1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1
In the past I’ve always found this passage incredibly confusing and redundant. Doesn’t Paul know that grammatically you’re not supposed to use one form of a word to define or explain another form of the same word? No matter how it was stated, or the passion behind the speaker’s words, it always left me in kind of a haze wondering, “What am I missing?”
Only in the last week or so have I felt like God is finally starting to unwrap for me what this statement is truly communicating–and how understanding that is key to digesting the rest of this chapter. The meaning of freedom, and the inseparable relationship between freedom and truth is sort of the key to being able to process what it means to LIVE your life instead of just wandering blindly through it. Though it may seem lofty and more philosophical than practical, the reality of John 8:32 “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free,” has become far more personal than I would have ever anticipated. This then begs the question “What is truth?”. Simply put, and for the purposes of this conversation, I think it is important to note that truth (at least in my experience) is active. It is an understanding and acceptance of what IS as confirmed and defined by scripture, despite the presence of contrary ideas from demonic influences or personal wounds from the past. By relating this recent “Aha!” moment I hope you find some sort of encouragement to explore what freedom means for you personally; and how possessing active freedom in your life might empower you to discern and help break the specific “yokes of slavery” that imprison others.
As a passing thought, I feel that in order to properly have this conversation we all ought to be sitting up on the grassy mountaintops of Tibet or something, but here I am in my cubical. Not quite the scenic and thought provoking environment I might have hoped for, but regardless, it will have to do for now. Use your imagination.
Over the last several months I have had several particular experiences in my life that I knew were being pieced together to teach me some sort of larger seasonal lesson. I’ve met knew people, reconnected with old friends and had many deep conversations. All this has lead to multiple mini-revelations. Though I hate to use that terminology because it sounds like I’m a college student in Psych 101, there really is no other way to describe what I have been experiencing.
The final epiphany that strung all of this together occurred, strangely enough, during my weekly scene study (acting) class this past Saturday. I have been working on one particular monologue off and on since I joined this class in June and had reached a point about a month ago where I just felt stuck. The monologue itself is taken from a book, a memoir by a young woman recounting 30 some odd jobs that she held over a 3 year period. In this particular section, she relates her experience working as a nude model for a painter and the unexpected joy, freedom and value that she found through this unconventional job. When I first started working on the piece, it had a very uplifting feeling—communicating a deeply personal and valuable excerpt. A life altering experience. But I couldn’t make sense of some of the statements she made. And though, generally speaking, I felt like I was telling an actual story of something that I had gone through (which in acting is GOOD) there were certain words that rang false to me as I said them. And then things kind of fell apart. As often happens, I got to a point where I’d worked on the monologue so much and over thought it, that it started sucking. I mean REALLY sucking (at least from my overly critical point of view). Now I felt bitter telling the story. As someone recounting this experience as a great loss, something she was currently without. Something that made her feel empty and worthless. Which I’m fairly certain isn’t the textual intent of the piece.
In acting, often the most important points to remember as you speak are who or what you are talking about, and who you are talking to. These important reference points determine the ‘motivation’ for the speaker. What has prompted this woman to share this particular story at this moment in time?
Over the course of working through this monologue I’d tried using different people from my life as the ‘characters’ in the story to make it more tangible. More honestly relatable. At first I was convinced that I had the perfect person in mind to represent the eccentric Artist. It made sense to me in theory, but in practice that person didn’t quite fit. I changed the Artist from one friend to another trying to see what feelings or ideas came from referencing each one. And I changed the “friend” and the reasons why I was telling that person the story—but I was still stuck. So I put it down for a month or two and just let it sit there.
Then after a long talk with a good friend from college it all came together. Who the Artist was, who I was telling the story to, and most importantly in this scenario the reason WHY. I didn’t work on it much more before class. I ran over the lines a few times in the car as I drove to and from work, but for the most part I left it alone.
Then it was Saturday. I got up on the stage and sat down. My nerves kicked in. Something I’ve had issues with my whole life. I get so nervous that I just go into “auto pilot” and recite. Perhaps with some feeling and element of truth—but mostly I think it comes off as apologetic and nervous. But on Saturday it was different. After I sat down my heart started pounding. I could literally hear my heart beating in my ears. So I stood up. I did not apologize-I jumped around and shook out my arms and then I sat back down. Quiet. Focused. I saw my friend and I knew why it was important to tell her that story in that moment. And I did. And I ENJOYED it. Every word. A new experience for me really.
In that moment, I felt completely free. Not at all worried about people judging me. Even more amazing—I was not judging myself. And then everything I’d been learning the last few months about relating to people, about seeing God’s truth in who He says we are, in accepting that I am always growing, in learning to truly expect good things from God that are perfectly structured and crafted specifically for me–it all clicked in. I had the ‘Aha!” moment and it’s stuck with me. The ropes of fear and doubt and the chains of the enemy’s lies that have been wrapped around and round for many years broke off, and I walked away. I’m not even entirely sure how any of this happened. But I’m glad that it did. And now I understand.
I can now decipher the meaning of this passage because I have experienced (even if just momentarily) the power of true freedom that makes the yokes of slavery recognizable, and renders them powerless. I realized what makes this passage hard to explain or understand is that there is no single definition of what freedom is for everyone. Sure one might speak in political or philosophical terms of a person’s legal ability to move around, to go where he wants, when he wants and to participate in particular activities. But I don’t believe that this is what Paul is addressing. I think it’s more the idea of personal freedom–which is the tricky part. Because I don’t struggle with the same things or against the same lies that any other person does. At least not in the same way. Just as certainly as God structures unique blessings for me, the devil does the same in constructing dark holes and crossroads for me to get lost in. I cannot tell you what freedom will feel like for you, because I can only share what freedom has been for me. How can I take possession of freedom if it has already been brought to me? Isn’t that redundant? That is why the verbiage never made sense before. Because I read it as referencing the same person. Me. It is not for the sake of my own personal freedom that Christ has brought me release from lies and bondage, but for the cause of freedom for each person in the world.
There’s a funny image that came to mind that is a better visual representation of what Paul is saying. There’s a movie, maybe “Ace Ventura” or something where a pet store is on fire, and there are so many animals trapped inside the store, that the one person is incapable of letting all the caged animals out before they are consumed by the fire. So he lets out a chimpanzee and the chimp starts opening cages and carrying animals out too. Yes, in that scenario, I am the monkey. God did not let me out of my cage so that I could just run away and be safe. He let me out so I could open the other cages and save the puppies and the kittens and the goldfish before the ceiling caves in. But more importantly I can’t just go in and open the front door to the store and expect all the individual cages to open up on their own. I have to find each lock and latch and help each animal out of their specific cages—that is, if they are ready to come out. This is not to say that once God reveals some amount of freedom to me that it is my responsibility to free everyone else while they just sit there. It is only my job to keep my eyes open and look for people who want help–and to act and pray on their behalf when God prompts me to do so.
If I think about it in terms of trying to achieve freedom across the world, the task seems so intimidating that it’s hard to find a place to begin. That’s my hang up: looking at the big picture instead of just starting with one project at a time. But in reality, the “whole world” won’t be free, until the last person, the surviving soul in captivity, is free.
So perhaps in a different wording, “Christ has set you free so that you can help others defeat the demons, fears and hurts that hold them captive–as individuals–when they’re ready.”
And you have to see that before you see this (also Galatians 5):
7You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? 8That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 13You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature[a]; rather, serve one another in love. 14The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b
We are not called to live a life of fear and anxiety (though that is what many of us do). Who does God say we are in truth? We are people, individuals, destined to live free from such yokes. Free from that which would keep us from achieving the dreams and goals that He has written upon our hearts. And who keeps us from freedom? The devil . Somehow I forget that the little voice in my head is not always me, “That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.” Yeah, the voices that beat me up? The voice that tells me I’m boring, ugly, talentless and ordinary? Not God. And yet sometimes I’m surprised to realize that. God is not out to get me, though somehow along the way at least a small part of me became convinced that He was. If you are a child of God, you are called to the truth. You are called to be light, to live a life of love, to make the most of every opportunity and to live wisely, knowing what the Lord’s will is (Eph 5); knowing that the Spirit of righteousness, God’s Spirit, will help to clarify the “murky” points.
This leads to one of my favorite parts, the idea of the fruits of the Spirit. Same deal. When reading over that list (Gal 5:22) “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” I have always felt so overwhelmed. Then I prayed for patience. I went through an incredibly difficult year–finding a new housing situation, a new job–it was like starting all over. Again. But I realized that I had, through all that hardship, acquired a certain amount of patience. And that practicing patience naturally helped me to practice the other character qualities I thought were so elusive. I could not practice patience without practicing love, kindness and self-control. God sure is smart. Instead of being difficult, it is actually easier to learn and practice all of these disciplines when you start out with one.
So I guess that is my challenge to you. Just pick one. Pray about it, and chose. As long as you are doing it out of a place of truly wanting to grow as an individual and learn to love people better, God will honor that request. If you’re not sure which one to start with, ask God to tell you. Or even just pick one…I’m sure if he wants you to start with a different one, He’ll re-direct you. My only suggestion, something I learned through the patience seeking experience. Now when I ask God to teach me things I always add, ‘But gently Lord! Teach me gently.” And He does.
Where do you need to find Freedom, and how do you start? Start by ‘living a life of love” (Eph 5) and ask God to send someone who has found a little bit of freedom to walk beside you. Because it was for YOU that Christ set them free.