirely and completely own our own that is free from sin. Even when we would try to do what is right to have God’s favor, it was not done freely and without sin, because it was done out of self-interest and self-preservation…we did not want to get struck down for being disobedient, we did not want to be sentenced to hell for our failures. At other times we desired to obey God so that God will reward us with a good life and with plenty…in doing so, we were not living for God, but living for ourselves. Sadly, there are some who still worship God with this kind of mentality in their minds.
Jesus, God’s Son—meaning God Himself, came and achieved that which none of us could do. Jesus lived a completely selfless life before God. As a result, we nailed Him to a cross. Yet, through what we meant for harm, God used for good. On that cross, Jesus took upon himself all our sin and our bondage to sin, and died the death that each of us deserved. Through His suffering and sacrifice, He gave us freedom—freedom from sin and the need to sin, and the freedom to live wholly and completely for God.
The freedom that Christ so dearly won for us gives us freedom, but with that freedom comes choice. Because we are free, we do not have to live for God, we are not forced to abide by God’s Word. We can continue in our relationship with sin and choose to enter back into that slavery, to live under the tyranny of the adversary. This is what raises Paul’s ire…how could we mock what Christ has done by entering back into the sin after He died to free us from its grasp.
Much of last fall, particularly the NFL season, was embroiled in controversy…controversy over the response of some professional athletes to the National Anthem and the Flag. Many grew angry when athletes, rather than stand in respect, took a knee during the Anthem. This was felt as an insult and disrespect to our military, to our flag, to our nation. It seemed like a slap to the face to our men and women who have risked their lives for the freedom that we enjoy in the United States, as well as the families of those who gave their very lives. It comes across as the same kind of insult that is shown when folks protest the funeral of a military personnel, burn flags, or mistreat our veterans. These activities, those images, bring out anger and pain and frustration, it is as if we are spitting on the flag, spitting, or worse, on those who have given their lives in service.
That is the frustration that Paul was experiencing with the Galatians; it is the same frustration that God most likely has with many of us. In the freedom won by Christ, when we choose to enter back into sin, in a sense we are effectively spitting on the cross of Christ.
I can still remember how worked up so many about thirty years ago when a so-called artist offered as art a crucifix soaking in urine—claiming freedom of expression. It infuriated so many Christians. However, we aren’t far beyond doing that ourselves when we voluntarily put the shackles of sin back on our wrists. How do we fall back into sin—how do we spit or worse on the cross of Christ?
Hear again the plea from Paul: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence…do not gratify the desires of the flesh…Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
When we engage in sexual immorality—any sexual activity, homosexual or heterosexual, outside the confines of a husband and wife relationship, we are spitting on the cross; when we place other things ahead of God—whether it be our jobs, our money, our recreation, or anything else, including our families, we make idols out of them and we are spitting on the cross; when we put our trust in horoscopes and luck, we are spitting on the cross; when we practice hostility and hatred, when we engage in racism and sexism, when we hold grudges and seek vengeance, we are spitting on the cross; when we choose to gossip about our neighbors, we are spitting on the cross; when we long for what others have rather than being satisfied with how God has blessed us, we are spitting on the cross; when we get drunk or high, we are spitting on the cross. When we fail to honor God and show His love to others, in any way, we enter back into sin with total disregard for the sacrifice Christ made for us.
What are we supposed to do then? How do we show respect for the sacrifice that Christ has offered for us? Paul calls us to live responsibly into the freedom that Christ has won for us. Paul says that we honor Jesus’ sacrifice by “living by the Spirit.” When we exercise our freedom of choice by choosing to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength; when we choose to let our lives be marked by “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” the fruit of the Spirit; when we place God and those around us ahead of ourselves; when we remember that how we treat any and everyone around us, including and especially “the least of these” is a reflection of how we treat Christ, it is then that we truly honor Christ and the freedom God has brought to us.
My brothers and sisters, God’s grace has given us true freedom, the freedom out of which any other freedom we celebrate originates. As we celebrate our nation’s independence and freedom from England’s tyranny, may we also remember to celebrate the freedom from the tyranny of sin that Christ has brought us through His willingness to go to the cross…and may we vow that Christ may not have died in vain, may we choose to live each day honoring the cost of the Freedom He has given us.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.