This passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians has been the most preached text at Fourth of July celebrations of this nation’s Declaration of Independence.
Yet on the Fourth of July, when the rhetoric of freedom is so frequently used to celebrate national autonomy, when distinctions between citizenship and discipleship are so often blurred, it is important to ask, “Whose freedom?” It is important to remember that freedom in Christ does not cut us loose from others, but binds us to one another in love.
Galatians 5:1, 13-25 focuses the question of freedom around one specific issue from religious law and practice of that day. But today I’m not talking about circumcision. Today I believe we are called to freedom from the unwritten law of individualism and the false god of self-interest.
Let this be a declaration of interdependence: “For freedom Christ has set us free.”
New Testament Scholar Richard Hays writes, “This freedom is to be sharply distinguished from ‘autonomy,’ a word that means literally ‘self-law.’ To be autonomous is to be, paradoxically, at the mercy of ourselves. By contrast, the freedom of which Paul speaks is freedom in Christ, a freedom that says, ‘It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me’” (Gal. 2:20).
Freedom in Christ is not only freedom from. It is freedom for….
Paul continues in, verses 13 through 15. He says, “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.’”
In Christ’s love we are bound to each other despite our inclinations to isolate and defend. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called it a “web of mutuality.” Freedom in Christ recognizes and lives in the God-given right relationship between people, and peoples, and all creation.
The biggest mistake we could make on Independence Day would be to misjudge (our) location and believe (we) are uninvolved and unaffected by what is happening in the world.
The biggest mistake we could make in claiming the freedom we are given in Christ is to believe it frees us from connection. We are freed for connection. We are freed for commitment, responsibility, relationship, genuine community, obligation, servanthood!
In Christ, we are bound to the parents of Nigerian schoolgirls; we are bound to the people suffering from Malaria in Africa.
“For freedom Christ has set us free” means that the ties that bind us as followers of Jesus go far beyond obligation. Freedom in Christ is the magnificent opportunity to freely choose to live in the world as brothers and sisters.
We grow in freedom, or we submit to the yoke of slavery in ever new and ever familiar forms.
“For Freedom Christ has set us free….”
Pastor Eun-Joo Myung is pastor of Patterson Federated Methodist-Presbyterian Church. Sermon notes is a column by local religious leaders.