by Cynthia Wilbur
by Cynthia Wilbur
Freedom in Christ
In September of 1775, George Washington was busy fighting a revolution with his pen. That month, he sent a letter asking Canada to join with the American colonies in their struggle against Britain. While many Canadian residents held to different religious views and came from different cultural backgrounds as compared to their American neighbors to the south, Washington did not try and argue away nor make amends for any of those differences. Instead, he appealed to Canadian and American commonality—everything (including geographical proximity) that bound the residents of North America in unity. “While we are contending for our own liberty,” wrote Washington, “we should be very cautious not to violate the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men . . .” Washington was echoing a message that was conveyed by the Apostle Paul over 1700 years earlier. Paul was also writing a letter—his first letter to the church he helped found in the city of Corinth. And Paul would also choose to focus less on the differences within that church family (which were many!) but rather on the unity that bound them together for all of eternity—namely, their freedom in Christ Jesus. Formerly, the Corinthians selfishly fought for their own individual needs and wants; now, however, they were being called to “do all things to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Paul hints at a fundamental truth: we humans are made to worship. The need to glorify and give our allegiance to Something or Someone is inherently a part of our purpose—a purpose distinctly unlike that of any other in creation. We are the only creatures particularly and purposefully made in the very image of God Himself. Due to the Fall and the pervasive presence of sin in the world, our inherent need to worship is often twisted into idolatry. And so, often without even realizing or being conscious of ourselves, we fall into the oldest trap—that of pride, or self-idolatry. Satan set the precedent, and sinners have been falling into the same snare ever since.
How does this human need to worship relate to our freedom in Christ? It depends on our understanding of “freedom.” Does freedom mean the ability to do anything we want, whenever we want, for whatever reason, without fear of reprisal? Majority opinion would probably agree that for anyone who values living in relative peace and harmony with his or her neighbors, law-abiding is a prerequisite for basic civility. Dig down far enough, and the Golden Rule is still foundational to modern ideas of morality and legality. As theologian William Barclay notes, “One of our greatest necessities is to learn the art of getting alongside people; and the trouble so often is that we do not even try.” Paul understands this, rhetorically asking his Corinthian readers, “Am I not free?” Certainly, Paul is free. He is free in his salvation, free from
the burdens of the law (Galatians 3:13-14; 5:1). However, Paul also understands that Christ has set him free from something in order to free him for something. It is the great paradox of Christian faith that it is only through complete dependency on God that we obtain the fullest measure of freedom, and that we are then to exercise that freedom by selflessly loving other people! Paul has been set free from the power of sin, and it is in this new freedom that he is now free to willingly serve the Corinthians by preaching the gospel. “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them” (I Corinthians 9:19).
General George Washington would go on to the lead the Continental Army to eventual defeat of the British forces. The American colonists would finally find themselves no longer British subjects, bound to the Crown, but rather free citizens of the United States, with new identities, new rights, new privileges—and new responsibilities. In similar fashion, Paul reminds the Corinthian church members—and us!—that
Christians are no longer slaves of sin bound to selfishness, but rather new creations in Christ—with new identities, new rights, new privileges—and new responsibilities to the world and to each other. As Christ-followers, our service, our love, and our worship are not compelled—we are not being ordered around by a cruel slave-master or an irrational dictator; we are willingly bowing down to our Lord and Savior. For believers, the most important “Independence Day” is the day we place our full trust in the saving power of Jesus Christ. We are then commissioned into God’s family, to bring other brothers and sisters into the fold, that they might know the truth and be set truly free (John 8:32).
By Cynthia Wilbur