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On Freedom in Christ

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Written by Basil on 05/17/2005 4:30 PM. Filed under:

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Christ is risen! What follows is a Scriptural reflection on freedom in Christ, which often needs to be reframed for converts to Orthodoxy from other Christian traditions. What does this freedom mean? Is it freedom from sin and death? Is it freedom from legalism? Do the Orthodox even know what freedom in Christ is?

It does mean freedom from sin and death, certainly, as “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death, and upon those in the grave bestowing life!” (Paschal troparion-hymn) The law of death, according to many Greek fathers, is the law of sin; we pervert our natural tendency to move towards God because we fear death. Our mortality is the mechanism by which we all inherit original sin. Christ’s Pasch frees us from death and from the power of sin, and we are free indeed.

However, as St. Paul notes, we are not freed to commit more sin.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. …Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Ro 6.1-4,12-14 ESV)

The Apostle is often misinterpreted as teaching against works. St. Peter notes this tendency early in church history, “There are some things in [St Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (2Pt 3.16 ESV) In fact, St Paul’s teaching revolves around this passage in Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ep 2.9-10 ESV) We are saved by grace through faith for good works, because we are his work (Gr. poema).

As a result,

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Ro 8.1-11 ESV)

So, I remind you of these words to say that we are truly free from sin and death by Christ’s Pasch. Freed to live for him and unto him. Not freed to be in bondage to a new law, but to live according to the Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit which is love.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Ga 5.16-24)

Now, I think there is probably a question here of what this looks like within the Orthodox tradition. The traditions of the Church are guides along the path of working out one’s salvation. Yet, as Bishop Kallistos has noted, Christ said, I am the way, the truth, and the life. He did not say, I am custom. We have lattitude in pursuing our salvation and working it out in the Spirit who gives life to the Church. “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1Co 8.8,9 ESV) As always, consult with your priest and spiritual father where the rules of the Church are concerned.

I hope this is helpful. I apologize that I cannot commend more quotations from the fathers to you, but I trust that expounding the sense of Scripture will be enough, for the apostolic tradition is contained in Scripture and the patristic teaching is nothing more than Scripture properly understood.

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3 Responses to “On Freedom in Christ”

  1. Jim N. Says:

    Well done Basil. I was kind of suprised at the question when I received it. In my Prot days I was a big freedom in Christ guy, but I hadn’t even considered it since coming to the Church.

    One question, if I may. You note above that we inherit original sin. I was under the impression that we experience the consequences of original sin. Semantical perhaps, but I just wanted to clarify that we’re not responsible for Adam’s sin, as if his sin was our sin, but we experience the consequences of his sin and add to it with our own sins. Am I on the right track here? Thx.

  2. Basil Says:

    Jim, good question. We do, indeed, inherit original sin — understood as our tendency to sin, as opposed to our original tendency to good. We do not, as you correctly note, inherit Adam’s guilt for his sin. We are only guilty for the sin we actually commit. That is why the Greek conception of mortality leading to sin is important as a corrective to the Western conceptions of original sin and original guilt.