Sometimes I have a tendency to fall into a pattern in my walk with God that leaves me exhausted. I can easily begin to see Christianity and my relationship with Jesus as a thing that keeps me in check, holds me accountable for my actions, drives me to work harder and accomplish more, etc… But as I was reading Paul this morning, a word popped out in the text that brought some perspective.
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.
“Advantage“. It’s odd how that particular word feels as it rolls off my tongue when it is nestled into a sentence that also contains Jesus’ name. When I think of an advantage I think of the idea of a “leg up”, or a safe feeling near the end of point in tennis. Because of the time of year it is, I think of the Olympics. Some athletes have had better training, better facilities to train in, better coaches to instruct them, and parents with more resources to help…those are advantages. Some of the athletes are physically and mentally superior to others. I think of many of the swimmers and how long their torsos and arms are, disproportionately so in comparison with “normal” people, and how that gives them a decided advantage in the competitions.
An advantage is really an idea. Obviously tangible things give us an advantage, but even in the text in Galatians there is an assumption that Paul is basing his thought on. This implied assumption, as best I can articulate, is that we are all chasing the same thing. If Christ is an advantage, then there must be some kind of universal goal that He brings us better chance of achieving. It is in verse 1 of this chapter that I believe Paul answers this question, not explicitly, but implicitly:
For freedom Christ has set us free
The advantage that Christ gives us is in relation to our quest for freedom. But this is not the modern idea of freedom, not by a long stretch. The modern idea of freedom looks far more like autonomy; people want to be able to do whatever they want, whenever they want to do it, with absolutely no consequences (unless they are good) and no repercussions. Let me say very clearly: this is not freedom.
All autonomy does is enslave us in a more subtle, and much more dastardly, way. No longer are we under the rule of some nation’s law, or some man’s law, or some God’s law, but now we are driven frantically to serve our own law. Our passions and lusts and desires sling us from one pleasure to the next, from one excess to another in search of the ultimate thrill. We literally become servants to our bodies and minds, and in that place we find out just how cruel we actually can be. Autonomy essentially equals self-slavery.
But Paul says that Jesus is our advantage to finding out what true liberty is. So what is true liberty? I heard a pastor from New York City, Tim Keller, say this a couple of years ago:
“Jesus is the only Master that won’t make a slave of you.”
– Tim Keller
This was, and still is, one of the most profound things I’ve ever heard in relation to Christianity. Our advantage in seeking freedom is not to shirk off all rules, and it is certainly not to become our own “rule-maker”, but it is to find the right master. Because freedom is more than just open spaces and volitional options.
The tight-rope walker that recently crossed Niagra Falls was a “free” as any man on earth. Not a soul to tell him what to do, not a bit of accountability while he was out on the line. However, he was a slave to gravity. The reality that a fall would mean his death meant that the freedom he seemed to be experiencing was really an illusion. But, because of network pressures, the tight-rope walker was wearing a safety line. There was a tether that was hooked to him, and if the unexpected happened, he wasn’t going to die.
On some level this illustrates true freedom. Because this daredevil was tied to something, and therefore limited in his ability to go everywhere, he could experience the exhileration and rush of being exactly where he was. The lie of autonomy, the lie that causes us to toy with temptations and not immediately run from those cruel masters, is that we can experience everything. The truth, however, is that without a Master that cares for us and has the power to protect us, we might be able to do everything but we can’t fully enjoy anything. There is an advantage to being tied to something safe: joy.
Furthermore, the entire point of our lives, the “road to freedom” is wrapped up in worship. We are created as beings that express our deepest longings through worship (literally placing high worth on something). And if we aren’t living in such a way that our activities are acts of worship for a central Object of Affection, then we never get to experience those actions as they were meant to be experienced. Singing is a wonderful thing, but if singing is the end of all things then it is robbed of its pleasure. So to sing to the Creator of singing, in adoration of that Creator, brings a reason to sing and therefore allows singing to be the means by which we worship and not the reason.
I could go on, but the point has been made, remade, and then beaten with sticks. Allegiance to Jesus brings freedom. It’s the paradox that Christians uniquely understand. This is our advantage, our edge, our “leg up” on the rest of the field as we all chase the intrinsic human desire for liberty and meaning.