“Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, New Living Translation)
We think a lot about freedom when it comes to this time of year. Freedom is wonderful, glorious, and a grand privilege. With it, we enjoy life. Without it, we long for un-ended days of immunity. Yet, like the proverbial ladder on the wrong wall, our conceptions of freedom might actually be keeping us in self-slavery. True freedom is there, ripe for the picking, hanging on the low branch of grace. It is free, but not cheap; available, yet not readily seen. Freedom, as a good God intended, is meant for everyone. Taking a bite of this fruit will change your life forever.
When I was a kid, I thought of freedom as being free from the constraints of parental and adult expectations; of doing whatever the heck I wanted to do; spending money on stuff that I desired; and, having the ability to satisfy all my wants and pleasures. Yes, it was a very selfish construct of freedom, but it sure worked for me as a kid fantasizing about the golden ticket to adulthood.
I discovered pretty quickly that adult stuff could be a whole lot more enslaving than the kid stuff. In fact, there were times when I wanted to be a kid again, free from the constraints of bosses, social norms, and time demands. There was still the continued lack of money, even though I was working my ever-living butt off. If only there was freedom….
That’s a common understanding of freedom. It is defined by being delivered from something you don’t like in order to do what you want. And when we don’t get what we want, isn’t it funny how it’s always somebody else’s fault that we don’t have the freedom we desire?
I always thought the tiger represented my dream life. When I first saw a tiger in the zoo, I was hooked. This big ol’ guy gets to sleep all day, gets fed red meat to eat, and hangs out with lady tigers. Dude, I thought he had it made. But then one day I was at the zoo and there was a huge crack in the three inch thick Plexiglas wall. One of the zookeepers said that the big ol’ male tiger ran full tilt and head-butted the wall trying to get out.
It was then that my thick-headed Plexiglas brain took a crack to it. Mr. Tiger, having been satisfied with all the hedonistic pleasures of his little tiger kingdom, was behind bars. He was not free. He wanted out. Mr. Tiger was never going to be free until he was out in the wild doing what tigers do: stalking and hunting prey and roaming the vast outdoors. Having everything handed to him only made him crazy.
God understands freedom a different way than giving us all our personal desires. He has created us in such a way as to find our ultimate satisfaction living into his design for us. When we are truly free, we are actively experiencing the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
To be free is to have grace permeating your life. It is to do what humans were meant to do: thrive and flourish together through working in the garden of this world by participating in the very life of God himself. Just as the Father, Son, and Spirit exist together in fellowship and harmony, so, we as people created in his image, join the Trinitarian dance and discover that life is only meaningful if we serve, love, and be gracious for the benefit of the common good of all persons. In other words, you are free to be the human being God wants you to be. Don’t get tied up in knots trying to get to some state of being you think is going to make you happy.
There is an old southern gospel song that says:
“I once was lost in sin but Jesus took me in
And then a little light from Heaven filled my soul
He bathed my heart in love and wrote my name above
And just a little talk with Jesus made me whole.” (Just a Little Talk)
To be lost is to be bound in the sin of being caged like a majestic tiger. To be free is to live in the vast untamed wilderness of God’s expansive grace, unshackled from the bars of the law, and feeding off the wild fruit of God’s Spirit.
Fellowship with God always results in a concern for one’s fellow human being. We are not whole by satiating our wants, but through letting God in Christ give us new desires – ones that have an abiding appetite to serve humanity, and to advance the cause of justice and peace for all.
May the celebration of our freedom be lived with the grace of Jesus as our flag, the love of God the Father as our backyard barbecue, and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit as our fireworks.