“United Front for Freedom” sounds like a group of radical protesters who, on any given day, might be marching in the streets, flashing placards, and chanting cries of revolution. As expected, a quick Google search reveals there are indeed some who use the name for various purposes. Below, we’ll see how the church can have freedom.
The one group entitled to use the name is the church, which exists as a united, organic, forward front of God’s kingdom to herald freedom in Jesus Christ. We are united. We are a front. We are called to freedom. It’s at the heart of our mission in Christ.
Yet, the church exhibits confusion in its mission and often unclear of its focus.
The discussion concerning “freedom” and “liberty” has a long philosophical history, and the definitions are often confusing or contradictory from one writer to another, which at times has led to disastrous consequences. We are not free to act as we please. Mutually beneficial freedom must act within boundaries.
“We are called to freedom. It’s at the heart of our mission in Christ.”
For the sake of this post, “liberty” means possessing an unconstrained choice to act. “Freedom,” on the other hand, brings with it an obligation, responsibility, and boundaries. Freedom is for something, not just from something. Freedom has constraints. We can speak of “freedom FROM,” “freedom FOR,” and “freedom IN.” The prepositions have enormous consequences for the church.
Viewing “freedom” simply as freedom FROM constraint leads to individual and societal debauchery and political despotism, as evidenced in the French Revolution of 1789 that threw off the chains of oppression with an elevation of human reason. However, despite its lofty goals, French freedom FROM oppression without internal moral constraint resulted in the murderous bloodletting of Robespierre and, ultimately, Napoleon’s dictatorship and maniacal attempt at world conquest.
Biblically, we are free FROM sin—its penalty and its power, but not yet free from its presence. Paul declares that we are free from the penalty of sin, which is death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). In the same chapter, he also declares that we are free from the power of sin. “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6). Yet, Paul also argues throughout Romans 7 that we daily wrestle in a battle against ever-present sin.
We have boundaries around our freedom, and we are free for a purpose. That purpose is not to do what we want or to follow the wanton pleasures of our flesh, but rather to be free to act righteously. This freedom is so tightly constrained by God’s righteousness that Paul calls it “slavery” to righteousness. “…[H]aving been set free from sin, [we] have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18).
It follows that the church (as individuals and as a worldwide community of believers) is not free to act as it pleases. It is not free to redefine or refocus God’s mission but is free only to fulfill God’s will in His way, in His timing, and for His purposes.
“We have boundaries around our freedom, and we are free for a purpose.”
The world does not understand “freedom in Christ.” Nor does the expression readily appear in broader philosophical discussions concerning freedom and liberty. But, the roots of our freedom comes because we are free IN Christ, which gives us a unique position, authority, responsibility, and power to direct our actions FOR His purposes alone.“For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).
How The Church Can Have Freedom
By clarifying the biblical understanding of our freedom, some of the fog that currently sits over the church’s mission and focus begins to lift.
OUR MISSION: Since the church is free FROM the penalty and power of sin, it daily acts FOR God’s purpose to “make disciples of all nations” and teach these disciples the way of righteousness—to tutor them IN Christ to use their freedom to choose to follow and obey God toward maturity (Hebrews 5:14). The church’s mission is to make disciples, and while the presence of Christians in the world brings an illuminating or preserving effect, the primary mission of the church is to make disciples, not to renovate the world or its cities. We are not free to alter God’s mission.
OUR FOCUS: Consequently, our primary focus is “freedom” (FROM, FOR, IN), not “unity.” Today the American church rallies more around “unity” than “freedom.” It’s the battle cry of the times, believing that if the church manifests its unity across denominations and theologies, races and nations, and across boundaries separating the Haves from the Have-Nots, the privileged from those left behind, then somehow we will succeed in our mission to revitalize the world and its cities.
The focus shifts from freedom to unity and the mission is to bring citywide transformation, not necessarily individual salvation. We are in danger of following a mission of prosperity to show God’s blessings with the assumption that people will come to Christ if they recognize blessings come from Him. We offer our transformed cities as testimonies to God’s goodness or the success of church dominion over the godless secular culture.
“By clarifying the biblical understanding of our freedom, some of the fog that currently sits over the church’s mission and focus begins to lift.”
“Unity” replaces the focus on “freedom.” Cooperation coopts proclamation with the well-intentioned, but unbiblical, objective to make our world a better place. But the Bible does not tell us to create unity of the Spirit but to “MAINTAIN the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Our unity exists as a consequence of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. Scripture’s command is to make sure we don’t thwart what He has already created among us. Scripture’s command is not to build unity. It is to maintain it.
Our focus is “freedom,” which is a patently unpopular message because the Bible says there is freedom only in Christ (Acts 4:12). Yet, we tend to desire freedom on our own terms. We are not free to set our path toward salvation, and we are not free to redirect nor refocus God’s disciple-making mission (Matthew 28:18-20). We should want a better world and should work hard for righteousness, justice, and goodness for all. But our mission and focus remain first and foremost freedom FROM sin, FOR God’s righteous purposes, and IN Christ.
The church represents a “united front” if, by “front,” we refer to an advanced presence of God’s kingdom—here now, but not yet fully come until Jesus returns. We are present to proclaim His kingdom and make disciples, not to take over the world and make it more prosperous till He returns.
We are free FROM sin. We are free FOR righteousness. But when we remember that we are free IN Christ, then it restores us to our primary mission to make disciples who are to be distinct from the world. These kinds of disciples in Christ promote justice. They are neither chained by wealth nor poverty. They seek first the things of God’s kingdom and do not regard their freedom as the license to do whatever they please. They are bound to Jesus and His kingdom.
The Holy Spirit unites the church, but this unity is not our defining mission or focus. Freedom is.
Authored by Dr. David F. Ingrassia, Pastor at Charlotte Awake