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Summary: St. Paul tells us we’re going to be slaves, but will we be slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness (draws heavily on some Martin Luther quotes).

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As we approach Independence Day, I hear more and more conversations talking about what freedom means. In 1941, FDR identified four essential freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of each individual to worship God in their own way, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Today some people suggest that flying a flag is a good symbol of American freedom. Perhaps you remember all the commercials after 9/11 encouraging us to buy consumer goods to show our freedom. In June of 2002, a mother wrote an article in Newsweek suggesting that her five-year old daughter playing ice hockey in the U.S. is a good example of American freedom (June 3, 2002). Others express their American freedom by voting or getting involved in the political arena. Freedom is understood in many ways by many different people.

In 1520, Martin Luther wrote an essay called "The Freedom of a Christian". In it, he explores whether a Christian is free or not. Basically his question of Christian freedom boils down to this: If Christ has set us free, does that mean we’re off the hook? Or as St. Paul puts it in Romans 6:15, "Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?" Paul’s response? "By no means!" The question we keep coming back around to is: "If we are really forgiven does that mean we have free reign to do whatever we want, whenever we want it, and wherever we want to do it?" If Jesus freed us from the law, then it doesn’t matter whether we sin or not, right? After all, we are set free from bondage to sin through Jesus’ death, so why would we be enslaved to anything?

In his discussion of the freedom of a Christian, Luther says, "A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all." In one sense, we are "perfectly free lord[s] of all". No one can tell us what to do or where to go. Because our highest allegiance is to God, we do not have to be subject to what people tell us to do. We make our own decisions and plans, without referring to other people or concerning ourselves with their needs. We are in charge of our own choices and have personal autonomy.

But in another sense, we are "perfectly dutiful servant[s] of all." Because our highest allegiance is to God, we have an obligation to respond to God’s call to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, and show compassion to the prisoner. So while no one can demand that we act out our faith, God’s call to us still stands. If we wish to be faithful to God’s call, we must be servants of all. In other words, if we are really free, we’ll be slaves to the right master. Luther wrote: "Although the Christian is thus free from all works, he ought in this liberty to empty himself…and to serve, help, and in every way deal with his neighbor as he sees that God through Christ has dealt and still deals with him. This he should do freely, having regard for nothing but divine approval." (303)

Luther goes on to explain that we receive a free gift of grace, and so we ought to freely respond from our heart of love. "As our heavenly Father has in Christ freely come to our aid, we also ought freely to help our neighbor through our body and its works, and each one should become as it were Christs to the other that we may be Christs to one." (305) As Luther puts it, because we’ve been given the free gift of grace, we should freely respond to that gift by serving our neighbor. We are freed so that we can serve. We are released from bondage to sin in order to pledge our allegiance to a higher authority.


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