Free In Christ – Greg Albrecht
Friends and Partner Letter for July 2021
July is traditionally the month when Canadians and Americans focus on and celebrate our national freedoms. At this time of the year Americans often think of George Washington, our first president, who as the commander of the ragged, ill-equipped Continental Army eventually liberated the United States from the British.
When Benjamin Franklin was the ambassador to France for our newly independent United States of America he was invited to a prestigious dinner (1781). Great Britain and France remained the most powerful nations on earth and their representatives also attended this important event.
The French foreign secretary started the evening by offering a toast to his King Louis. “To His Majesty, King Louis, the Sun, whose shining presence radiates the earth of France.” Not to be outdone, the British ambassador rose with his own toast: “To King George the Third, the Moon,whose brilliance lights up the skies of Britain.”
Then Benjamin Franklin, representing the “new kid on the block” of the United States, rose to say: “I cannot give you the sun or the moon, but I give you General George Washington of the United States, the Joshua who made the sun and the moon stand still when he commanded.”
As Christ-followers we pay homage to Jesus Christ alone. Faith alone, grace alone and Christ alone!Our King, our Lord, our Savior and our Liberator set us free! We give thanks that he rescued us from the bondage of religious rules and regulations.
In his incarnation, Jesus, the Son of God, revealed the fullness of the Father’s freedom. Jesus came with his gospel of freedom for religious captives. By the grace of God, because of Christ, in Christ we are free from the fear, intimidation, threats and imprisonment of Christ-less religion. With Martin Luther King Jr. we say, “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
In 1924, when Simon Bolivar led his nation to independence from Spain, he refused an offer to become the first president of Peru. He insisted his work was all about liberation and that others were more suited and gifted to govern.
But grateful Peruvians still wanted to honor him so they offered him a gift of one million pesos.He accepted the gift on one condition. He said that he would use the gift, along with monies of his own, to purchase the freedom of over 3,000 people in Peru who were slaves.
After he had done just that, he explained: “it makes little sense to free a nation unless all its citizens enjoy freedom as well.”
Even if you remember me telling the story of The Grand Inquisitor told by Dostoyevsky in “The Brothers Karamazov” before, it bears repeating. Dostoyevsky sets his story in 15th century Spain,held in the oppressive grips of religion, under the fear and sway of the Inquisition.
The Inquisition was the most oppressive and violent heresy-hunt ever. Those who did not toe the line of the version of Christianity insisted upon by the Catholic church were brutally tortured and mercilessly killed.
According to the story told by Dostoyevsky Jesus came back to the earth, to Seville, Spain, where the fires and death of the Inquisition tortured and murdered so-called heretics. He came quietly, with no fanfare … but people were drawn to him. He was kind, gentle and filled with love. He did not make demands nor did he threaten with fear.
As a procession of mourners is leaving Seville’s cathedral, carrying the coffin of a seven-year-old girl, Jesus raises the child back to life. The Cardinal who is the Grand Inquisitor sees this resurrection and, realizing the threat that Jesus represents to his fragile hold on the people, orders Jesus to be thrown into prison.
The Grand Inquisitor knows who Jesus is, so he visits him in the dungeon and tells him “You have no right to come back here and mess things up for us! You’re destroying these people with your freedom. They can’t handle it!They are like children. They need our rules and regulations! They need a church that keeps them huddled close in fear! Go away! Don’t rock the boat! Take your freedom and leave!”
Jesus listened to the entire tirade of the Grand Inquisitor. Then Jesus stands up. He moves to the side of the most feared man in all of Spain. He softly kissed him. That’s his answer.
Jesus came to us, in all of our fears, in all of the religious abuse and oppression we have experienced, with all of our flaws and imperfections, to love us. Jesus revealed and proclaimed the unconditional love of God. God’s love does not coerce or force or demand. Love is not perfectly known through rules, love is known and illustrated by grace.
God’s love is freedom. Because laws promise what humans deeply desire—security, safety and a predictable life—many enslaved to religious laws are terrified by freedom in Christ. Slaves of legalistic religion are scandalized by anyone who says God loves us and is pleased with us on the basis of his grace and the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
God does not evaluate, judge or condemn us on the basis of laws, but rather we stand before and with God because of Jesus. That’s why the great Reformer, Martin Luther, boldly insisted,“Christianity is not a new law!”
Freedom in Christ can be terrifying for those who were formerly held in bondage by religious legalism. Freedom in Christ gives us no certainty (like the false, illusive mirage-like security of religion) that we can earn and deserve God’s love. That said, the gospel of Jesus Christ clearly explains that freedom in Christ is not the end of restraint or morality. Freedom in Christ is not anarchy!
Freedom in Christ is never something you can hold in your hand and count, as one might do with money in a checking account or a wallet. It’s much easier to obey a law and be assured by doing so that God loves us rather than trusting in the unseen grace of God. Paul boldly proclaimed “we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
Freedom in Christ is an ongoing, ever-developing and always maturing relationship. By his grace God enables and empowers us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
The goal of freedom in Christ is that “we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14)
The goal of freedom in Christ is that we are no longer under a taskmaster of law. Christ-followers are not under the kind of restraints young children are in a household (see Galatians 3:23-29). We are no longer children, but we are one in Christ, co-heirs of the kingdom of God, in whom Jesus lives his risen life. We are free in Christ, and “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
We are never truly free until we surrender to God so that Christ lives in us. We are then free, but only after, as Paul tells us, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Freedom in Christ means we surrender all religious pretenses that we might, in some way, as a result of our performance of ceremonies, obedience to laws and compliance with customs and duties, earn the grace of God. Freedom in Christ means, as Paul says in the next verse: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (Galatians 2:21).
Imagine there are two long lines at the final judgment and you choose the religious line. When your turn comes, God opens a book and reads from the book by which you are judged according to what you have done (Revelation 20:12). There are good deeds in that book, mixed with your flawed and less than perfect behaviors. No matter who you are, and how perfect your life has been—if your name is in that book you will hear the final verdict “Not Righteous.”
But the good news is you are in the line of God’s grace, mercy and love. Your name is written in another book—it’s called the book of life (Revelation 20:12). God reads your name, and the fact that you live a new life in your risen Lord Jesus. He reads of your faith in Jesus as a Christ-follower who trusts and believes implicitly in Jesus. God assures you that you are God’s son or daughter, by the love demonstrated on the cross of Christ and fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You are righteous because of Jesus Christ, by the grace of God!
We are free in Christ! “Free at last. Free at least. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”