Freedom is a word that we hear a lot in our culture. We celebrate it, we fight for it, we cherish it. But what does it really mean to be free? And how do we experience true freedom in our lives?
In this blog post, I want to explore the biblical theme of freedom and how it relates to our relationship with God and others. I want to challenge some of the common misconceptions and assumptions that we have about freedom, and invite you to discover the liberating truth of the gospel.
God is all about setting us free
The first thing we need to understand is that God is all about setting us free. From the beginning of the story, God created us to be free agents, to have a choice, to exercise our will. He gave us a beautiful garden to live in, with only one boundary: do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
You see, freedom has boundaries. Boundaries are not meant to restrict us, but to protect us. They are like a map that shows us the best way to live, the way that leads to life and joy and peace. They are like a fence that keeps us from wandering into danger or harm.
But we all know what happened next. The serpent came and tempted Eve with a lie: that God was holding out on her, that she could be like God if she ate from the forbidden tree, that she could define good and evil for herself. And she believed the lie, and she ate, and she gave some to Adam, and he ate.
And in that moment, everything changed. Sin entered the world, and with it came death and decay and disorder. And we lost our freedom. We became slaves to sin, to our selfish desires, to our brokenness. We became alienated from God, from each other, from ourselves, from creation.
But God did not give up on us. He did not abandon us in our bondage. He had a plan to set us free. A plan that would cost him everything.
Throughout the Bible, we see God's liberating work in history. He rescued his people Israel from slavery in Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. He said to them: "I am the LORD. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment." (Exodus 6:6 NLT)
He brought them out of Egypt and into the wilderness, where he gave them his law, his instructions for how to live as his free people. He led them into the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
But they did not stay faithful to him. They rebelled against him, they worshiped other gods, they oppressed the poor and the weak, they broke his covenant. And so he allowed them to be taken into exile by their enemies, to lose their land, their temple, their identity.
But he did not forget them. He sent them prophets who spoke words of hope and restoration. He said to them: "Shake off your dust; rise up, sit in your glorious place, Jerusalem. Sit in your throne. Remove the chains of slavery from your neck, O captive daughter of Zion." (Isaiah 52:2 NLT)
He brought them back from exile and restored their nation. But they were still under foreign domination, still longing for true freedom.
And then he sent his Son.
Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets, to show us what God is like, and to set us free from sin and death. He said: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free." (Luke 4:18 NLT)
He lived a perfect life of love and obedience, he healed the sick and cast out demons, he taught with authority and wisdom, he challenged the religious and political systems that oppressed people, he welcomed the outcasts and sinners, he forgave those who wronged him, he died on a cross for our sins, he rose from the dead for our life, he ascended to heaven for our glory, he sent his Spirit for our power.
He is our freedom. He is our liberator. He is our redeemer. He is our savior.
And he invites us to follow him. To be his apprentices. To learn from him how to live in freedom. To be with him, become like him, and do what he did.
But what does that look like in practice? How do we live in freedom in a world that is still enslaved to sin and evil? How do we experience freedom in our hearts and minds when we still struggle with temptation and doubt? How do we express freedom in our relationships when we still hurt and offend each other?
instead we practice virtues
The answer is not to try harder, but to train smarter. Not to rely on our own strength, but to depend on his grace. Not to follow a set of rules, but to cultivate a way of life.
A way of life that is shaped by the practices of Jesus. Practices that help us align our thoughts, words, and actions with his will. Practices that help us grow in love for God and others. Practices that help us enjoy his presence and his peace.
One of these practices is encouragement. Encouragement is not just saying nice things or giving compliments. It is speaking truth and life into someone's soul. It is affirming their identity and calling in Christ. It is building them up in faith and hope.
Encouragement is a powerful way to set people free from fear and insecurity, from doubt and despair, from shame and guilt. Encouragement is a way to show people that they are not alone, that they are seen and valued, that they have a purpose and a future.
Encouragement is also a way to set ourselves free from pride and envy, from bitterness and resentment, from selfishness and greed. Encouragement is a way to humble ourselves and celebrate others, to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn, to bear one another's burdens and fulfill the law of Christ.
Encouragement is a way to practice freedom together.
Another practice is forgiveness. Forgiveness is not just saying "I'm sorry" or "It's okay". It is releasing someone from the debt they owe us because of their offense. It is letting go of our right to revenge or retaliation. It is choosing not to hold a grudge or keep a record of wrongs.
Forgiveness is a radical way to set people free from guilt and condemnation, from fear and anger, from isolation and alienation. Forgiveness is a way to show people that they are loved and accepted, that they can be restored and reconciled, that they can start over and move on.
Forgiveness is also a way to set ourselves free from bitterness and resentment, from anger and hatred, from pain and trauma. Forgiveness is a way to heal ourselves and heal others, to break the cycle of violence and vengeance, to reflect the image of God who forgives us.
Forgiveness is a way to practice freedom together.
What does freedom look like together?
This brings me to my final point: what does freedom look like together? How do we live as a community of free people in Christ? How do we relate to each other as brothers and sisters in God's family?
As a Covenant Church, we have a commitment to freedom. A commitment that is based on three principles:
1) We hold a deep reverence for the authority of Scripture.
We acknowledge the Bible as the divine communication of God to humanity, bearing the imprint of His Spirit and unwavering reliability in shaping our beliefs and guiding our actions. We perceive the Bible as an invaluable revelation of God's nature, His divine plan, and His ethical directives and promises. It serves as a comprehensive guide on how to lead a life that aligns with God's intention in a world He has created. Our acceptance of the supremacy of Scripture stems from our profound trust in God's wisdom to illuminate the path of righteous living. We commit ourselves to the diligent study and contemplation of Scripture with an ardent desire to discern God's voice and adhere to His counsel. By obeying and applying the teachings found within the Bible, our primary aim is to demonstrate our reverence for God and seek His approval. We must highlight that within the framework of respecting Scripture, we enjoy the liberty to explore, question, and engage in meaningful dialogues with its content. It is through these intellectual and spiritual journeys that we grow and deepen our understanding. However, we must be resolute in not neglecting or rejecting any part of Scripture, misinterpreting its meaning, or tampering with its integrity through additions or omissions. In essence, we cherish our freedom under the authority of Scripture, which both anchors our faith and allows room for growth and exploration."
2) Freedom within affirmations and creeds.
Within our faith, we hold dear certain foundational truths that are integral to our Christian identity. These truths have withstood the test of time and are echoes of the Christian Church's historical and cross-cultural affirmations. These timeless verities are succinctly encapsulated in the venerable creeds and confessions of the Christian tradition, such as the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed.
Our commitment to these truths is steadfast, rooted in our belief that they find their origins in the sacred Scriptures and are attested to by the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit. We proclaim these truths to declare our unwavering loyalty and heartfelt devotion to the Divine. In the same breath, we ardently champion these truths, determined to safeguard and uphold the purity of the gospel message.
While we cherish these fundamental truths, we understand that our faith journey is a dynamic one, allowing room for exploration, questioning, and thoughtful dialogue with these enduring principles. Through these intellectual and spiritual processes, we attain a deeper comprehension and, in turn, spiritual growth. Yet, let it be known, we cannot veer into the realm of dismissing or refuting these foundational truths, distorting their essence, or making additions or omissions to them.
In essence, our faith affords us the precious liberty to navigate our beliefs and convictions within the framework of affirmations and creeds, finding both security in their constancy and freedom in the pursuit of deeper understanding."
3) This is freedom to keep Christ first amidst great diversity.
We believe that there are some issues that are not essential to our faith and identity as Christians. Issues that are not clearly addressed or resolved by Scripture or tradition. Issues that are open to different interpretations and applications. Issues that may divide us on matters of opinion or preference, but not on matters of doctrine or salvation.
We respect these differences because we believe that God has given us diversity as a gift and a challenge. We dialogue about these differences because we want to understand each other and learn from each other. We love despite these differences because we want to demonstrate the unity and diversity of the body of Christ.
We are free to have different opinions and preferences on these issues, to agree or disagree with each other on these issues, to challenge or support each other on these issues. But we are not free to judge or condemn each other on these issues, to divide or separate from each other on these issues, to hinder or harm each other on these issues.
We are free to keep Christ first amidst great diversity.
One of these issues that can bring us to great controversy together is the role of women in leadership in the church. This is a hot topic in our culture and in our denomination, and there are sincere and faithful Christians on both sides of the debate. Some believe that women should not be elders or pastors in the church, based on their interpretation of certain passages in the New Testament. Others believe that women can be elders or pastors in the church, based on their interpretation of the whole counsel of Scripture.
As a Covenant Church, we have taken a position that affirms women as elders and pastors in the church. We believe that this position is biblical, historical, theological, and practical. We believe that this position honors God's design for men and women as equal in dignity and value, as complementary in roles and gifts, as partners in ministryand mission.
But we also respect those who hold a different position on this issue. If you don't believe that women should be elders or pastors in the church, you are welcome here. You are part of our family. You are not less than or more than anyone else. You have a place and a voice here.
We recognize that the context has a lot to do with the boundaries we set. Our context has not always affirmed women leaders even though it's always had them. We live in a culture that has often marginalized and oppressed women, that has denied them their rights and dignity, that has silenced their voices and gifts.
We also recognize that our preferences have a lot to do with how we respond to this issue. I have heard folks say "I am ok with women elders, I just prefer a male pastor". I wonder if this preference is based on our culture or our comfort, rather than on Christ or his word. I wonder if this preference is hindering us from hearing God's voice through his female servants.
My encouragement is to listen to and hear Christ's word from women too. You are free to share and hear God's voice through each other. You are free to learn from and follow the example of godly women who lead with wisdom and grace, who serve with humility and courage, who love with faithfulness and compassion.
We are all charged with God's gospel; live it through lives of disciplined freedom. Go in peace to live this way this week, committed to Christ above all other things. Amen.