There has been a lot of mention of freedom in recent years. There are those who tout the concept in relation to liberation of black people as if the shackles of slavery and Jim Crow still pull weight on the flourishing of black and brown people. They’ll speak of the persistent oppression that must be exorcised and prescribe remedies for this to happen: equitable policies, reparations, just policing, etc. They will conclude this is a freedom worth fighting for.
Then there is the freedom granted to us Americans in our Constitution, particular the freedom of Christian expression and to live in a pluralistic society without encumbrances to Christianity. Some will even argue that this freedom was packaged in our Christian founding as a nation and we shouldn’t relent to preserve it under the rubric of promoting a moral and just society. They will conclude this a freedom worth fighting for.
And while there can be merit (not to mention some challenges) in each of these “freedom” fights, I am struck by the freedom spoken of in Scripture, particularly in the book of Galatians.
It is for freedom that Christ set you free…(Gal. 5:1)
We would do a disservice to this simple passage by imposing the above categories as if Paul is making room for our contemporary concerns. Rather, his statement must be considered in the context of what he is addressing in this book. And I think it’s pretty important in light of these temporal areas that seem to get so much attention today. Because, if we’re not careful, we’ll allow the the freedom that referenced here rises far above.
You see a group of Judiazers could not accept that the advent of Christ in fulfillment of God’s long established promises meant that many Old Testament requirements, namely circumcision, were no longer necessary for obedience to God. They started influencing the Christian community that compliance was necessary, you know for them to really be Christian. So Paul came down strong;
“O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? . . . Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:1-3)
Despite having the gospel of grace, they were lured into believing that to truly be righteous before God, these extra requirements were needed even though they no longer were needed because Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law. This is why Paul spends time in chapters 3-4 to explain that the promise was always first and it is to this, that we cling for our righteousness.
They were bewitched. The appeal to the flesh is a powerful thing. I imagine that the presentations were delivered in such a persuasive way with a great deal of zeal. I imagine they were very concerned that they weren’t being Christian enough. It must have tapped into something very meaningful for the Galatians because they jumped on the bandwagon and honestly believed that for them to really be Christian, compliance for these extra-requirements were needed.
Now through our 21st century lenses, the idea of an appeal to circumcision might get lost on us. But let’s substitute circumcision for the socio-political concerns mentioned above and it will hit closer to home. That concern that if you’re not down for the social justice causes and fighting against the oppression of Blacks and other POC, you’re not really being Christian. That concern that if you’re not fighting for religious liberty against the onslaught of oppressive leftist agenda, you’re not really being Christian. And let’s not be fooled, the captivation comes on subtly.
What Paul goes on to say about freedom is appropriate here;
“stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”
While it may seem these fights offer freedom per their respective agendas, the reality is they can ensnare us into believing we’re not really being Christian unless we’re fully engaged and on the “right” page. We can actually submit to a yoke of bondage with sincere belief that the right requirements can actually free us.
That’s not to say we should be unconcerned about justice and religious liberty. Nor am I saying don’t be engaged in efforts for a faithful expression of Christian faith and practice. Don’t read that into my exhortation here. Rather, it’s to say that as Christians, we need the right priorities of what true freedom really entails. Paul speaks of a freedom that rests on the accomplished work of Christ, regardless of unjust actions throughout history, regardless of partisan priorities, regardless of policies and cultural practices that undermine open Christian expressions. True freedom stands knowing you’re in the full grip of Christ who promises to come back and set everything right. We don’t have to add extra layers to be justified before him even if we convince ourselves it’s just an outworking of our Christianity.
So stand firm against those pulls that will seek to enslave us.
While a lot of wit went into conceiving the set-up of this piece, a weakness in the setup seems to raise its ugly head. It suggests that while the cause of Christ seems evident in concerns about a leftist agenda on the one hand, those who suggest the fight for racial justice don’t appear any longer to have a concern for being even a back door religious concern at all. Their quest might actually put them in an opposing perspective because the reference point is no longer associated with a black Christian subculture, or consensus, but a black secular approach to culture which does not choose to refer to scripture or a type justice under God which Dr. King referred to.
It appears that today freedom apart from Christianity is at least a part of the goal. After all, Christianity is too encumbering, in many cases too white, and in any case requires the loss of personal freedom in order to follow Jesus. So while there may be a few who do see being true to today’s social justice cause as in keeping with a biblical call to freedom, most don’t.
The Judaizers on the other hand, like Christians on the right were seeking a more religious approach to freedom, though unnecessarily adding to Christ something orthodox from their past. On the other hand, freedom from a religiously based approach appears to be more the orthodoxy in younger social justice fighters today.
So I believe a clear analogy breaks down at this point.
Where does that leave us? Possibly in recognizing that Christ on the cross is not about the bondage of a people, but actual freedom, spiritual freedom, beginning with the individual, that is, if you truly want to be free, this is what Christ does. Both on the inside, as well as the outside. And while this does not take away from the writer’s point in the end, having a reference point that seeks to arrive at freedom with the exclusion of spiritual underpinning should be noted.