"Freedom" is probably the word we use most frequently to describe the American experience. As Americans we enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, the freedom to earn a living of our own devising.
But long before "freedom" became a characteristically American word, it was a thoroughly Christian word. The earliest Christians often described their experience of God's salvation in Christ as a passage from slavery to freedom. Salvation as freedom from slavery is an idea that runs throughout the New Testament, but it's especially prominent in the letters of Paul, in particular Paul's letter to the Christians of the region of Galatia in Asia Minor. In fact, Galatians has sometimes been called the "Magna Charta" of Christian freedom. (1) What Paul has to say in Galatians about Christian freedom has significant implications for how we live as Christian citizens, especially Baptist Christian citizens, in a free country. Hear now the word of the Lord through the apostle Paul in Galatians, chapter 5, beginning with verse 1:
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love. You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. I am confident about you in the Lord that you will not think otherwise. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty. But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves! For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. (2)
The word of the Lord; thanks be to God.
We learn from Paul that freedom is basic to the Christian experience. It is "for freedom" that Christ has set us free, Paul writes in verse 1. That idea was so important for Paul that his language sounds almost redundant: Christ sets us free so that we can be free. Why does Paul put things quite that way? Why not simply say, "Christ has set us free?" Why the extra emphasis--"for freedom Christ has set us free"? It may be that Paul understood freedom not only as something characteristically Christian but also as something characteristically human. To be human is to be created in the image of God. To be made in the image of God means many things, but one very important part of what it means to be created in the image of God is to be free. Freedom is, in the first place, one of God's own attributes. God is free to create or not to create; God is free to create any kind of universe God chooses; God is free to save or not to save. The free God created us in God's image as creatures endowed with freedom--freedom to choose good or evil, right or wrong, light or darkness, life or death, heaven or hell. But the first human beings chose evil rather than good, and every single one of us after them has chosen evil rather than good, with the result that all of us became slaves--slaves to sin, in bondage to the evil we choose. …