June 28, 2023 | Jeff Patton
Randolph Jefferson Patton was born on July 4, 1963 at 8:00am at Johnston County Memorial Hospital in North Carolina. Yep, Randolph Jefferson would be me. The doctor joked that I should have been the name of a High School or a President of the United States. Being born on the 4th of July has its perks. There are always lots of ‘Merica” decorations to purchase, lots of fun things to do, including lots of fireworks.
Speaking of fireworks, our fam growing up were ‘pyromaniac’ kind of folks. The bigger and louder the better, and not much has changed since then—we love us some fireworks. My parents also told me for at least the first ten years of my life that the entire country was celebrating my birth. This is a sure fire way to raise a narcissist, as if humans need something extra to make the world revolve around their existence, so I highly suggest not to do this with your own young-ins. Yet, at the end of the day, I have always loved being born on Independence Day or as many call it, Freedom Day!
Speaking of freedom, there is a giant copper stature 150 feet high, mounted on a base that’s another 150 feet high, that puts Lady Liberty more than 300 feet above the ground. Our statue of Liberty was a gift to the U.S. from France in 1876, which marked 100 years since the Declaration of Independence. The statue has become a worldwide symbol of freedom. But we might ask, "Freedom from what? And for what?" We need and even must ask these questions because in our modern world, the idea of freedom has taken on a life of its own. Freedom and liberty have certainly been hijacked with an intense focus on personal freedom and happiness. But biblically, as a Christ follower, what is Christian freedom?
Thankfully, 2000 years earlier, the apostle Paul, at the climax of his letter to the Galatians, made his great declaration for freedom in Galatians 5:1-6:
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.
The context and main issue of this letter is "Justification." Meaning, how does one get right with God? How are sinners fully accepted by God? Paul’s response is that justification is by faith alone and is 100% based on the work of Christ alone and received through faith alone. We "get in" and "stay in" by faith alone.
Christian freedom is justification by faith that frees us from sin, from the curse of the law (it’s a curse because we must obey it all perfectly, all the time), from the guilt of our sins, and increasingly from the power of our sins to make us sin. For example, as Christians, circumcision is no longer a necessary step to belong and be found "righteous" in God’s sight. That is why Paul says in vs. 2, "if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you." Yes, faith in Christ plus circumcision (or any other work) does not equal being made right with God. Praise the Lord for this truth!
In Galatians 5:13, Paul again writes, "You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Here Paul makes it clear that freedom, true Christian freedom, is not about following your dreams. It’s about Him setting us free to serve. Christian freedom is completely opposite of fleshly freedom. Our flesh naturally wants independence, self-expression and personal choice, but God’s agenda is that freedom and service would be tied together like Adam and Eve or heaven and earth.
We don’t have to look hard to see this in the life of Jesus. He was free but never abused that freedom for selfish gain. He took “the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7). To his men, he said, “I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27). Christian freedom is, "whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:2).
The great theologian, B.B. Warfield, shines a beautiful light on exactly what true Christian freedom is: “Self-sacrifice brought Christ into the world. And self-sacrifice will lead us, his followers, not away from but into the midst of men. Wherever men suffer, there will we be to comfort. Wherever men strive, there will we be to help. Wherever men fail, there will we be to uplift. Wherever men succeed, there will we be to rejoice. Self-sacrifice means not indifference to our times and our fellows: it means absorption in them...It means not that we should live one life, but a thousand lives—binding ourselves to a thousand souls by the filaments of so loving a sympathy that their lives become ours.” (Note: B.B.’s wife became an invalid soon after they married and he took care of her for the rest of her life, for nearly 40 years. Now there’s a living definition of Christian freedom.)
It is for freedom that he has set us free! And if he has set us free, then we are free indeed! Free from sin and self, free to love and serve Christ and others in his name and for his name’s sake.
As I turn 60 years old this coming 4th of July, I want to finish strong in really living out what it means to be free in Christ, to serve as Christ has served me.