We pride ourselves on being the land of the free and the home of the brave. It’s what makes America great. Or so we’re told. Freedom! The pilgrims came to establish a city on a hill, a beacon of light and freedom in an otherwise dark and dreary land. This is the land of opportunity. Here people are free to make their own way in the world. They are masters of their own destiny, captains of their own souls.
But as careful Christian thinkers note, our national notions of freedom don’t actually lead to freedom at all. Our culture encourages us, in the name of freedom, to do the very thing Scripture warns again - “to indulge the sinful nature.” But that is not the freedom for which Christ has set us free. Paul tells us to use our freedom to serve one another, not ourselves. In Christ, we are free from the demands of God’s law. And, paradoxically, it is that freedom that allows us to now live in obedience to God’s law, which is the only recipe for a life that works.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul first explains how Jesus has set us free from the curse of the law. Those who think obedience to God’s law will make them right with God are cursed, Paul says. The law itself says that anyone who does not continue to do everything written in the law is under a curse. No one does everything written in the law. We all stumble on at least one point. But, Paul says, Christ Jesus redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. For it is written - in the law! - cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.
We do not need to obey God’s law. That is not how we are made right with God. We are made right with God by faith alone in Christ alone, which, strangely, frees us to obey God’s law. John Calvin described those who think they have to obey God’s law to be right with God as slaves. “Those bound by the yoke of the law are like servants assigned certain tasks for each day by their masters. These servants think they have accomplished nothing, and dare not appear before their masters unless they have fulfilled the exact measure of their tasks.”
But we are not slaves. We are children. And children, Calvin said - “children, who are more generously and candidly treated by their parents, do not hesitate to offer them incomplete and half-done and even defective works, trusting that their obedience and readiness of mind will be accepted by their parents, even though they have not quite achieved what their parents intended.”
No one waits for the child to produce a masterpiece before they hang their artwork in the refrigerator. Every piece they paint is a masterpiece. Not because it is perfect, not because it measures up to all the standards for fine art, but because they painted it.
“Such children ought we to be,” Calvin writes, children of the heavenly Father who “firmly trust that our services will be approved by our most merciful Father, however small, rude and imperfect they may be.” (Institutes, 3.19.5)
Rev. Ryan Faber is pastor of worship & administration at Faith Church (215 E University, Pella)