The LORD sets the prisoners free. — Psalm 146:7
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. — Galatians 5:13
Texts: Is. 61:1-4, 8-11; John 12:24-26; Gal. 5:1-25; Phil. 2:1-11
Hymn: Son of God, Eternal Savior
The entire Bible testifies to the liberating acts of God. The LORD saw the affliction of his people and delivered them out of Egypt (Ex. 3:7-8); He gathered His flock in Exile and restored them to their fortunes (Jer. 31:10, 23-24). God brings the mighty down from their thrones and exalts those of humble estate (Lk. 1:52). The LORD executes justice for the oppressed and sets the prisoners free (Ps. 146:7). Indeed, the whole of creation longs for freedom in its way, and God wills that creation be set free from its bondage to corruption (Rm. 8:21).
The freedom of which the Bible speaks, however, is not the same as political freedom. Certainly political freedom is a good thing, and a stable democratic government which safeguards liberty is a great blessing for which we ought to give thanks. Yet the point of political freedom is to protect competing interests within society. When I exercise free speech, I seek to advance my point of view; if I join an association of like-minded people, I hope to advance my cause; if I enter into business, I want to increase my wealth. In each of these activities, I pursue my self-interest. But Christian freedom does not think of the self. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26). He who hates his life for Christ’s sake is prepared to renounce profit, praise, and pleasure as the cost of discipleship. “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one, and despise the other” (Mt. 6:24; Lk. 16:13). Christian freedom denies the self and takes up the cross daily in order to follow the Savior (Mt 16:24; Mk 8:34; Lk. 9:23).
Christ says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The way is His person and example; the truth is His Word bestowing grace; the life is the new nature received through grace (2 Cor. 5:17, 21) which will behold His face in righteousness (Ps. 17:15). No one can travel on the way of life unless he denies himself. “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25) Self-love blinds judgment, distorts reason, disguises interests, corrupts conscience, and denies sin. But Christ sets us free from sin. “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). True freedom, therefore, is the shape of obedience.
But what does Christian obedience look like? What kind of freedom follows the path of discipleship? According to Luther, a true Christian “puts on the neighbor” and is a “perfectly dutiful servant of all.” Paul writes, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:14). Anxiety and preoccupation with the self is one form of bondage from which Christ has set us free. So Christian freedom looks for ways to put the neighbor first. Large acts of charity and self-sacrifice attract our attention most frequently – the work of people like Mother Theresa and Albert Schweitzer, or the martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer – but the small, unseen deeds of each of us can, when taken together, have a greater impact than the prominent deeds of public individuals. Families which volunteer with foster care or adopt children, people who work with the hungry and homeless, those who volunteer time in their local community, individuals who put on a mask during a pandemic, and all who are persistent in their kindness will discover ways to live in the freedom of obedience.
Living in the freedom of obedience we begin to conform to the image of Christ, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:5-7). The “form of God” is the power of God, which is subject to none. But Christ emptied himself of power, subjecting himself to us in the form of a servant, even unto death. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28; Mk 10:45). If we are of one mind with Christ, we will do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3). Conforming to the love of Christ, the freedom of faith is made active in love through deeds of self-giving for the sake of others (Gal. 5:5-6).
Thank you for setting me free from my attachments to this world so that I may know your love and live truly as your disciple. I confess that by loving myself more than you I have abused my freedom and often ignored and wronged my neighbors. I ask that you keep me in your truth and guide my way so that I may love others freely and know the peace and joy of serving them.