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Most of us are unable to separate out a working definition of freedom to communicate coherently. The most concrete images that we have of freedom come from those who are enslaved and through circumstances find themselves no longer bound. In a nation that has a brutal history of slavery the Emancipation Proclamation becomes our boiler plate of freedom. One who is owned finds themselves now free men and women. Still is this the extent of freedom?
The drug addict who finds herself in prison for possession of too much cocaine will after a time find herself free of the bars and regime of prison life. Yet, her true freedom may take deeper and internal steps. She may be in need of a transformation that can transcend an external location and mean a radical re-ordering of the internal trajectories of her very being.
We can be excused for stopping only at the concrete liberties surrounding our existences. After all, Christ did stand in the temple reading from the Isaiah scroll, proclaiming freedom from captivity’s fulfillment. Yet, to only stop with the release from the grip of judgmental stoning will miss the divine admonition to “Sin no more.” To stop our spiritual development at the salvation event is to infantilize our faith. It is to continue to focus on the milk of childish things while ignoring the terrain of mature life.
This however does not diminish the power and strength of salvation events. Paul will never forget the blinding experience, nor when the scales fell from his eyes. It will inform his entire life. These events are inspiring to hear. The prostitute, gang banger, crooked banker and drug addict presented as transformed by God’s merciful touch is a powerful affirmation of God’s continued grace in the world. Yet, life does not merely stop at new life, it must be lived fully. After significant salvation events life’s challenges persist. These events will not alleviate us from the human condition. Paul still found the thorn in his flesh intact. We will still encounter the temptations of: cross addiction, giving up in suffering, anger, fear, low self-esteem, narcissism, denial, competition and self righteousness.
We find ourselves constantly struggling with the divine, demanding a blessing and walking away with a limp from Peniel. We are still left to reconcile with our brothers and sisters. The challenge of life continues well after visions of ladders to heaven and angelic hosts. We leave salvation events with a Spirit constantly prodding us toward the works required of God’s people.
Paul has a concern for people who expected immediate glory, but then disappointedly realize that they must endure this life to it’s completion. He knew that inherent to their participation in Christ’s life, death and resurrection are the radical notions of freedom from the former lives that enslaved them. Still, in living out their quiet lives they must find the continuance of a freedom that knows no law or boundary. Absolutely nothing is denied to them as people of a new family and a new life. Also, within this same organic concept of community is weakness, suffering, finitude and sin. This is why he admonishes the disciples to understand that they are dead to sin. Each participation in it enslaves them again into a lifeless existence they have left behind.
This is why Paul turns his gaze away from freedom from the salvation events over the death’s that formerly made us zombies. His concern for disciples is in Christ’s promise of abundant life. We are free from enslavements that bound us, so why would we bind ourselves again? Now that we are free we have a responsibility to use freedom for something new. Our freedom now gives us unhindered possibilities of fully lived life and the promise of becoming a part of Christ here on earth. Unity and peace are seen as part of the possible. Our artificial distinctions dissolve into our oneness. We are moved to become concerned for those weaker than us. Our sanctimonious concerns are transformed into desiring to help and not hinder another’s full potential toward life and freedom. Our mercy and grace toward others is seen as now essential in helping them unbind the shackles fettering them back towards death.
Ours now is a freedom to serve. It is a freedom to do good works with the promise of needing nothing in return. It is a freedom to decrease so that Christ may increase. It is most of all a freedom to live the life that God intended all of us to live, fullness.
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