To the church in Galatia, the apostle Paul wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1; ESV).”
As our country celebrates the Fourth of July, the minds and hearts of many Americans take the opportunity to contemplate the ideas of Freedom and Liberty, values which are central to the American Experiment. Yet Freedom and Liberty are not new to the United States, and any student of the Bible would do well to appreciate just how integral the concept of Liberty is to the Gospel of Christ. Not just physical liberty, which has its place, but true spiritual liberty from the slavery and bondage of sin.
God’s efforts to make men understand that He wanted them to be free began in earnest with the work of Moses, freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The first major holiday instituted by God under Moses was the Passover, a celebration commemorating this very event. The Passover was itself a foreshadowing of the death of Christ on our behalf, which is why the New Testament identifies Christ as “our Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7).”
Later in the Law of Moses, God also instituted the Year of Jubilee, saying, “And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. (Leviticus 25:10; ESV)” Land which had been sold, individuals who had sold themselves into indentured servitude, and the like,… all would be set at liberty and in that liberty each could return home to their ancestral homes which would once more belong to them. It was with this occasion in mind that the prophet Isaiah prophesied, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… (Isaiah 61:1-2a; ESV).” It was this very passage which Jesus read before He declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. (cf. Luke 4:17-21)” It was the work of Christ which God always had in mind… the work of bringing liberty to those who had been sold, or who were captives.
Writing concerning the Gospel, James the brother of Jesus twice calls it the “Law of Liberty (cf. James 1:25, 2:12).” The concept of Liberty is central to the work of Christ, who, as the Passover Lamb, died to set the captives free.
The Liberty that Christ brings is spiritual in nature, as is explained clearly in the book of Romans: “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18; ESV)” Nevertheless, it should not be surprising that those who have been set free spiritually, would have a great appreciation for liberty in all its forms.
It should also be that Christians understand that Liberty is not the same as License; with freedom comes additional responsibilities. There is a responsibility to maintain the Liberty we have, not selling ourselves back to the one who had us bondage. Why would the former slave return to the one who had so cruelly mistreated him? If we have been set free from sin, let us not go back to it (cf. Romans 6:12-23).
There is also a responsibility to use our freedom in the pursuit of just ends and for the good of others. The Christian is created in Christ Jesus or good works, not for the selfish pursuit of personal gratification. Therefore, we read, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another (Galatians 5:13; ESV).”
It seems appropriate that when a citizen of this country thinks of the freedoms we have, they would be thankful, appreciative, and desirous of maintaining that freedom. Even more so, the Christian who understands what it means to have been set free in Christ is going to rejoice in that salvation, appreciate it as the gift it is, and use the opportunity it affords to do those things he or she would not have been able to do when in bondage.
The church of Christ celebrates and commemorates what Christ has done for us on a weekly basis and we invite you to join us in study and worship at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions or comments, please share them with us.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.