As September 15th approaches, my thoughts turn more and more toward my home country of Guatemala. Guatemalans are very proud about their independence and freedom. In fact, a lot of the national symbols stand for freedom in one way or another, like the legendary figure of Tecun Uman who died fighting against the Spanish conquistadors and the lovely quetzal bird who is said to not be able to survive in captivity. Yet, as I think of these symbols and the freedom they represent, it is only a temporal freedom.
Galatians says that “For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). It wasn’t until recently that I really began to think about what it means that Christ has set us free and its implications for the Christian life.
As I’ve contemplated this, I think back to the summer I spent in Bangkok and how Buddhism pervades nearly every aspect of Thai life. People not only go to the temple to say prayers (because the more you pray, the more likely your prayer will be heard), but they are continually trying to earn merit. There’s the idea that if you earn enough merit, you won’t suffer as much in the next life and eventually, if you have earned enough merit, you’ll obtain nirvana; which is freedom from the cycle of rebirth into another lifetime.
As I observed people in the temples offering up prayers to the various buddhas, who could not hear them, or ring bells over and over and over in the hopes that the repetition would get the message across, I was struck by the thought of what true bondage this way of life was. There were also the spirit houses, in which people offered up things like drinks, flowers, and foods to keep the spirits happy. What a life of spiritual terror it must be! To never be sure of whether you’ve earned enough merit, to never really know if your prayers are heard, and to try to appease and please spirits every day. I could not help but feel compassion for those who were putting their hope and trust into statues of stone, metal, and Jade. It seemed to be a never-ending cycle of trying to do just the right thing, to live just the right way, and always feeling the need to do more. And for what? To hopefully escape (eventually) from the exhaustion of living life into nothingness.
When I think of the lovely hope that Chist offers us and even more so of the certainty that He offers us by doing what we could never accomplish: fulfilling the law perfectly. He paid the price once and for all with his sacrifice. He said, “It is finished.” Hallelujah! There is nothing left for us to do.
Jesus told his disciples that “…everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in the household forever. So, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free” (John 8 34-36).
For those who have felt the weightiness of this world: here is good news indeed! God gave us a gift in that, while we were sinners and totally imperfect and messed up, Jesus died to pay the price for our sin as substitutionary atonement, as propitiation. These words offer such a beautiful depth of meaning that ought to reach into our very souls and burn with the brightest hope. Jesus did what we could not and cannot ever do. What’s more, is that we cannot earn this freedom from sin. Does this not offer you some relief from trying to toe the line and count all your good deeds? “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not of yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).
Again, my thoughts turn back to Guatemala, which is a highly Catholic country. It’s interesting after having been in Thailand and surrounded by Buddhism to compare it to Guatemala and its Catholic culture. Easter is a big deal in Guatemala, especially in the city of Antigua. Leading up to Easter Sunday they start to block off streets in Antigua, so that gorgeous carpets of sawdust can be created, only for the parade of Easter floats to pass over them and destroy them. These heavy floats are carried by those who are wishing to earn a few years off purgatory. Only the lucky few get to carry the float of Jesus carrying the cross. This one will earn you even more years out of purgatory. The carpets and carrying the floats are each ways of earning merit. Interesting, isn’t it, how yet again we come across the idea of earning merit in relation to the “next life”?
Thank God for Jesus and the freedom that his atonement gives us who believe. We can never hope to earn our way into heaven and God knew that, so he sent Jesus to pay the price. Through Christ’s sacrifice we have been given freedom from sin. The apostle Paul lays this out wonderfully in the book of Romans: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. What the law could not do since it was weakened by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as a sin offering, in order that the law’s requirement would be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4).
This is true freedom.
All Biblical quotes were taken from the Christian Standard Bible, Holman Bible Publishers, 2017.
Contributed by: Jennifer Jolly