To be a Christian is to re-learn the meaning of some of the most foundational words in our language. Words like freedom, love, justice, wisdom, power, and knowledge.
For too many people Christianity simply adds a few more ideas to a set of already assumed beliefs about themselves and the world. In reality, the Gospel desires to crucify our previous worldview and replace it with an understanding of the world around us which is saturated in the grace and glory of the Crucified God. Our concepts of things such as justice and wisdom must be re-defined by the Cross and by the Son of God who died on it. The result is that many words than once held simple “obvious meanings” now end up “baptized by the Cross” and with new definitions that are often quite surprising and perhaps complexing.
My suggestion: a Christian dictionary would be a helpful tool for the act of discipleship.
It’s a big project – but perhaps it can be tackled one word at a time.
Since it is the fourth of July, let’s start with the word “freedom.”
In my experience, “freedom” is often defined in terms such as “the ability to do whatever one wishes” or “the ability to choose from any of the available options.” (Side note: these are actually two completely differing notions of freedom). For Christians however, true freedom is liberation from the self-destructing forces of sin and death which keep humans trapped in a viscous cycle. Thus, freedom involves the potential and ability of acting in new ways that lead to life. These actions we know by words such as obedience. They are characterized by the distinct hints of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In a world dominated by the cruciform logic of the Triune God – freedom and self-control actually go hand in hand. This is why Paul can describe Christian freedom as a kind of slavery to God’s new way of life in Christ and through the Spirit.
As William Barclay says, “Christian freedom does not mean being free to do as we like; it means being free to do as we ought.”
Thus, Christians are “free” in a way much different than the “freedom” sought after in liberal democracies. Christians are free not to hold on to their rights, but to give them up. Christians are free not to treat people however they like, but to love indiscriminately and without end. Christians are free to give up their lives for the good of even their enemies.
Sound paradoxical? Sound upside-down?
Welcome to the new world… the world of the Cross.
The world of the Kingdom.