(Leviticus 19:17-18; John 13:34-35)
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1). This past Thursday we celebrated the courage and vision of the little band of 150 pilgrims who spent six difficult weeks crossing a stormy ocean and who then faced the frightening prospect of going ashore and trying to carve a new life out of what their leader, Governor William Bradford, described as “a hideous and desolate wilderness full of wild beasts and wild men.” What would cause people to leave their home and family and set out on such a dangerous journey? Just this: the longing for freedom, the longing to worship God and live together according to their most cherished beliefs. They wanted to live within that gospel freedom of which Paul speaks in these verses we have read this morning and they were willing to cross an ocean and face whatever hardships came, staring down death itself in the hope of finding the freedom for which we all long because God made us in his image and likeness, free to love or turn from love, free to follow or rebel.
But danger lies on either side of freedom's path: on the one side is the law, warning us that if we do not scrupulously keep it, we cannot walk in freedom with God. On the other side is the flesh, telling us that since we are saved by grace apart from works of the law, we need not concern ourselves with the law at all. In fact, the flesh invites us to celebrate the freedom of grace by living lawlessly. Meanwhile, the past tugs at me with unresolved issues, broken relationships and guilt, and the future stretches before me as unknown country that will not only bring joy and companionship, but will also surely bring disappointment, sickness and finally death. How are we to live this present moment as free men and women in relationship with God and one another, while facing both our past and our future?
In the verses of our text, Paul calls us to freedom and then shows that agape love – the very love with which God has loved us – is the answer to living in freedom toward God and each other, as well as the answer to our confusion over how we are to live looking back in faith and forward in hope without missing this present moment. To the degree that we begin to live in Christ's love as he himself, Love Incarnate, is formed in us (4:19), to that degree we will begin to experience freedom in our relationship with God and with one another, and no longer feel as terribly torn between the claims of the law and the desires of the flesh, or as be as tempted to live merely in the past by faith or in the future by hope. We will begin to know the freedom of living in the present moment, free to love the Lord and to love one another because of what Christ has done in the past and has promised to do in the future. As for now, he is being formed in us, and that is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Look with me at how Paul addresses this question of how we are to experience the life of freedom in living fully this present moment for which we have been set free in Christ Jesus.
  1. Love frees us from the law in our relationship with God (5:2-6).
  2. Love frees us from the flesh in our relationship with one another (5:13-15).
  3. Love frees us from bondage to the past (through faith) and to the future (through hope) so that we may freely live this present moment of life in loving intimacy with God and with one another (5:5-6).
All of this, as we shall see in the following verses, is the work of the Spirit of God, who is in the process of reshaping us as God's children into the image of Christ, who is the express image of God himself. God is reclaiming us, renewing us, reshaping us, making us what we were created to be. And we taste and see the reality of our salvation and experience something of the life to come to the degree that we walk in the freedom of love. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1).
© John M. Wood, all rights reserved