It seems redundant to claim that Christ has set us free for freedom, but there are alternatives. Some might think they’ve been set free to live licentiously, or conversely that they escaped the prison of sin to be put in another prison we call “religion”. Others think that freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose, or that freedom is so I can do whatever I want. All of these miss the mark and fall short of the glory of God.
But since we’ve been set free so that we can be truly free, in the purest sense of the word, taking up any kind of burden for any reason is pure foolishness. Jesus himself said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11.30). While this saying seems to be a paradox, the paradox evaporates when we remember who is speaking to whom. Living by Law and rules is a crushing burden; grace is a free gift. Worship under the old covenant was laden with many directives; worship in the Church gives free access to the Father, whom we can approach with confidence, not fear. Sacrifice in the Old Testament was a blood sacrifice; in the New Testament it’s a living sacrifice of praise. It’s not a burden, but a privilege.
Circumcision was the preeminent indicator of the covenant people. It was an irreversible physical mark setting one apart as God’s possession. But circumcision in particular must be set aside, for if circumcision didn’t count, then nothing does. If you pull out the keystone, the whole structure collapses. In the same way that if you break just one law out of the whole you are still a lawbreaker, if you subscribe to just one part of the law because it’s the law, you put yourself under obligation to the whole. Obviously, the Law stands together. One can’t obey some parts and not others. Paul is writing pictorially: Suppose one is put equidistant from two opposing destinations. Any step towards one is inevitably a step away from the other, and vice versa. One can’t be in St. Louis and travel towards LA and NY at the same time. There is only way to the blessed hope, and that is through the death and resurrection of Christ, salvation by grace through faith, justification by the blood, and sanctification by the Spirit. Anything else is false Christianity.
Yet those truths don’t make the one who is not circumcised any better than then one who is. No one is in a position to judge any other person, because we all come to cross on our knees, dead in our sins and separated from the life of God. We have nothing to offer to the equation that has any value, and so we can only offer our lives. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love, in other words, Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. All that matters is God’s will and God’s kingdom.
No runner stands for someone else cutting across his path to make his lose his stride. You cut in or out, shifting whatever position is necessary to keep the pace. And yet Christians seem to continually allow this. Distractions, emotions, natural tendencies, pride, jealousy, the will to power, anger, and impurity step in a so easily weigh us down. We give in far too easily, and is affects the whole. Don’t bother to blame someone else, because each person is responsible for their own decisions and behavior, and each person will stand to account for what they have done. As for you and your house, serve the Lord with gladness.
You were called to be free. That doesn’t mean, however, that the absence of lists and laws means you can do whatever you want and indulge your every worldly pleasure, fantasy, or impulse. God forbid. Even though we have been set free, our freedom allows us to live the way we ought: Love God and love your neighbor. Live in kindness, grace, and forgive as you have been forgiven. And don’t be so ornery that you bite the heads off of other Christians who believe slightly different theologies than you do. If we keep attacking other sheep, the wolves will pick us off and tear us apart. We need to remember who the enemy is. Each general in a war might have slightly different ideas about how to win the battles, but they have to remember they are fighting on the same side, despite their different points of view. It’s just a shame if Satan gets to sit on the sidelines watching Christians tear each other apart and he gets to work unhindered. There’s something wrong with this picture.
We have to learn most of all to connect with the Spirit of God, to hear his voice and to live in the fluidity of following a person, not a code. We can’t possibly follow natural leanings and spiritual leanings at the same time, because they contradict each other. We either have to follow our own desires and our own thoughts, our own leanings and inclinations, or we have to follow God’s.
The acts of our own leanings are contrary to the ways of the Spirit. They are the lack of sexual control, any kind of immorality, indulging in sin for the fun of it, false values and priorities, dabbling in the occult, treating other people with hostility, merciless competition and jealousy, selfish rivalry, anger, selfish ambition, and creating division and feelings of ill will, drinking parties and drunkenness, and all such normal human behavior. There is nothing in you that is fit for heaven. Every part of you must be redeemed. There is no partial recipe to enter the kingdom of God.
None of the ways of God are normal and natural human behavior, but these character qualities are the true evidence of the Holy Spirit in you. They are selfless sacrifice for the wellbeing of another, seeing the world through God’s eyes and heart, social harmony and being right with God, steadfast endurance through challenges and troubles, kindness, moral excellence, gentle friendliness and faithfulness in our treatment of others, and reliable self-control. None of these things are things one could ever put in a law book, but they are the most superior character traits and behavior. The law is never against such things, because the Law is fulfilled in them.
Anyone who belongs to Christ has stepped over a great divide, left the desires of our human nature behind, and has fully embraced life in the Spirit. Just as Paul started the chapter with “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” he ends his thoughts with “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep step with the Spirit.” Since God is the very core of our existence, walking in his path with his mind and his heart is the only choice. Every step we take is in conformity to the Spirit of God. We hear his voice and follow Him. Is this just another kind of bondage? Not at all, because it is for this we were created. If athletes don’t conform to the structure and form of the sport, the sport ceases to exist. It’s only soccer if we fall into line with all the principles and forms of soccer. But we still have to play the game with integrity. To commit fouls every minute ruins the sport. Christians who spend their days antagonizing other Christians are ruining the kingdom. All that counts is faith expressing itself through love.