question #3: what is freedom?

grace and my peace to my brethren who have been set free by the free grace of Christ Jesus our Lord,

i am india, emailing irregularly, hindi sikh raha hoon, and continuing to drink mango shakes as long as mangoes are found in delhi.

today, the fifteenth august, is the day that india celebrates its freedom from the hands of the british, and so i thought i would finally send out the question that hamish suggested a couple of weeks ago:
—- what is freedom? —–
and hamish adds, as an explanatory parenthesis, , echoing paul’s letter to the galatians in which he says (gal. 5:1) that “it was for freedom that Christ has set us free”. which sounds a bit obvious. but read it again because *Christ has set us free* and that is glorious.
but then the question which must be asked is, “what have we been set free from?”
and here the Bible gives a number of answers:
– sin (romans 6:18);
– fear (romans 8:15), and specifically
– fear of death (hebrews 2:15);
– the lusts of the flesh (gal. 5:16);
– the curse of the law (gal. 3:13);
– the requirements of ‘religion’ (col. 2:21).

and suddenly i remember very clearly a bible study on colossians, when john claimed that paul was contradicting himself by saying firstly that you shouldn’t subject yourself “to regulations — ‘do not touch’, ‘do not taste’, ‘do not handle'”, and then say “put to death… fornication, uncleanness, &c…; put off… anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy &c… do not lie to one another”. and i tried to explain the difference, without great success.

perhaps there is a necessary tension, and perhaps the relationship between the law and our liberty is something which isn’t meant to be worked out in discussion and in theory, but in practice. and so paul says: (gal 5:13) “for love is the fulfillment of the law” (rom. 13:10), and so james calls this the *law of liberty* (james 2:10).

and so in a sense you have to be a slave of liberty, or you will be in slavery to slavery. or, paul once more, “do you not know that to whomever you present as slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness”. and in the end the choice is simple as that. for since we have been made to worship (cf. westminster catechism 1st question) we will inevitably worship someone/thing.

many people fail to understand this, and in their search for liberty end up worshipping their own liberty. the statue of liberty comes to mind — the the typically american idol. but liberty divorced from God is isolation, not freedom, for only “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 cor. 3:17).

and i’ve rambled on for far too long before talking about the Spirit of God. because this is the heart of it: either we walk by the Spirit, or we are slaves.

–walk free!– is what the woman in the pew behind me said when i went back to st. barney’s (my beloved church for three years, a place open to the working of the Spirit of God) for the student service at the end of term, having just that morning been confirmed as a member at my newly beloved c(ambridge)p(resbyterian)c(hurch). and i was sitting through the sermon, my heart feeling a turmoil of things, my mind still not entirely sure how to explain the reasons for which i was switching. and almost at the end of the service, i was tapped on the shoulder by someone behind me, and i thought they were going to ask that i stop waving my hands in the air — perhaps i was blocking their view. but instead she said “i’ve felt God say this three times and i’ve tried to ignore it, but it won’t go away — ‘walk free!'” and i sat down a little perplexed, wondering what the connection was between the sermon on debt and me and these two words. and then i realised that this was about me leaving barney’s, i could walk free, i didn’t have to feel as if i was betraying anyone, i could be like a leaf blown by the wind which comes and goes, i could follow the leading of the Spirit, i could walk free.

i met an english guy at church in delhi not long ago. i asked him what he was doing here and he said ‘exports’, only when i asked him how he became a christian did i realise what that meant. then he explained that he had been caught ‘exporting’ drugs through delhi, and sentenced to ten years in delhi prison. while in prison he became a christian, and after serving only ten months of his sentence he has been released, so long as he report back in delhi every month. so that is quite a vivid picture of freedom. although when i asked him the question his answer was simpler: “freedom is wanting for nothing”.

i also asked reena, again from church here in delhi. and she, a wannabe storyteller, answered with a story: ‘the most liberating writing class i have ever had was when we were given the first and the last sentences, and were allowed to do whatever we wanted in the middle. that gave me much more freedom than just being told i could do whatever i wanted. and then i started to understand how walking according to the law of God gives us liberty’. so freedom is about knowing where you have come from and knowing where you are going.

at the moment i am staying with the ‘delhi brotherhood of the ascended christ’ (to give it its full name), a group of priests involved in a lot of social work (among other things), who have a house in civil lines through which appear a fascinating array of people (myself included :P). every morning in the chapel the morning prayers follow the church of north india book of common prayer (which is similar to the anglican one), and then afterwards they add a special brotherhood bit, based on ephesians 4:8: “when Christ [and then we all join in with the person leading] ascended on high, he made captivity itself a captive”. so not only does Christ set us free — for freedom! — and release us from captivity, but *he makes captivity itself a captive*. and i suppose what this means was that the things that appear to oppress us, are actually working to our good, and refining us, and helping us to ascend with Christ to the glorious liberty of the presence of God. “for we glory even in our sufferings, for we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us”.

happy indian independence day! jay yeshu messih!

grace and peace,
peter

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