Exploring Hope: Freedom in Christianity

If you are skeptical about the truth claims of Christianity, I wonder if you associate Christianity with freedom. Probably not. You may associate Christianity with giving up freedom. You believe that Christians only want to tell you who you can sleep with or what you should do with your wallet. So, what does Christianity teach about freedom?

In Galatians chapter 2, the Apostle Paul describes his second journey to Jerusalem after his dramatic conversion 14 years earlier. This seemingly insignificant trip is a wonderful picture of Christian freedom because Paul brought along a man named Titus.

Titus, unlike most Christians at that time, wasn't raised in the Jewish faith. He was a Greek who simply confessed faith in Christ and was baptized into the church through the ministry of the Apostle Paul. Really, he was a test case for salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

In Galatians 2:3-5, Paul says: "But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in – who slipped in order to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery – to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you" (ESV).

Those verses are a mouthful, aren't they? One commentator described them as a grammatical train wreck. Paul keeps interrupting himself because he's getting so excited and worked up about false teachers who had slipped into the Jerusalem church “in order to spy out the freedom” Christians have in Christ. Paul says that they wanted to “bring us into slavery.” In other words, they were spiritual slave catchers, which is a serious accusation.

These false teachers claimed to be Christian. They said that Jesus is the promised Messiah of the Old Testament and faith in Christ is important. However, they also claimed that we are brought into a relationship with God through faith in Christ plus works of the law. Their formula was simple: “Salvation = Faith in Christ + circumcision according to the law of Moses” (cf. Acts 15).

This is a classic example of what has been called legalism.

Today we don't generally hear people telling us to be circumcised in order to be real Christians, but we see legalism in other forms. It's like a con man that tries to deceive you, but when he fails, he puts on a new hat and tries again. People say, unless you faithfully read your Bible and pray, you can't be saved. Unless you perform this ceremony or go to this church, you can't be saved. Unless you don’t drink, you can't be saved. Unless you are a nice person, you can't be saved. The formula is the same in every case: “Salvation = faith in Christ + anything else.”

This formula may sound good at first, but it only brings slavery. In legalism, we are in bondage to whatever is added to Christ. If we seek salvation through spiritual disciplines, then we're enslaved to our disciplines. If we seek salvation through the ceremonial law of the Old Testament, then we're enslaved to the Law. If we seek salvation through going to church, then we're enslaved to our church attendance. If we seek salvation through being a good person, then we’re a slave of our own moral performance. Really, according to the Bible, if we seek salvation through anything but Christ alone, we'll end up in spiritual slavery.

But thankfully the true Christianity has a completely different equation. Instead of “salvation = faith in Christ + good works,” the gospel teaches this formula: “Salvation = faith in Christ + nothing. We contribute nothing to our salvation but our sin.

Jesus does everything. He lives a perfect life that you and I could never live. He dies a sacrificial death in our place that we deserved to die. All we do is admit that we can't save ourselves as we trust completely in him. As we do this, all our sin is counted to him on the cross and his perfect righteousness is counted to us.

This is what Paul means in Galatians 5:1, when he says, "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."

Christianity is about freedom. It's about freedom from the fear of death because Jesus died in our place and rose again from the dead. It's about freedom from the tyranny of the devil because Jesus defeated all the powers of evil by triumphing over them on the cross. It's about freedom from endless rules and sacrifices to please God because Jesus perfectly obeyed them in our place. It's about freedom from the wrath of God because Jesus bore the wrath of God for us. It's about freedom from the fear of man because we are adopted into the family of God. It's about freedom from patterns of sin and addiction because we have been united to Christ by faith.

Christianity is about freedom.

** The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ownership or management of Chadds Ford Live. We welcome opposing viewpoints. Readers may comment in the comments section, or they may submit a Letter to the Editor to editor@chaddsfordlive.com

 

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About Will Stern

Originally from Colorado, Will Stern is the pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in Garnet Valley. He majored in violin performance for his undergrad and taught violin for a number of years before being called into ministry. He studied theology at Duke University and Westminster Theological Seminary.

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