Freedom Not Independence

by Samuel Parrish

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

In the United States, we’ve just celebrated one of our most important holidays in terms of national identity. Born from the colonial system, we celebrate our independence, our right to rule ourselves. Over the holiday weekend, Downtown Charleston was full of families decked out in matching red, white and blue t-shirts with “FREEDOM!” written in bold lettering. Amidst the smell of hotdogs and sunscreen in the air and under fireworks over the very harbor the British invaded 240 years ago, it is easy for freedom and independence to become synonymous in the American psyche. While the fourth of July may be a strictly American phenomenon, this equating of freedom and independence is not. If we aren’t careful, we as believers will read independence into every mention of freedom in the New Testament to our spiritual detriment.

New Testament writers do not take our freedom in Christ lightly. In Ephesians and Colossians, Paul declares our freedom as one of the greatest blessings of being in Christ while simultaneously providing some of his strongest warnings against being taken captive again by sin and the snares of the enemy. In Romans 8, creation continues to groan awaiting its freedom from the ongoing effects of sin. In 1 Peter, we are called to live as free people and to also be conform to God’s holiness. We have been freed from sin. We have been freed to serve in the kingdom of light. In Christ, we are FREE! But we are not independent.

The New Testament attests to this mutual exclusion of freedom and independence in multiple places. In 1 Corinthians, Paul answers a charge against his apostleship by declaring himself a servant and steward of the words of God. For Paul, there is no distinction: Jesus is both savior and lord. The same blessing that sets us free from the bondage to sin compels us to obedience to Christ. In Jude, to reject authority is the same as taking sides with some of the most unsavory characters in the Old Testament and with it the judgment they received.

Christ’s blood was not spilled for my independence. Rather, it was spilled for my salvation and adoption—the ultimate example of our dependence on God. As glorious as the Gospel is, if we miss the beauty of Christ’s lordship, we miss the Gospel entirely. Yet, the work of the Holy Spirit is not complete merely when we see our need for a savior. Many of us grew up in families that were out of control and we were given broken tools for how to handle trouble in this life. Through choices of our own, we have made the path forward even more difficult, and are looking for a way to escape hardship. Beautifully, the Gospel promises a way out from our past—freedom through dependence. The same faith that asks us to trust in a Good Father who will save us from our sin also asks us to dependently trust in a Benevolent Lord who instructs us in our way forward. May we see our obedience as the sweet fragrance of incense the Psalmists promise it to be!

Where do you need grace to see submission as a beautiful thing?
Where do you struggle to believe that Christ has a better way forward?
What are some additional passages in scripture that address freedom, obedience, or lordship?