When you think of the word freedom, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
Free speech? Pickets and rallies? How about a soldier in uniform, fireworks, or even the American flag?
As Westerners, the idea of freedom often leads us to the rights of every individual. Because every single person matters, regardless of race, creed, age, social class, gender or religion. That’s a beautiful value, and one that finds its origins in Christ. Remember the shepherd who left the 99 for the one?
What about the image of a servant? Does that come to mind when you think of freedom? I admit, it’s not the first thing that comes to mine. It almost feels like the opposite. It makes me think of slavery, not freedom.
But this is exactly what the Apostle Paul told us to think about in the context of freedom. In Galatians 5:13, he says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
So, it is out of freedom we are to love and serve others. What does that mean exactly?
I grew up as a PK (a pastor’s kid). I have great parents who’ve always loved me unconditionally. Yet, as a teenager, I never could shake the internal pressure I felt to perform…to be a “good Christian.” I believed my value was based on my behavior.
Then in early adulthood, my value began to be about what I could accomplish. That’s what the world around me said. As millennials, we were often told to dream big because we could do anything, and that we would change the world someday. Talk about pressure and setting us up for disappointment!
Needless to say, I was a rather insecure young man, always comparing myself to others and wondering if I was letting God down. Not that He didn’t love me – I never doubted that – but that maybe He was disappointed in me. He was probably prouder of the countless others who were more devoted than I was, sacrificing more, surrendering more, giving more.
On the outside, I was doing the Christian things rather well – being friendly, going to church, studying Scripture – but on the inside, I was haunted by fear.
Paul said earlier in Galatians that Christ has set us free (5:1). I sure didn’t feel free. Not even close.
We recently had an awards ceremony for my 6-year-old son’s Trail Life Troop. It’s like a faith-based Boy Scouts. The boys were getting recognized for all they had accomplished the past nine months, learning about integrity, camping skills, sports and fitness, and orienteering. Yet, it was the dads who really did all the heavy lifting for their activities, projects and games.
Still, as my wife knelt down and put pins on my son’s badge, and he stood beaming with delight, I couldn’t help but feel proud of him. I wasn’t proud of him because of what he accomplished necessarily. I was proud of him because we spent time together doing these things. I was proud of him because he was my son.
The next morning, God reminded me that’s how He feels about me. He’s not proud of me because of what I accomplish. He’s proud of me because I am His son.
God sprinkles moments in our lives to remind us that not only does He love us, He actually delights in us. The Bible tells us this often (Zeph. 3:17, Psalm 18:19, 147:11, 149:4, Gen. 1:31, Proverbs 8:30).
We wear Christ’s righteousness (2 Cor. 5:17) and God sees us like He sees His Son. Our approval in His sight is not based on our behavior or our accomplishments. It’s based on the fact that we are His. You aren’t approved because of who you are, but because of Whose you are.
The more we can receive His acceptance in this way, the more we can truly live free…free from obligation and pressure, free from fear, free from comparison, jealousy and bitterness.
And when we live freed by this love, the natural response is thankfulness. At least that’s been my experience. The more deeply I accept God’s unconditional approval of me, the more thankful I feel, and the more compelled I am to share that same love with others.
So what does it mean to love and serve others out of freedom? It means we are so moved by God’s acceptance of us, we want to share that same love with others. It’s compelled by gratitude, not approval.
At Forward Edge, the deepest kind of freedom we wish for every child we encounter is freedom on the inside. It’s knowing and receiving the truth that Christ makes them acceptable. They are God’s child and that’s what defines them. Not their circumstances, accomplishments or even behaviors. God is proud of them because they are His.
Do we also want to see them freed from poverty, affliction and oppression? Absolutely! And we work hard to make that their reality. But freedom from these things alone still falls short. One can remain enslaved to performance, whether they live in an African slum or an American suburb.
This internal freedom takes time. It’s not just something you’re told and voila, you’re changed, you’re free. It’s a process, and especially harder if generations before you have told you otherwise. Accepting this freedom has taken years of discovery for me and I’m still only scratching the surface.
This is why child sponsorship is so beautiful – because of its combination of unconditional love and long-term commitment. When you or I sponsor a child, we are demonstrating Christ’s unconditional love and approval to a complete stranger for a long period of time. It’s the soil where freedom can sprout and grow.
Let me ask you this honest question: how free do you feel by Christ’s love?
If you’ve put your faith in Jesus Christ as God and trusted Him with your life, then freedom is yours. Freedom from shame, from fear, from striving for approval. When God looks at you, He says the same about you now as He did about Jesus: “This is my son [or daughter], in whom I’m well pleased.”
I pray you feel more and more free every day. And as that freedom grows, it will lead to more love and service of others. It’ll be a “get to,” not a “got to.” We love because He first loved us.