A few months ago I (finally) finished reading Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel. To be absurdly succinct, it is a book about the vastness of God’s grace. Honestly an amazing read, and I am considering making it a book that I read once a year for the good of my heart. Anyways….in one of the chapters Brennan Manning explores the theme of being free in Christ. This has given me much to ponder.
In a theological sense, we can understand that the Holy Spirit is at work in the cosmic conflict between God and the powers of sin. In the process of conversion, the Spirit frees us from the enslavement of hostile forces. He is the one who gives us the ability to reject sin and turn to God. This theme of freedom is important to the New Testament writers. Jesus himself promises true freedom from sin when he says, “So if the Son sets your free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36). Stanley Grenz (who I am getting most of my theology from these days) points out that the NT writers place this freedom in the context of a cosmic drama. The human predicament, as the NT writers put it, is that we are slaves to sin (see: John 8:34-35 & Romans 6). This bondage has two dimensions to it. It means that we are spiritually dead now and that in the future we will be eternally separated from God. The good news is that Jesus has been victorious over the forces of sin and death – his resurrection is the great reversal of the power of death (a.k.a sin). Through conversion the Holy Spirit applies Christ’ victory to our lives and continues to live in us to empower us to overcome the enslaving control of sin (check out what Paul says in Romans 8:9-11). The Spirit’s presence brings freedom. As Paul writes “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (1 Corinthians 3:17 TNIV).
This freedom in Christ that is empowered by the Holy Spirit is something that is life changing and can be experience in our lives now. We are freed from feelings of guilt and shame because we have been forgiven. We don’t have to hide our failures because we know that God didn’t accept us because we were perfect but found us while we were still stuck in sin. We need to remember that Jesus speaks about his Kingdom being for those who acknowledge that they don’t have it together spiritually (see Matthew 5:3-4). Suddenly we are no longer outsiders, but can enjoy the God’s presence in our lives. It is safety, peace and rest in the midst of what seems like chaos. Brennan Manning puts it this way – “Home is not a heavenly mansion in the afterlife but a safe place right in the midst of an anxious world.” “To those of us in flight, who are afraid…Jesus says, “You have a home. I am your home. Claim me as your home. You will find it to be the intimate place where I have found my home. It is right where you are, in your innermost being. In your heart.” This freedom changes what makes us tick…what drives us. Instead of being shaped by the ever-changing thoughts of others, “Freedom in Christ produces a healthy independence from peer pressure, people pleasing, and the bondage of human respect.” Indeed, as followers of Christ we are called to continually give-in to the Holy Spirit so that he can work inside of us to change us. He will reshape our priorities and gently whisper to us how much God loves us even when others are telling us that we don’t matter. (All quotes from The Ragamuffin Gospel, chapter 8).
As I have been pondering what it means to find freedom in Christ, it strikes me that we need to proclaim this freedom to those who are searching. The reality of following Jesus is not that all of our current problems will be suddenly fixed and that life will be made easy, nor is it is just about going to heaven (a topic for another blog perhaps). Rather there is a newness and a freedom that is available for the believer now. I think that this is part of what Jesus was talking about when he said “…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 TNIV).