The experts tell us we need to contain the virus whether it be Delta or Omicron so that we can buy time. Time, hopefully to raise our vaccination levels to 95 percent or above for all people, to vaccinate our children, and to deliver booster shots to the vulnerable. All this in order to keep the virus in check – to stop it running rampant throughout the whole of our society.
To enable this to happen, the vast majority of experts and medical specialists agree that we need mandates and some ongoing restrictions.
There are amongst us, however, some who don’t agree. They are demanding that the traffic light restrictions be removed, now! Demanding that cafes, bars and nightclubs be open for all whether vaccinated or not. Some are opposed to mandates requiring that all teachers and all front-line medical staff be vaccinated.
We know this. We’ve seen the protestors. As I write, an anti-mandate convoy is clogging up streets around our Parliament buildings with many mask-less protestors vowing to stay indefinitely. We’ve seen the placards, with their anti-mask and anti-mandate slogans, demanding freedom, now. These are the people who don’t want to wait. They say they’ve had enough! Their voices, though still by far a minority, are getting louder and more demanding. Their call is for freedom, now!
These demands for “freedom” led me to turn to the Bible. I wanted to see what the Bible has to say about freedom, to see if the Bible can give us any guidance as to how we as Christians should respond to this current situation.
As it happens the Bible, especially the New Testament, has quite a lot to say about freedom. According to Google, the New Testament speaks of the word “freedom” or “free” 23 times.
Some of the most significant verses about freedom in the New Testament include:
John 8:31/32: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples: and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Romans 8:2: “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
1 Corinthians 9:19: “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant (some versions of the NT say “slave” instead of servant) to all, that I might win more of them.”
And finally, Galatians 5: 13: “For you were called to freedom, brothers (and sisters). Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
I believe that there are two questions which we, as Christians, need to ask of these and other similar New Testament verses.
1) What is this freedom from? Clearly, to be “set free” – is to be set free FROM something!
2) What is this freedom FOR? What are we being urged to do as Christians with the gift of freedom that Christ offers?
Let’s see if we can find some answers to these questions….
Paul’s letter to the Galatians is the critical document in the New Testament when it comes to the question of “freedom”. In that letter Paul wrestles with the whole issue as to whether the Galatian Christians, many of whom had never been Jews, had to fulfil all the obligations of the Jewish law, the Jewish religious law in order to be truly Christian. For example, did these Gentile Christians have to be circumcised, as Jewish men were, in order to be truly Christian?
In Paul’s day there was a group of people called the Judaizers. These were the protestors, the anti-Paul people. These were the people running around with their placards, visiting Christian fellowships, stirring things up, telling the Gentiles that they weren’t really Christian unless they conformed to Jewish laws and rituals. Paul’s answer to that was to say, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything: the only thing that counts is faith working through love” (Gal.5:6).
The Christians in Galatia were troubled by this group. So, Paul in his letter to them says: you were “called to freedom” (Gal 5:13). Freedom from “the law of sin and death”. Freedom from the old Jewish rituals, freedom from slavery to the Jewish law, freedom from the old order, freedom from the pre-Christian way of doing and being. The ritual requirements of Jewish religion are no longer binding – we are set free in Christ Jesus. Now that may not mean a great deal to us today, as we are not troubled by the Jewish religious laws but it was significant for the Gentiles who became Christian in Paul’s day.
But our freedom in Christ is not just about Jewish rituals. More importantly than that, Christ comes into our lives to set us free from sin, from evil, from self-centred living. That is just as relevant for us today as it was for both the Jews and the Gentiles who became Christian in Paul’s day. So, the answer to the first question is that Christian freedom is freedom from self-centred living.
Now, to the answer to the second question, what is this freedom for? In other words what are we to do with this freedom Christ gives us?
Here, I believe, Paul in Galatians again points us in the right direction. In Galatians 5:13 Paul says this:
“For you were called to freedom, brothers (and sisters). Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Christians are people set free to love. We are set free to be compassionate, we are set free to serve.
Freedom then in the New Testament is not freedom to do my own thing, to thumb my nose at authorities, to put my ego, my way, at the centre of my living, or to engage in rampant individualism. Freedom in the New Testament is freedom to love and serve one another.
This is where I have a major problem with some of the protesters who have taken to our streets, anti the vaccine, anti mask wearing, wanting all Covid restrictions to be lifted – now! These are the Judaizers of our day because they do not understand what Christian freedom is for! I am not against Christians protesting or marching, or making their voices heard. But for this to be Christian it needs to be a protest based on love for the vulnerable, the frail, the poor. It is not freedom simply to do our own thing, it is not an ego trip.
The restrictions and mandates, currently in place protect the vulnerable. They require of us some short-term sacrifices, but the goal is that freedom, a freedom that is safe for as many as possible, will ultimately be ours.
What does Jesus say the two greatest commandments are: “Love God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.”
Christ sets us free to love our neighbour, Christ sets us free to be compassionate people. In the midst of a pandemic, one way to show that love for our neighbour is to be vaccinated, to listen to the medical experts and to follow the guidelines.
This is not a time for ego tripping, or grandstanding. This is a time for Christlike living, for doing unto others what we would have them do for us.
At the end of what is one of the greatest chapters in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 13, Paul summarises the three things that really matter. Significantly, in that chapter, “freedom”, important though it may be, doesn’t even get a mention.
The summary Paul gives at the end of Corinthians 13, is this:
“…and now abide three things, faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.”
Christians are people set free to love.