You are set Free
In Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia he uses an odd phrase, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Paul knew that God’s act of forgiveness was essential for his story. The saving act of Jesus Christ, became central to Paul’s new understanding of God’s mercy and Grace. Paul, prior to his life changing encounter with Christ’s Spirit, was a persecutor of the Christian Church. God’s mercy, God’s love, God’s Grace set Paul free from guilt, blindness, and the shadow of death which was once his life.
Paul reminds the Church that the story of Jesus Christ is a story of freedom. But it is also a freedom constrained by sacrificial service for God’s Realm. This was deeply at odds, even contradictory to individualistic notions of freedom. During the month of July, we will be exploring in worship how this freedom plays out in our life of faith, through Prayer, meditation, the study of Scripture, service, and generosity.
We will be looking at Paul’s guidance in three parts:
First moral libertinism. Paul taught a freedom from moral libertinism. A libertine is one who teaches moral or sexual restraints, especially one who ignores accepted morals and forms of behavior sanctified by society. Paul urged the gentile Christians in Galatia to resist “enslavement” to certain applications of the Torah—like the rules for food or requirements of circumcision as being necessary for salvation. This had caused a rift in Antioch (Galatians 3). These liberating lessons from Paul inform us about the nature of God’s Grace. However, Paul’s teaching on freedom was misinterpreted by some. Christians in Corinth who concluded that “we have the right to do anything.” They were saying that “We can sin all that we want, because God will forgive us all the more.” Paul said about people who misrepresent the gospel in this way that: “Their condemnation is deserved!” (Romans 3:8). God’s Grace, forgiveness sets us free so that we can be servants, even slaves, for God’s Realm, We were not set free to commit all the sin or harm that we want.
Secondly, Paul taught that God’s Grace sets us free from self-interest. Though we were “slaves of sin” (6:20), through baptism we are set “free from sin”. Freedom from self-interest allows us to be “slaves of righteousness” (6:18, 6:20, 6:22). The greatest commandments are that we love God with all our heart, and love our neighbor as our self. This is not about personal salvation. We are not moved by, nor obligated to, observation the law for these reasons. We know that the law is fulfilled through the Spirit, who brings alive our chance to become a servant for God’s love.
And finally, Paul reminds us of our Enslavement to one another. We are called to serve one another. We are the body of Christ. Paul corrected the moral chaos he encountered in Corinth. Over and over again, the Corinthian Christians interpreted their freedom in Christ individualistically, without regard to the health of the Christian community. Christian community is our salvation.
Paul’s odd statement that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” is defined as he clarifies his understanding of the relationship between salvation and how we live it out (ethics) in his Epistles. Join us in the coming month as we explore what it mean to be “set free.”