Freedom. God loves freedom. Our Christian faith has deep roots in the Jewish faith. We often talk about a “Judeo-Christian” worldview. You can make a good case that God’s love of freedom shows up in the very earliest chapters of Genesis, the very first book of the Bible.
In Genesis Chapter 2, God creates Adam and places him in the Garden of Eden. God tells him he is free to eat of any tree in the Garden. But, that freedom comes with a warning: “…but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
The first man, and the soon to be created first woman, are free to eat of any of the trees, including the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The are free to either ignore or abide by the warning God gives them. We know what happens next — the fall from grace. Adam and Eve choose to trust the serpent and exercise their freedom by ignoring God’s warning.
Immediately their relationships with God, each other, and creation itself are shattered. When questioned by God, Adam first blames Eve, then blames God for his sin. “The woman you put here with me — she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
The disastrous effects of sin follow immediately. Thorns and thistles appear and make work difficult. Childbirth will be painful. It’s not a pretty picture. And this all results from the first man and the first woman exercising their freedom. Everything that comes next in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments is about undoing the effects of this original sin. And freedom continues to play a vital role.
God invites Abram of Ur in the Caldeans to be the father of a people to whom He will reveal himself. God promises to give Abram descendants and a land to call their own. Abram is free to accept or not accept the invitation God makes to go to the “Promised Land.” Abram accepts and the process of creating the Hebrew people begins. But misfortune strikes, and the Hebrews end up being slaves in Egypt.
The seminal event in the development of the Jewish faith comes when God hears the cries of his enslaved people and raises up Moses to deliver them out of slavery and into freedom. Despite all odds, and of course with God’s help, the Hebrews make it out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. The whole point of the Exodus was to free the Hebrews from slavery and to put them in a land where they would be free to worship God in their own ways.
When Jesus shows up on the scene over a thousand years later, the Jewish religion with its 613 laws is well established. Now, I would agree that it is hard to make a case for freedom when you’re trying to live your life subject to 613 different religious laws and traditions. But things are about to change.
It turns out that Jesus and his followers regularly go out of their way to ignore some of these laws and traditions. For example, Jesus heals on the Sabbath and his followers don’t engage in some of the ritual washing practices.
Even more than the religious leaders of his day, Jesus was concerned with following the “spirit” of God’s Law rather than the “letter” of it. At one point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” Followers of Jesus, then and now, enjoy a certain kind of freedom.
This freedom goes well beyond having to follow strict dictates of archaic religious laws and traditions. Jesus once famously said of himself, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Shortly thereafter, Jesus adds, “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.” The freedom Jesus offers — and he is the only one who can — is freedom from sin.
No matter how good we try to be, we all will fall back into sin from time to time. In a very real sense, we remain slaves to sin despite our best efforts. But we do not have to remain slaves. The Bible tells us forgiveness of sin comes as a free gift through faith in Jesus. And we are free to accept that gift or not.
Jesus will not force himself on us. In the book of Revelation Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” It is not like Jesus is leading a SWAT team that will break down the door and come crashing in. He knocks. And we are free to open the door and invite him into our lives. Or not.
Rick Ehrheart is pastor of Mountain of Faith Lutheran Church in Tooele.