The wildly popular song “Let it Go,” from the movie Frozen, has the following lyrics:
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!
No doubt this captures the sentiment of much of our culture. People are looking to break through any last vestige of rules in our modern world. And they define the lack of rules–no right or wrong–as freedom.
Christians sometimes use a phrase that captures (or at least can capture) a similar sentiment, “We have freedom in Christ.” And Christians use this phrase in drastically different ways. Indeed, it is hard to imagine of phrase that has so much potential for being both biblical and unbiblical depending on how it is used.
And thus we come to the next phrase in the series, “Taking Back Christianese.” Our purpose in this post is simply to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of this phrase. We will do this by asking three questions: (1) Why do people use this phrase? (2) What is correct or helpful about this phrase? and (3) What is problematic about this phrase?
Why Do People Use This Phrase?
There is little doubt that people use this phrase because it echoes the very word of Paul, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1).
Given that Paul’s letter to the Galatians is largely designed to battle a form of legalism, most Christians latch onto this phrase to battle what they perceive to be legalism. They are tired perhaps of what they see as a judgmental spirit in others that imposes unbiblical rules and restrictions upon them. They want to be free.
The problem, of course, is that often times people misunderstood what actually counts as legalism. Thus, as we shall see below, the phrase can be unfortunately used to fight against what is right and good.
What is Correct or Helpful about This Phrase?
In as much as one understands Paul’s original intent with this phrase, there is much about it that is wonderful and liberating. At its core, this phrase is rightly used to keep Christians from laboring under an unbiblical form of law-keeping. Such unbiblical law-keeping would include:
1. Requiring law-keeping to be saved. To say we are “free” in Christ can refer to how Christians are not saved on the basis of law-keeping. Some folks labor (heavily) under the heavy yoke of salvation-by-works. This phrase can lift that yoke.
2. Requiring law-keeping that does not come from Scripture. To say we are “free” in Christ can also mean that we are required only to follow the Bible’s laws, not man’s. Over the years, various individuals and denominations have insisted that certain practices be followed, or certain behaviors prohibited, even though the Bible does not require these things. Such burdens can be a serious yoke of slavery, but Paul reminds us that Christians are free from these things. Only God’s Word should bind our conscience (though we may voluntarily refrain from certain behaviors to keep a brother or sister from stumbling; Rom 14:13-15).
What is Problematic about This Phrase?
Unfortunately this phrase is used in ways that aren’t always positive. Sadly, in our modern cultural climate, this phrase is often misunderstood to mean that Christians have no obligation to follow any rules or laws whatsoever.
In other words, this phrase is often used to justify the “no right, no wrong” mentality from the song in Frozen. In this scenario, the problem isn’t sin the problem is the law. The problem isn’t our rebellion, the problem is the rules themselves. If we can just get rid of those pesky rules then we will be truly “free.”
Of course, the Bible’s vision of freedom is radically different. Following our own sinful desires, and doing whatever we want, is not regarded as freedom in the Bible; it is regarded as slavery (Rom 6:6).
Likewise, biblical freedom is not freedom to sin, but freedom NOT to sin! Real freedom is to be set free from our bondage to sin so that we can gladly and willingly and joyfully obey God’s Word. Real freedom is when one “has been set free from sin. . . [and] lives to God” (Rom 6:7, 10).
In sum, we can see that the phrase “We are free in Christ” is like many of the other phrases in this series. Rightly understood, it can be a wonderful (and biblical) encouragement. Wrongly understood, it can be a recipe for slavery and bondage.
Even so, this phrase presents a wonderful opportunity to shatter the world’s conception that God’s law is harmful and oppressive. On the contrary, we need to show the world that God’s law, rightly understood, is a “delight” to the soul (Psalm 1:2).
Marjorie Goertzen says
Thanks for this succinct explanation.
Jeff Strong says
A terse, fantastic explanation. Bookmarking this for future conversations. Excellent!
Tomas Moore says
“The Law” was for the Hebrews. Christians have codified the New Testament as a learning tool, the “schoolmaster.” It gives guidance to people who genuinely want to follow Christ, but it has no effect on salvation and often encourages pride. “For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” The telos of Christian faith is not to “follow” Christ, but to become Christ.
The cross should be the centerpiece for our Christian faith, not law, not the Church or the Bible. “20 My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 … For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.
The schoolmaster teaches us how to recognize our salvation, brought about by crucifixion. This is how Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross fulfills the Law. Christ in me set free by the death of ego, the sin nature, the “old man.” Death is a prerequisite for the new birth and freedom.
I am in way over my head here…but I am still trying to learn. So I ask, if we throw the Law away as just being part of the older covenant only for an untrue Israel and for the understanding of our condemnation, then aren’t we throwing away the Psalms? In other words, what becomes of the Psalms that praise the Law when we say that the Law is no longer for the Christian? Can they be reinterpreted? Has the newer covenant rendered them void? Not picking a fight…truly curious as this has bothered me more and more as I try to follow Paul’s command to train up my children in righteousness.
Tomas Moore says
The cross fulfills the law. We don’t “throw it away” but our relationship with it changes. It’s as true and necessary as ever. It helps us understand the mind of God. But it’s not prescriptive. Salvation only comes through death of self, replaced by Christ.
Do you think Jesus’ spirituality is a result of His following laws? His character is such that he naturally does His Father’s Will. This is what Father wants for all of us.
The Psalms are an excellent example of a portrait painted of the relationship between Yahweh and His people. Inspiring and informative, excellent source for hymns, but not prescriptive,
Fathers should train their children by example.
I would say Eph 6:1-2.Combine salvation by Grace & holiness, do not steal, do not lie, do not covet, love God & love your neighbour are generously scattered throughout the NT. Liberated by the power of the spirit we are enabled to walk on the straight path of life in the Son in gratitude.
Without holiness no one will see the Lord. Heb12:14.
Understood rightly & humbly the law does not instil pride, that would be the human heart & a warped sense of self. Even the message of the cross can lead to various distortions.
I like what Spurgeon said about the law for Christ followers:
“What is God’s law now? It is not above a Christian-it is under a Christian. Some men hold God’s law like a rod, in terrorem, over Christians, and say, “If you sin you will be punished with it.” It is not so. The law is under a Christian; it is for him to walk on, to be his guide, his rule, his pattern. “We are not under the law, but under grace.” Law is the road which guides us, not the rod which drives us, nor the spirit which actuates us. The law is good and excellent, if it keeps its place…but when it is set up as mistress, away with her; we will have nought to do with legality.” C.H. Spurgeon