Freedom: William Wallace vs. Martin Luther

Every time I watch Braveheart, I cannot wait until the speech that William Wallace gives to the Sons of Scotland persuading them to fight the English army for their freedom. Wallace’s speech is so persuasive, the first time I heard it I felt like getting my sword from under my bed and joining the fight for freedom. Then one night I read Martin Luther’s “On Christian Liberty” and William Wallace’s speech was never the same.

Luther and Wallace were both champions of freedom, but it became obvious that Luther’s idea of freedom was much different from that of Wallace. In Luther’s case, freedom was from the Law and for Wallace it from the English army. The difference between Wallace’s freedom and Luther’s freedom (which I will call Christian freedom) is the step taken after freedom from the oppressor is granted.

Wallace’s end goal of freedom was for him and his countrymen to be free to act without hindrance or restraint in all things in life: he essentially didn’t want anybody telling him what to do. Luther, on the other hand would agree with Wallace because he didn’t want the Law dictating his every move, but Luther understood Christian freedom as living free from the Law but living a life governed by love. Therefore, freedom is not just deliverance from something, but freedom from one thing to another.

The fact that Christians are free from the bondage of the Law is a primary consideration for Luther. The condemnation of the Law has become absorbed by Christ because the believer is found hidden in His righteousness. Because of Christ’s victory and fulfillment of the Law, it becomes powerless to bind the Christian because its demands have already been met.

The qualifier “Christian,” of Christian freedom implies that it is an extraordinary brand of freedom. Ironically, Christ is only person to fully uphold the Law, yet even in Christ’s perfection there was little effort to uphold the particulars of the Law, but to live a life characterized by love. Christ himself summarizes the Law of the Old Testament by emphasizing that Christians should love both God and our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-39) which completely revolutionizes the way the Law is understood and upheld.

At first glance, the concept of freedom can seem a bit arbitrary, so allow me to bring this idea of Christian Freedom from the stratosphere of theological deliberation and into your living room, applying it to the individual and also to the church. The current state of the American economy has a number of people wondering where their next meal is going to come from. With that said, the freedom that William Wallace seeks leaves him free to choose the option of doing nothing about the plight of his fellow man. Christian freedom, on the other hand leaves us free do as we please as well, but because we are continually being conformed to the mind of Christ, our every action should be oozing the love and compassion of our Savior. As we continually meditate on the gospel that has reconciled to Christ, the grace that we have been shown should be the same grace that we demonstrate to others. Notice there is no magic formula, boxes to check, three easy steps or rules to uphold, we are free to the extent that we know and glory in Christ.

In the world’s eyes, the church is very good at pointing people to the things that we do and don’t do because we are good, and at times legalistic, Christians. This is a tragedy because the church is showing off the effect (good works) of the gospel before we reveal its cause (Christ). The world is not looking for another law or more rules to be a slave to, because all manner of bondage already runs our society into the ground, rather, people are looking to be free from their vices and addictions, not simply trading them for a new form of bondage from religion.

Those of us who are invested in the SBC will do well to build upon the foundation of piety and devotion of generations past. I have been encouraged with the “gospel centered” preaching and teaching from pulpits in recent years. The up and coming generation of Baptists should look to exalt our cause (Christ) and show his value with our actions by freely loving God and loving one another, and in these the Law (Matt. 22:37-39) is satisfied.

 

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