We hear stories all the time where a long term prisoner is released, only to commit another crime and return to prison. Or worse, they self destruct or even take their own life. They have been in prison for so long, they simply have no concept how to function in a free world anymore.
We see the same situation with animals. The most well know is probably the circus elephant. As a baby it is held by a very strong chain but as it gets older, a simple rope will do. It remembers it couldn’t break the chain before and just doesn’t try anymore.
The concept of freedom can be very elusive, especially when you’ve lived in bondage for so long. This same concept exists when we are free in Christ. Galatians 5 starts out with “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1)
Paul was writing this chapter to the people in Galatia that were being persuaded they still needed to be circumcised in order to follow Jesus. Paul’s point is that if you fall to a part of the law as some form of justification, you are responsible to be justified by the whole law, apart from grace.
Although we don’t discuss circumcision as part of a requirement for faith anymore, the concept is the same. When we place any action as a requirement for justification, we eliminate the value of grace, we remove the value of the cross. Christ did not die on the cross so that those who obey the law would be saved. He died so that those who accept his free gift of grace would be saved.
The legalists of the time talked of circumcision but the legalists of today have their own list of behaviors they deem necessary to “be a good Christian”. In fact, there’s a pretty long list today. While it is true we are to let our “manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil 1:27a) this does not mean that our manner of life impacts our salvation.
However, there’s a flip side of this freedom as well. Just as we are not justified by our flesh but by our faith, we are also not to abuse that freedom either. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Gal 5:13) While our salvation is assured and we cannot behave our way out of it, our manner of life can draw people to Christ or push them away. If we abuse our freedom like some sort of “Get out of Hell free” card, what good are we for the kingdom? We should life as free, but use our freedom to love others.
Bottom line is this. We are FREE in Christ. Period. But to win others to Christ, to make other disciples, we must use that freedom to love others and serve them.