The inseparability of God's gifts of love and freedom
In this post, originally published in "GCS News," Grace Communion Seminary President, Dr. Gary Deddo explains that, in Christ, the gifts of love and freedom are inseparable.
Unfortunately, love and freedom are often spoken of independently. For some, freedom is in the forefront. For others, love seems to be the central concern. Such separation of the two can leave the impression that they are not only independent of one another, but are in tension. And often, those who advocate for one or the other, in Christian or even in secular contexts, come to recommend or even demand opposite courses of action and reaction.
In Jesus Christ and according to biblical revelation, the gifts of true love and true freedom have their source in our Triune God. They are actually one indivisible gift of grace. In Jesus Christ and according to his gospel, our Triune God’s kind of love and freedom can never be separated. They always go together. In fact, they cannot be separated without doing damage to the truth and reality of the gift of God given to us. A freedom enacted without God’s own kind of covenant love or a love extended without the kind of covenant freedom the living God gives us will end up twisting and distorting both. In short, the gift of life the Living God gives us in Jesus Christ is strictly the freedom to act in love in a way that points to God’s own kind of covenant love that has been freely given to us. This means that the freedom we have in Christ is a means to a very particular end (telos). We are not set free merely to be free, to be unconstrained, to make any choices we might please. We are not free to do evil or, in the words of Paul, free to fall back into slavery (Gal. 5:1). That is a misuse and abuse of the gift of freedom in Christ. We are set free in Christ for one thing and one thing only: to think, respond and act towards others in a way that points to God’s own kind of freely-given, holy, true, good and transforming love.
That love has a special character and name both in the Old Testament and in the New. In the OT the key word (hesed) is translated “lovingkindness,” “steadfast love” and sometimes “mercy” or “covenant love.” It is often associated with God’s faithfulness (see Deut. 7:9). This divine love directs us to what is true, what is good, what brings fulness of life in personal relationship with the Living God. In the New Testament, this unique love has been given a distinctive name. That love is referred to as agapē. Such love is the gift of God through Jesus Christ. We can benefit from it and share in it by the ongoing ministry of his Holy Spirit. This holy agapē love is distinct from the natural loves of affection, attraction or friendship (storgē, eros, phileō in Greek). As C.S. Lewis has reminded us, this supernatural love of Christ’s directs, purifies, and sanctifies all the natural loves. It prevents them from misuse, from degenerating, from becoming idols that enslave us or bring about division, alienation, chaos and destruction. On their own, they will not lead to life here and now, nor to life eternal.
All the natural loves must, in the end, be crucified, rescued, saved and sanctified by God’s own covenant/agapē love. With this holy love, the Triune God loves us to maturity in Christ. He directs and enables us to share more and more in Christ’s own worshipful love for the Father and to receive his merciful and forgiving love for us that rescues and saves us from evil, from fear, from lies, from deceit, from temptation, from eternal death. But such Christ-like love requires also the accompanying gift of freedom in Christ. The two cannot be separated. For freedom in Christ Jesus we have been free (Gal. 5:6). Such love as God in Christ has loved us cannot be coerced by force, by fear or moved by the promises of earthly favors or benefits. Such faithful love that leads to life cannot be moved by threat or promise of humanly imposed legal or circumstantial consequences—either in our churches or in our cultures or nations.
Each and every person stands before the face of the Living God as a personal agent directly accountable to the absolute authority of his sovereign, free and holy covenant love. Anyone or anything that authoritatively interposes itself into that sacred relationship will foster the dehumanization and depersonalization of the individual and damage and distort human relationships, whether personal or public. In the life of Jesus Christ and his teachings we can see most clearly the enactment of the gift of true freedom exclusively serving the purposes of God’s own transforming holy covenant love. Each interaction of Jesus with every person he met and in all his interactions with the Father in the Spirit exude his freedom to act towards others out of trust in the Father’s covenant love. He opens the door and invites us all to respond freely to receive that covenant love— and then to freely extend it to others in his name.
For us, then, the transforming covenant love of Christ is exercised out of the kind of freedom Christ gives. And the freedom Christ gives is a means to be used to exercise one thing only—the faithful covenant love that leads to life, a life that knows, honors, and is transformed by the worship of our Creator and Redeemer, The Holy One, The Great ‘I Am.’ Our Triune God is the one who loves in freedom and who freely and steadfastly has perfectly loved us for eternal fellowship and communion in the coming new heaven and earth. What God has joined together, let no one divide asunder.