True freedom and dignity in Christ

This post concludes a review of key points in Ron Highfield's book, God, Freedom & Human Dignity: Embracing a God-Centered Identity in a Me-Centered Culture. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.

Forgiven by Greg Olsen (used with artist's permission)
Highfield begins his concluding chapter asking, "Does the Christian way of viewing God and humanity overcome the idea that God is a threat to our genuine freedom and dignity?" (p. 207). As we have seen throughout the book, his answer is "yes" and the reason is not fundamentally about a how, but about a who---about Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. It is in and through Jesus that we see the definitive truth (reality) concerning both God and humanity.

The reality of the God-man Jesus

The biblical, Nicene faith declares that Jesus is fully God and fully human---two natures in one person. Moreover, it declares that in and through the humanity of Jesus, by the Spirit, the God of love and grace has permanently united himself to all humanity. This means that rather than being our competitor, the triune God is the source and guarantor of our human identity with its incomparable, God-given freedom and dignity. Highfield comments:
In the person of Christ, God and humanity are so united that even the possibility of competition is overcome.... The existence of Christ shows that God and humanity are not intrinsically exclusive of one another; only the sin, evil, blindness and death that distort and wound humanity are excluded. True humanity is God's image, God's dear child. It contains no qualities that contradict the divine nature. By taking humanity into his person, the Son of God frees it from the "other" that troubles it. Its union with God is so perfect, its vision of God so clear, and its love so pure that its affirmation of God is at the same time perfect affirmation of its own being. In this state, harmony between humanity and God is as perfect as harmony among the persons of the Trinity.
...The conditions under which it makes sense to compete are incompleteness, separateness and scarcity. These conditions are overcome in Jesus Christ, for Jesus is fully human and fully divine. His divinity is eternally complete, and in his resurrection Christ brought his humanity to complete fulfillment. His humanity and deity are so united that the joy of one is included in the joy of the other; for they enjoy the same inexhaustible good, God. (p. 208)

The source of our true humanity

Through the incarnation of the Son of God and by the Spirit, our humanity is united to God in the most intimate way. Rather than diminishing our personhood, our union with Jesus establishes it, for in Christ we are united both with God and with all people. This union between persons is the source of our true humanity, and thus of our personal freedom and dignity.

We see this personal ("personalizing') freedom and dignity in the Holy Trinity in which the Father, Son and Spirit love themselves in the love they have for the others: "The Trinity is ideal community---perfect union without loss of personal identity" (p. 210). The same is true for God's design for us (for we are created in his image). Jesus said to his followers, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31). He did not say, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." God does not define love as independent of others---his love is other-centered. And so Jesus calls upon us to see our neighbor's good as our own (for that is truly the case). As Highfield notes, "The ideal implicit even in human love is a union between persons that rules out competition without erasing distinction" (p. 209).

A life of faith, hope and love

Of course, on this side of glorification, we do not love perfectly. Despite our faith, we still compete, even with the ones we love most. So how then should we live in the midst of our brokenness on this side of glory? The answer is that we live with, in and through Christ, by the Spirit. This is the life of faith, hope and love (1 Cor. 13:13). In faith, we trust in and rely upon the perfection of Jesus (including his perfect, glorified humanity). In hope we look forward to the perfection we will one day experience with Christ in a new heaven and new earth. And we receive from God his love by which we love God and other people. "Our union with Christ instills in us a sense of unity with others that replaces the former sense of separateness" (p. 211). In Christ we are set free to love and to be loved---free to share in his love for God and for all people, ourselves included.

Born anew, from above

This freedom is the outflow of the rebirth of the modern me-centered self. Enlightened by the Spirit, we come to see the modern self (with its me-centered sense of freedom and dignity) as nothing but an illusion---a "vain wish to be like God and to possess divine attributes and prerogatives" (p. 212). With clear-eyed realism, Christianity "faces squarely the desperate nature of the human condition and deals with it at its roots" (p. 212). It also sees Jesus and what, by entering into the human condition, he has done to overcome our fallenness and open to us the possibility to be who we truly are in him---our true selves, beloved children of God who "are given dignity rooted in God's love for us and freedom empowered by God's Spirit" (p. 212). Highfield continues the thought:
In Jesus we learn that we were made to love others. We can exist as our true selves and exercise genuine freedom only by loving God and others. Our highest dignity is grounded in God's love for us. Through the eyes of Christ we see clearly that God is love and that our true humanity is love as well. Competition no longer makes sense. Self-giving love cannot compete with self-giving love. Our love of freedom can find fulfillment only in the freedom of love. (p. 213, italics in the original)

Loving in, with and through Christ

This love, of course, is not ours merely by mimicking Jesus. We don't "love like Jesus loves" in a way that is somehow disconnected from Jesus. Instead we love with, in and through Jesus and by the Spirit. This means that we love others with the love by which God, in Christ is loving us and loving them. Jesus is the source---the fount---and by the Spirit he freely shares with us his perfect, other-centered love both for God and for all people. And so our true humanity, our true human identity, is found not in ourselves, but in (and with) him. Jesus is the one Mediator between God and humanity, and also between human and human. In, by, with and through him, we love ourselves without pride or shame---we see ourselves through his eyes as we truly are. And in union with him, we love God freely and others unselfishly by participating in Christ's love for God and for all people. This is the true "freedom and glory of the children of God" to which Paul refers in Romans 8:21.

Highfield concludes his helpful, thought-provoking book with this statement:
God is so much for us and we are made so much for God that only by returning ourselves to God utterly may we become truly ourselves and live life to the full. In loving God for God's sake alone we will find genuine freedom, and in allowing ourselves to be loved by God we will discover our true dignity. (p. 217)

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