My observation is that most people, myself included, have difficulty accepting the freedom that we are offered in Jesus. A part of us craves it, and senses that we have been offered something very precious, but a worldly, fleshy part of us that demands absolute predictability and certainty remains resistant. The authentic existential freedom offered by the Christ (the Truth that sets one free) scares the b’jeebers out of us. It is why most of us so soon fall back into the law, or a reliance on some preacher, denomination or Christian guru to tell us how to live.
To live and choose freely is a very scary proposition. We all learn the hard way that our decisions carry baggage. For Heaven’s sake, some people can’t even decide what to have for lunch, much less what path to follow thru life in their moment to moment choices. It always tickles me when someone asks that I pray for them to have “clarity” about some decision they’re struggling with, even though I have prayed for that same clarity myself. I think a transcendent God could give us clarity if that’s what He wanted us to have. No, I believe God wants us to trust Him and eschew clarity.
A little over a year ago I attended one of Steve Brown’s “Born Free” seminars, and I had read the book they are based on several years prior. Steve always challenges my thinking. More recently, I have been reading a book by Morris Ashcraft on the existential theology of Rudolf Bultmann. That has got me to thinking again about what freedom in Christ really means.
Most weeks I attend a Celebrate Recovery (CR) meeting. CR is a Christ centered 12-Step Program offering freedom from “hurts, habits and hangups.” CR’s logo is the outline of a man with his arms raised in victory. It’s a good program. One of the songs they do in the big meeting is a very upbeat, joyous one with the refrain: “I am free.” I love that song, but I wonder how much myself and the others there have really embraced freedom.
The freedoms found in Jesus:
(1) Freedom from ourselves: Oh, what a sweet relief to be free from our own egos and merged with Jesus– incorporated into His Body and freed not only from ourselves but from sin as well. We have been given a new identity. But how does this happen? How does it happen for people who cling so tenaciously to both their own constricted identities and to the unrighteous control they seek both in themselves and over others.
I pray a lot about how this merger with Jesus will manifest itself in me. It is confusing because while I continue to sin I am no longer a sinner; I have been freed from the power of sin by the power of the Cross. I have read those writing about grace say that God no longer sees the sinner; He sees His Son. Unfortunately, for me, the enemy provides constant reminders of my identity as a sinner.
(2) Freedom from the law: Bultmann believed that faith gave us both freedom from the law and at the same time the freedom to love. But this freedom is one that’s difficult to wrap ones mind around because a very worldly, libertine part of me is quite happy to bid farewell to the law.
Much of Paul’s letter to the Romans is preoccupied with the law–how the law mostly serves the purpose of convicting us that we need the salvation found in Jesus. We are free from the power of sin (Ro. 6:18), but are we really free from the power of the law? Jesus didn’t say that he had come to abolish the law; Jesus said that He was the fulfillment of the law. Does it mean that if we just accept Him we will no longer be in need of the law to tell us how to live? Does it mean that we will eventually become so filled with Christ’s love for the Father and for others that we will no longer need the law to guide us?
Does freedom from the law also free us from a reliance on doctrines like of the inerrancy of scripture? I think Many Christians cling like drowning men to this concept to keep from having to face the chaos and uncertainty of existential freedom. They search scripture and proof text like mad in trying to justify decisions that might easily be covered by the great commandment to love God and seek the welfare of others. Instead, they attempt to wrestle absolute certainty from scripture about every step that they are about to take. These same folks absolutely cringe at the thought that the Holy Spirit is still active in lives beyond just illuminating scripture.
(3) Freedom from the world: This is freedom not only from the ways of men (we are a new creation, II Cor. 5:17) but also from the prince of this world and his tyranny. Per Bultmann, we have been freed from the world to live authentically in the world. We have been freed to love and to do good thru Jesus’ love, and ideally, we are no longer residents of this world but instead are residents of Heaven, God’s kingdom.
(4) Freedom from death. Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25). In a sense we are already dead (II Cor. 4:10) because we have been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20), and so it is the “new creation” who lives on in us in the resurrected Christ. Since we are already resurrected in Jesus does that perhaps preclude another physical resurrection at the end of time? I gather that one’s death and resurrection in Jesus alone neatly summarized Bultmann’s view on eschatology.
The four freedoms briefly outlined above are, for me, riddled with ambiguity. Nevertheless, I unconditionally accept the scripture that says when the Son sets us free we are free indeed (John 8:36), and I believe that perhaps only the freedom offered by Jesus remains the authentic path to the Father. However, I’m not entirely sure how that freedom happens. Is it in one fell swoop when we accept Jesus and the Holy Spirit enlivened us, or is it a gradual process full of baby-steps? I suspect it’s probably the latter. I know that I’m freer now than a few years ago. And I’ve come to accept that my seeing thru a glass darkly is part of God’s plan.
I remain in love with the mystery of God and because of that I’m exceedingly skeptical of formulaic conceptions of Who He is and how we come to understand Him. However, I believe that if there is a formula, it has something to do with the Divine being revealed as we stumble along in our walk beside Jesus. What the great I am demands from us is pretty clear: Love. As I am often reminded: God is love and love is an action. Actions are freely made existential decisions that ultimately reveal Who we belong to, and the most perfect embodiment of decisions revealing the Father’s love was Jesus.