“Aww, Mom! Do I have to?” objects the three-year-old when instructed by his mother to take a nap.
With the beneﬁt of some years and perspective on rest… you and I might not offer the same objection if someone “instructed” us to take a nap.
“Do I have to?” hopes to hear a negative answer – “No, you don’t. You’re free from obligation.” And this question has a corresponding relative that hopes to hear an affirming answer: “May I…?” Both of these questions are inquiring into what the Scriptures call Christian Freedom. Neither is a bad query in and of itself. But neither Do-I-have-to’s “No” nor May-I’s “Yes” place us at God’s good end in regard to Christian Freedom. Rather, they place us right at the beginning.
Christian Freedom, as St. Paul coins it, is a wonderful gift. It’s a gift afforded to the Christian by the New Covenant – liberty from righteousness-by-law through Jesus, our Law-fulﬁller. But what about when it’s granted? What does the Christian do with freedom? Anything I want? The world is my oyster? Paint the town red? What is the Christian to make of freedom?
When Paul writes to the Christian congregations in his New Testament epistles, he has plenty to say on freedom (or liberty). Nowhere is freedom or its fruit more honed in on than in Paul’s letter to the Galatians: For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another (Galatians 5:1).
Freedom Not for Serving Flesh (“Self”)
May I? – Do I have to? If God neither commands a particular activity nor forbids it (sometimes called “adiaphora”), then we have arrived at Christian Freedom. But as Paul clearly states with the very free Galatian Christians, freedom is a gift that comes with responsibility: “only, do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh.”
It’s quite an indictment of our nature, isn’t it, that Paul foresees ﬂesh misusing Gospel-granted freedom, namely as a license simply to “serve-self?”
- “May I drink alcohol?” Great! Then I’ll have as much as my ﬂesh wants as often as I want it.
- “Do I have to go to church services EVERY Sunday?” Great! Then I’ll go as little as I ﬁnd necessary or desirable.
The sum and substance of God’s good news (Gospel) is freedom from slavery. That good news comes with one particularly cold, hard fact: that this slavery is self-imposed and self-perpetuated. Not only are we victims of this slavery, we are also perpetrators.
So the good news of the Gospel means, among other things, that we are set free from “self” – from the devastating and damning pursuit of always satisfying “me.”
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20).
The Gospel freedom afforded the Christian is the forgiveness of sins by the blood of Jesus bled for you – for me. The resulting fruit of this good news is that the forgiven sinner is no longer enslaved to sin – the perpetual slavery of an “all-roads-lead-to-me” existence. Your life, dear Christian, is lived “by faith in the Son of God.” This means your satisfaction is fully and freely met by what is donated to you through faith. And what is yours through faith? The forgiveness of all your sins, life in Jesus the Son of God, and the promise of body-and-soul eternity with Him on the last day.
Dear Christian, “the Son has set you free” (John 8:36). Live freely!
Rev. Kyle Madson
Editor, The Lutheran Sentinel
Norseland Lutheran Church
St. Peter, MN
Norwegian Grove Lutheran Church