Tomorrow, we celebrate the independence of the United States of America. The Fourth of July is the great celebration of freedom, of the liberties which are the trademark of this great country. A few months back I finally finished reading a mammoth sized biography on our first president, George Washington. He was a fascinating, heroic, flawed, and inspiring man. In many ways he was the perfect man to be the early and fierce leader of this nation. It is intriguing how as he led the Continental Army through bloody defeats and triumphant victories over the British forces he did so as a champion of freedom and as a beacon for liberty in this land. Yet, at the same time he was the largest slave owner in Virginia. The cry of freedom consumed his life and at the same time collided with his personal wealth and cultural sensitivities. And that freedom was hard earned from the crown. It came at a great cost of sacrifice and blood. Yet, once it was accomplished it was not so clear how they were to live in their new freedom and even to whom that freedom applied.
We, as Christians, have our own language of freedom. While it is different from our national sense of liberty and is often confused with it, it is similar in that it presents ongoing challenges to our lives. To be free and then to live in that freedom is not such a simple thing. As the children of God, you are set free in the gifts of Christ. Your freedom was not hard earned by your sacrifice, by your spilled blood, but by the blood of the Son of God. Your freedom is sure precisely because it is rooted in the sacrifice of God. It is a gift given to you. And what he has set you free from are the demands of the Law. The pure and holy will of God, which fallen man cannot uphold, no longer condemns those who are in Christ. In this freedom, He delivers to you liberty over sin, death, and the power of the Devil. There is no longer a legal claim over you. That is your freedom.
So, we will often say we are justified by grace through faith on account of Christ alone. Justified, declared righteous in the courtroom of Heaven, set free by the love of our Lord. Perhaps we should take a moment to marvel in this new identity, step back to take in the wonder of it all. You, who are sinners through and through, now have no obstacle to salvation. You are free from the Law, covered in the righteous garments of Christ, hidden in His works, his sacrifice, his love. But eventually the questions will arise. Eventually we need to engage in the living of our lives and the questions will come with it. How do we live? What do we do now? What does this freedom look like when the rubber meets the road? What do we do with the freedom we have been given? Like Washington, do we fight for it fiercely on one end and then apply it sporadically on the other? Does it actually change our lives? If so, how much, how far does it reach?
These are the issues Saint Paul is addressing as he gets to the end of his letter to the church in Galatia. He instructs them, exhorts them, encourages them on how they might now live in the freedom they have been given in Christ. So, he says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2). He begins to describe the identity and the function of the community which is created in the freedom of the Gospel. It is a place that restores one another, bears each other’s burdens. It is described as a fellowship that takes seriously both the external threat to the faith and the strength found in the gathering together of the people of God.
Here Paul gives us a crucial distinction we would do well to remember. Something which is quite useful as we ask the question of, “What now?” He says, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). Now we are used to speaking about our Lord being crucified for our sin and dying the death we deserved to die. The Creed confesses how Jesus, “Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.” We know this. It is the power of the Gospel itself. You are also probably familiar with Paul saying things like, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Yet here, he seems to go even further. He proclaims something staggering about the work of Christ and our connection to it and the ramifications for the living of our lives. He says to be united to the work of Christ means you are crucified to the world and the world to you.
We ought not pass over this too quickly. This is a profound and shocking statement. To put it in the context of our justification in Christ, this means the freedom of the Christian is a freedom which profoundly separates you from the world. To receive the gifts He bestows is to be crucified to the world and the world to you. This means the concerns, the goals, and the values of this age have no claim over you. You are not bound to them. You are not consumed by them. In fact, you are crucified to them. How then do you live? You live as one who knows this age will pass away, and with it all the concerns of our twenty-four-hour news cycle. You live in the world but are not of the world. There is joy to be found in such living. There is happiness in being able to serve, love, and care for others.
Which brings us to another realization Paul brings forth. To be crucified to this world not only changes your relationship to the world, but it also changes your relationship to each other. To be crucified to something means you are somehow separated out from it, cut off in a way. But you are not separated out and left to your own. You are crucified from the world and then placed into a fellowship with others in the same situation. You are placed here with each other. In your freedom you are turned toward one another, to care for each other, to forgive one another, to support and build up each other. Over the years, I have noticed some interesting things about churches. People tend to see a church as an institution, as a place with structure, ritual, and traditions. While those things are always there, to one degree or another, that is not, at its core, the church. The church are the people of God. The church are those who are called out of darkness, crucified to the world, living and thriving in the gifts of Christ.
The Church is built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, with Christ as the cornerstone. But the church is not some stagnant thing which forces you to get in line. No, the Church is the fellowship of the faithful. It is what you fashion it to be. It is how you love each other. It is how you provide for one another. It is how you bear one another’s burdens. Of course, we will struggle and stumble along the way. We will have setbacks and get discouraged. But this is what God has given to us, and in our freedom, we will strive to live faithfully in His freedom.
To be crucified to the world is to be bound to one another. In a way, it is to say this is our place, at this time, to make a stand. Paul says, “Neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation;” a new creation. That is what we are, a creation established and nourished by the gifts of Christ. A creation not built upon the works of the Law but the freedom of the Gospel. A new creation which continues to risk it all for love, for compassion, and for forgiveness.