In celebration of Independence Day, I thought I would write a post about freedom. In the United States, we are blessed to be able to freely practice our religion. However, Jesus came to give us something much more than the ability to practice tradition without fear of persecution. Jesus did not come to this earth, die, and be resurrected to give us freedom of religion. He came to give us freedom from religion.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Gal 5:1)
The slavery Paul speaks of here is that of religious obligation. The religious laws of that time were numerous and restrictive, requiring perfection which no man or woman could deliver.
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Rom 3:20)
God knew that we could not meet His standard of holiness even with rules and regulations to keep our actions in check. Outward behavior modification could never penetrate our hearts. So instead He sent His only Son to die for us. Our sin signed our own death warrants, but instead Jesus replaced our names with His, so He would suffer the penalty.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21)
Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice. Being sinless, there was no charge that could be rightfully brought against Him, yet He allowed Himself to be punished for the sins of all of us, to cover us in His righteousness and to justify us before God.
There is a notion that Jesus came to rid the world of religion altogether. This is not cause for religious anarchy where we throw off the label of Christianity because some have chosen to taint it with legalism.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Mat 5:17)
Jesus did strike down religious tradition in many ways, particularly regarding the Pharisees. However, His mission wasn’t to abolish God’s Law. That would contradict His very nature, being God in the flesh. I prefer to think of it rather as Jesus changing duty to privilege.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mat 11:28-30)
Religious law told people they were only justified and righteous if they could meet behavioral expectations. The message of Jesus and His apostles was that everyone who repents and believes in Christ would be justified in spite of their failure to meet God’s perfect standard, whether in the past, present, or future. Our sins were covered by His grace and mercy. The Pharisees and religious leaders of the day had turned the law into a heavy burden that fell on the people. They had a duty to follow the Law or face the judgment and condemnation of their peers. But because Jesus already justified those who believe in Him, a desire to obey His commandments is born in the hearts of His followers. Where there is love for God there is obedience and a desire to bring glory to Him through our actions.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Gal 5:13)
We have been given new life and freedom in Christ, so why would we abuse this freedom and return to sin and death, or the bondage of legalism? Our freedom was granted for a purpose beyond ourselves. We were made to glorify the God who saved us from our sin and pardoned us from the eternal consequences.
So yes, in this country we have freedom of religion. But no matter where you are in the world, God has given His followers freedom from religion so that our obedience would demonstrate how our hearts have been transformed by His love. Our obedience to His commands is not out of legalism, but rather our obedience is practiced freely and joyfully.