Christian Freedom

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Nowadays  it seems freedom and fireworks always go together. In our day and age, when you  talk about freedom, you can be sure fireworks will follow. Not the Fourth of  July kind, mind you. Rather, the kind of fireworks that erupt when different  people’s “freedoms” conflict. No matter what the issue — almost all talk of  freedom, rights and power seems to lead to fireworks of conflict. Of course,  Paul and his church in Galatia would sympathize.

Paul  and the Galatians are up in arms about what Christian freedom is. They cannot  seem to agree about the shape it should take in the Galatian church. Differing  understandings of freedom lead to fireworks.

Of  course, it is easy to see where the conflict comes from. After all, for us,  freedom means choosing for ourselves. Liberty is being in the driver’s seat. For  folks like you and me, freedom equals the power to choose. There is a bus in a  large city that bears testimony to our perspective. In most busses, riders must  push a red button on a pole to signal the driver to stop and let them off. In  most cases pushing the red button causes a bell to ring and a sign to light up  just over the drivels head. When the bell dings, the sign flashes: Bus Will  Stop. Yet on one city bus somebody had crossed out this standard message and  scribbled their own on the sign. Now for the benefit of its freedom exercising  ridership the sign flashes: Ring or Ride: You Decide!

Yet  this attitude is not just confined to big city busses. Just think about how we  view our freedom to choose in every day terms. At least once a week we drive  down to the supermarket, shopping list in hand. After wrestling with some  grocery cart we start strolling down the aisle ready to exercise our freedom.  Being the smart shoppers we are, we have shelf upon shelf of choices to make.  Check out the potato chips. What should it be this time — regular, nacho  flavor, or how about these light ones with half the calories? Roll on into the  soup aisle and the choices get only greater. What will it be for supper tonight  — chicken noodle, cajun creole, or perhaps bean with bacon? But our freedom  does not stop there. We pull into the checkout lane and discover even more  choices to make: whether cash or check or perhaps oven bank  card!

It  is clear that in our everyday lives we are free to make choices. So for us the  definition is clear — freedom means choosing. Liberty puts us in the driver’s  seat. For us freedom means the power to choose.

The  problem is, freedom can turn into a tool of evil. In big and small ways evil can  work through our free choices. Evil can use our freedom as a tool. Listen in on  how Paul warns the Galatians: “If you bite and devour one another,” he warns,  “take heed that you are not consumed by one another.” Then Paul goes through his  litany of how evil makes use of the Galatians’ freedom — fornication, impurity,  licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness,  dis-sension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like. You can  almost feel the chaos that unbridled liberty unleashes. Absolute freedom can  corrupt, absolutely. Remember viewing the uprising in Tienanmen Square in China  years ago on TV? We all watched breathless as students called for change in the  dictatorial Chinese government. We remember Chinese students marching up and  down the square. We even watched as one young man stared down a tank armed only  with his convictions. Thanks to Western news agencies beaming the story by  satellite across the world, we enjoyed our freedom watching them on our  TVs.

The  problem is, we freedom lovers were not the only ones watching this televised  uprising. So were the Chinese leadership. As they tapped into our free press  satellite feeds, the party hacks in Beijing took notes about which students did  what. When the smoke cleared, the regime used our freedom to settle accounts  with those young students. Some of them are languishing in prison even now. It  is awful, but true — evil can turn even our freedom to its advantage. Free  choices give evil opportunities to work. Sad truth is, evil can use our freedom  as its tool.

But  listen up! Freedom in the Spirit produces something different — transformation.  The Spirit’s liberty is for bearing new fruit! The Holy Spirit uses freedom to  yield something new in us! Have you ever heard of Alcoholics Anonymous? Once a  week recovering alcoholics gather to support one another in their struggle with  the bottle. If you ask an AA member, they will tell you that they were slaves to  the bottle, slaves! Now thanks to their higher power they have been freed,  transformed. Alcoholics don’t so much need freedom to choose. Hardly! Apart from  their higher power, they will choose the bottle every time. Rather alcoholics  need to be freed to change. How much more is that true of the freedom the Spirit  gives. No wonder Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit the way he does: “Love, joy,  peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”  Freedom, therefore, comes from a Spirit whose fruit begins with love and ends  with self-control. Freedom, Paul says, is the product of the Spirit whose work  in us transforms our very selves. The Holy Spirit doesn’t so much give us the  freedom to choose, as the freedom to be changed! Perhaps now, therefore, we can  do away with the pernicious myth that God is only interested in giving us advice  for living the lives we have already chosen. How does the new bumper sticker go?  “If God is your co-pilot, it’s time to switch seats.” True enough! For the  Spirit’s freedom is not about the power to choose, but being empowered to  change. The Spirit’s liberty is about bearing new Fruit. In the Spirit, freedom  is for transformation.

So  where does this transformed freedom lead? With Christ, right back to our  neighbors. Freedom in Christ is for the sake of others. We aren’t just freed to  choose; we are freed to love neighbors. Of course, we should have seen it  coming. Didn’t Christ show us the way already? Christ did not shoulder the cross  for money, not for glory — and certainly not for prestige. He took it up for  our sakes — and for the whole world. He did not exercise His freedom by picking  and choosing desirable outcomes — or even the objects of His concern. Christ  exercised His freedom by being crucified for the whole world. Christ’s freedom  was cruciform — His arms opened wide on the cross for a whole world of  neighbors. His freedom was for the sake of others.

Perhaps  some of you have seen the old movie, Guess Who’s Coming to  Dinner. It is a 1960s era film starring Spencer Tracy and Sidney  Poitier. In the movie two families are forced to wrestle with the fact that  their children are marrying cross-racially. Their parents are upset with their  choice of fiance. Why? Well, he is not exactly the one her parents would have  chosen to break bread with. She is not the one his folks would have picked to  sit at the family table either.

Listen  brothers and sisters in Christ. Real freedom is not exercising the power to  choose who our dinner companions will be. Christian freedom is the power to  love. To live freely amid the petty slaveries of our world — to love with  abandon across our pitiful human barriers. That is freedom! That is Christian  freedom! Why do you suppose we gather at the communion table this morning?  Certainly not because we have carefully chosen our dinner partners. Hardly! But  because at the table we already show forth what God intends for the whole world  in Christ: a transformed humanity where all are welcome in Christ’s  name.

How  does the old saying go?: “You can’t choose your relatives.” True enough. Yet we  who call ourselves by Christ’s name also cannot choose the objects of our love.  For Christ frees us not to choose, but to love. In Christ we are freed for our  neighbors’ sake. Christian freedom is not the power to choose, but the power to  love.

So  imagine that! Freedom is more than my right to decide. Freedom in Christ is  God’s gift for neighbor love. Now that changes everything After all, our  desperate world needs us to share Christ’s freedom to love in our homes, at city  hall and in the marketplace. So what do you say? This Fourth of July let  Christian freedom ring. Let it ring

 

A  Message from,  David  Schnasa Jacobsen   brought  to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View,  Arkansas.  For prayer or more  information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected].  A Pass it On Project

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