This has been an interesting past couple of days. My post “Grace, Moralism and Unmoral Christianity” generated more “views” than any of my postings for the past few months, no doubt due in large measure to Fr Stephen Freeman’s recommendation over at his blogsite Glory to God for All Things. Fr Stephen’s December postings on “unmoral” Christianity have generated a goodly amount of internet discussion. Clearly some are uncomfortable with his presentation of the Christian life as something radically different than being-good-with-the-help-of-divine-grace. Fr Stephen has his own distinctive and illuminating way of speaking of the mystery of our new life in Christ. The influence of John Zizioulas, Christos Yannaras, as well as Elder Sophrony, is fairly clear and has been noted by others; but what seems to have gone unnoticed is the influence of the Apostle Paul. Indeed, the discomfort that some have expressed with Fr Stephen’s proposal of Christian unmorality reminds me of the discomfort that many expressed in the first century with St Paul’s Torah-free gospel.
“For freedom Christ has set us free,” the Apostle Paul declares; “stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). Articles upon articles, books upon books have been written expounding the meaning of this freedom for the Apostle. Many of his opponents accused him of antinomianism. Paul responds to this charge in the sixth chapter of Romans: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1-2). He does not backtrack and withdraw his emphatic affirmation of freedom in Christ: he reiterates it by reminding his readers that in Christ we have died to sin. We are no longer the type of people who desire to live a life apart from God. We have acquired an eschatological mode of existence—freedom in the Spirit! We are a new creation! “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:17-18). In Christ we no longer live for self but for the Father in the power of his Spirit. The only cure for our sin is the rebirth and new identity given to us in Holy Baptism. Each day we return in penitential surrender to the baptismal waters to rediscover our eschatological freedom and wholeness. This, I propose, is the New Testament meaning of repentance and the ascetical life—the free reception, appropriation, and celebration of the free gift of freedom.
“For freedom Christ has set us free!” Free from the fear of death. Free from the bondage of self. Free from guilt and shame. Free for the future. Free for love. Free for service and sacrifice. Free for our neighbor. Free for the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now that we are free, what shall we do?