Freedom for Slavery

Paradox lies at the heart Christian faith. Strength is found in weakness, the first will be last and losing life is how we find it. Most striking, we find the mighty God in a crib and on a cross. The majesty of the Creator is his humility.

Peter touches another paradox in his first letter. He states, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for what is evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Pet 2:16). You are free, the gospel has done that for you. But people freed by the gospel are strange. They use their freedom to ensure their slavery.

The word servants (δοῦλοι) literally means “slaves.” The gospel liberates us for joyful service to others. Martin Luther’s book, The Freedom of the Christian builds on this paradox. His preface says it well.

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.

A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

These two theses seem to contradict each other. If, however, they should be found to fit together they would serve our purpose beautifully. Both are Paul’s own statements, who says in I Cor. 9:19, “For though I am free item all men, I have made myself a slave to all,” and in Rom. 13:8, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” Love by its very nature is ready to serve and be subject to him who is loved. So Christ, although he was Lord of all, was “born of woman, born under the law” [Gal. 4:4], and therefore was at the same time a free man and a servant, “in the form of God” and “of a servant” [Phil. 2:6–7].

Another great treatment on this theme is a book by Murray J. Harris called Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ. We are freed for slavery.

Karl Barth on Amazement, Humor, and Joy

Here are some helpful quotes by Karl Barth. Hope you enjoy.

On Amazement

“At the beginning of all theological perception, research, and thought – and also of every theological statement – stands a quite specific amazement. Its lack in even the best theologian will threaten the heart of the entire enterprise, while even bad theologians are not a lost cause in their service and their duty, as long as they are still capable of amazement.”
On Humor

“Having a sense of humor means not being stiff but flexible. Humor arises when we have insight into the contradiction between our existence as children of God and as children of this age, and we become conscious of our actions in a lively way. Humor means a great bucketing of the serious side of the present.”
On Joy

“Joy is the rarest and most infrequent thing in the world. We already have enough fanatical seriousness, enthusiasm, and humorless zeal in the world. But joy? This shows us that the perception of the living God is rare. When we have found God our Saviour – or when he has found us – we will rejoice in him…joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”
On Freedom

“It is true that free people will also strive for independence, as far as that makes sense. But free people are not compelled to want independence by every external compulsion.  They can also find all kinds of undesired discipline to be acceptable and pleasing.”
On Easter

“What happened on that day (of Easter) became, was and remained the centre around which everything else moves. For everything lasts its time, but the love of God – which was at work and was expressed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead – lasts forever. Because this event took place, there is no reason to despair, and even when we read the newspaper with all its confusing and frightening news, there is every reason to hope.”

Rethinking Rest

I have been working through a book by Walter Brueggemann titled Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. I have been challenged to rethink the theological and practical significance of Sabbath for our time and culture. As I have thought about the theme  biblically and theologically I have learned a few helpful insights. I will bullet point them here.

  • Sabbath is grounded in God as Creator who rests after his work and invites us into his rest
  • Sabbath is grounded in God as Redeemer who rescues us into his saving rest
  • Sabbath is a God-given means for human beings to embrace their creatureliness and rest within their limitations
  • Sabbath is a God-given means for believers to embrace their redemption and rest in God’s saving work
  • Sabbath is about imitating and meeting God
  • Sabbath is about embracing our identity as image bearers and experiencing God’s rest
  • Sabbath is about serving one’s neighbor and introducing others to God’s rest
  • Sabbath is a gift, invitation, and imperative all at the same time

Here are a few memorable quotes from the book that will give you a taste of Brueggemann’s contribution to this topic.

“At the taproot of this divine commitment to relationship rather than commodity is the capacity and willingness of this God to rest. The Sabbath rest of God is an acknowledgment that God and God’s people in the world are not commodities to be dispatched for endless production…The fact that our God is a Sabbath keeping God ensures that restfulness and not restlessness is at the center of life.”

“The divine rest of creation has made clear that God is not a workaholic, that God is not anxious about the full functioning of creation, and that the well-being of creation does not depend on endless work. This performance and exhibit of divine rest thus characterize the God of creation, creation itself, and the creatures made in the image of the resting God.”

“Sabbath, in the first instance, is not about worship. It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being.”

“The first commandment is a declaration that the God of the exodus is unlike all the gods the slaves have known heretofore. This God is not to be confused with or thought parallel to the insatiable gods of imperial productivity. This God is subsequently revealed as a God of mercy, steadfast love, and faithfulness who is committed to covenantal relationships of fidelity (see Exod. 34:6–7).” 

“Those who remember and keep Sabbath find they are less driven, less coerced, less frantic to meet deadlines, free to be, rather than to do.”


Forgiveness and Freedom

How do you describe forgiveness? What other words would come to mind if you had to explain it to someone? What synonyms do we rely on in our language to articulate the concept? In the New Testament the language and concept of forgiveness overlap with liberation, release, and freedom. Look at a couple of texts that point us in this direction.

Acts 13:38-39—“Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” Notice here that forgiveness of sins and being set free are closely related in this text. Condemnation, liberation, and forgiveness are intertwined here (see also Lk 6:37, Rom 4:5-8). Forgiveness is the means by which God frees us from the condemnation of the law.

Acts 26:17-18—“I am sending you…to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” Liberation from the dark power of the evil one is close, if not synonymous with the forgiveness of sin in this passage.

Luke 4:18-19—“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The word translated “liberty” in this text is the same word that is usually translated forgiveness. The background of this text is the year of Jubilee in the Old Testament. It was mandated that when the year of Jubilee came around all debts were to be forgiven and cancelled. Liberation and forgiveness are intertwined in that Old Testament practice. I believe the concepts overlap in this text.

Forgiveness is about release. By grace through Christ we can be liberated from condemnation, sin, and the power of the evil one. As Paul once said,  “for freedom Christ set us free” (Gal 5:1). The forgiven man is the free man. Grasping this, experiencing it, and believing it moves us toward extending it. Free people free people. This is one of the cardinal principles of forgiveness in Scripture. As we grasp the debt we have been released from we will release others from the petty debts they owe us.

There is another angle to forgiveness and freedom that is important to note. Forgiveness on the horizontal level brings liberation to the offender and the offended. In the case of the offender, the wrong they have done is no longer held against them. In the case of the offended, the wrong that’s been done to them is no longer held by them. There is a dual release in forgiveness. It frees all parties involved.