I’ve been spending time in the book of Philippians lately. I love this letter from Paul and Timothy, self-identified slaves – yes slaves (see Philippians 1:1) – who belong to Jesus Christ, joyfully and boldly sacrificing their lives for Him. In this letter, Paul and Timothy encourage the church at historic Philippi to do the same: willfully give up your hopes, dreams, comfort, social status, citizenship, and your life for the greatest joy – living for Jesus.
For a modern culture that celebrates personal freedom as the ultimate standard of life, to willfully enslave oneself to the rule of another is a radical idea – that is unless we have misunderstood what it truly means to be free. In America, we often believe the false narrative that our “freedoms” are inherent, promised, and endowed to every citizen by nature. The truth is, they are a costly, purposeful endeavor.
A common idiom used to honor and express gratitude to our armed forces is, “Freedom is not free.” Freedom, as understood in American ideology, is payed for by a sovereign governing force that has willfully fought to protect a set of ideals, values, or as we might call them, “freedoms”. The trade-off is our allegiance to our country, governing authorities, and established laws and values. Any disobedience to these laws and values might just land you in jail. Your hopes, dreams, ideals of comfort, social status, even your citizenship, must conform to the social and governing establishment. The fact is, you serve the nation and leaders that pay for your “freedom”. Freedom isn’t free.
In contrast, the one who is truly free is the one who can transcend the constraints of social and governing establishments. The one who knows true freedom is the one who can truly say, “whether I live or die, all is well with my soul.” This is exactly what Paul and Timothy wrote to the church in Philippi.
For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. (Philippians 1:21-24, NLT)
Their freedom wasn’t found in their allegiance to a governing body or political leader, but rather a citizenship that belongs in heaven, a belonging that transcends life itself. How does one gain this heavenly citizenship? By swearing allegiance to the King who sovereignly rules over and holds accountable every kingdom, nation, and political leader across time. By declaring your ultimate loyalty to the One who has defeated sin and death. By joyfully receiving the undeserved gift of being declared right, just, and holy before God through a perfect and undivided faith in Jesus Christ who payed the penalty of death and destruction that rightfully belonged to us, absorbing it on our behalf on the cross. Freedom isn’t free.
As Christians, we testify and swear our allegiance and a life of servant-hood to the One who paid a high price for a freedom that outlasts the promised and often failed freedoms of this world. We embrace a freedom that transcends our earthly hopes, dreams, social status, and even our life. The freedom we have blows the shackles of worldly constraints off like a poor attempt at containing The Hulk in a fit of rage. And it’s that kind of freedom, found only in the God-man Jesus Christ, that we joyfully sacrifice everything to become slaves of His righteous and perfect kingdom.
That is true gospel freedom.
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