Summary: Freedom is a pathway, not an end point.
What is freedom? For Kelly, it meant graduating from high school and getting out from under her parents thumb. Carl thought that freedom would come when he had his own car and could come and go as he pleased. Rosa longed for the freedom to quit work so that she could stay at home with her children, while Betsy couldn't wait for them all to be in school so she could go back to work. Harry dreamed of starting his own business so that he could be free to be his own boss, and run it the way he wanted. Stan found, after 20 years in prison, that the outside world was more than he could cope with, so he robbed a gas station and got sent back.
The Peruvian Incas found that freedom from the Spanish landowners meant that they had to decide what to plant, and when, and they had to find their own buyers and suppliers. And after the Jews were freed from exile in Babylon, those who returned from Babylon to rebuild their own country again found themselves embroiled in a tug-of-war between political and military alliances for the next 500 years, when sometimes it seemed as though the only choice they had was who to seek protection from - and at what price.
What is freedom?
Freedom doesn't mean just making our own choices, although that's certainly part of it. Freedom isn't easy. It doesn't come easily, and it's very easy to lose. Freedom is uncertainty, freedom means responsibility, and freedom involves taking risks. And sometimes you can get it wrong. Because freedom alone isn't enough. It's not just freedom from. It's freedom to. Freedom isn't a destination. It isn't a place you get to and stop. It's a context, a house you live in or a road you travel on. And if you don't want freedom for something else, something better than
what you have or where you are right now, what you think is freedom may actually lead to a prison that's worse than what you left behind.
When Harry started his own business, he actually worked more hours, longer hours, and for several years brought in less money. But he was a happy man. But after Kelly graduated from high school, she spent all her money on clothes, and had to get a second job to pay off all her debts.
Real freedom isn't easy. And there are times when prison is actually easier, because the rules are clear and you don't have to make decisions and if something goes wrong there's somebody else to take the blame.
Rigid, legalistic religion provides much the same kind of security: the rules are clear, the boundaries are fixed, and if you can't get out, well, at least no one can get in, either. It's safe.
The rules the Jews had lived by for so many years were not bad rules. Their community had been formed and defined by the law, and the law had been given to them by God, and it had served them well. But now there was something better. Instead of law, there was now freedom.
Paul isn't telling the Romans that what Jesus had done cut them loose from everything God had said up to now, and that they could go and do anything they liked. Although some people thought that was what he meant. What Paul has been saying, throughout this long letter to the Romans so far, basically has two parts.
Part one is: top trusting in your possession of the law, or your ability to obey the law, for your good standing with God. You see, the Jews of Jesus' day had gotten things the wrong way around. They knew that God had chosen them purely out of grace, not out of anything they had done. But then they thought that following all the rules was what made them acceptable to God, that the better they behaved, the more God would love them. And of course anything that made God love them more, obviously made them better than other people, too, right? So they could look down on everybody else.
That's why Paul spent a good chunk of this long, complicatd letter making sure they understood clearly, with absolutely no possibility of error, that Jews were just as much sinners as Gentiles, if not more so, because they had less excuse. At this point, then, if his audience hasn't tuned him out altogether, they're quaking in their boots, because when you really take a good, honest look at your innards, it's enough to drive you to despair. That's why Paul begins this chapter - one of the most beautiful in all of Scripture - with that very familiar and comforting assurance: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."