Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. 1 Peter 2:16
WHEN God liberated our Lord Jesus Christ from death’s strong bands He emancipated us as well. Just as we were crucified and buried with Him in holy baptism, we were raised to new life with Him. Jesus says, “If the Son sets you free you will be free indeed” (John 8:36) and we are the recipients of that promise. In Christ we have been released from sin, its judgment, its curse and the death sentence it always incurs. Jesus took it all, felt it all, carried it all, suffered it all, was crushed by it all, ended it all and by His resurrection broke down every barrier that might keep us from God and His tender mercies. There is nothing more that can be done, nothing more that needs to be done. As Christians we are born anew into a living hope, and made heirs to an inheritance which can never perish, spoil or fade away. (1 Peter 1:5)
But if all this is true, if we are indeed as free as all that, why must Peter urge us to: live as free men? Why does he tell us to be what we already are? There’s a good reason for that dear Christians and we’re going to hear it now: There is no one who is more free than we are, but the final deliverance has not yet occurred. Until that day comes the burden the world lays on the backs of its citizens can make us feel like anything but free. The law books of men are filled with intrusive regulations telling us what we can and cannot do. Is it any wonder we feel tied up six ways from Sunday? A few of them are salutary such as the laws that defend life, liberty and property, but most are intrusive: like where you can smoke a cigarette, how long you can let your lawn grow before you get a fine, or how much antihistamine you can buy without having a SWAT team surround your car in the CVS parking lot. Besides the endless pages of written codes there are the unwritten rules of political correctness, which is the enemy of liberty, and whose sole function is to control our thoughts and our speech. Under its oppressive rubrics we are expected to devote ourselves to foolish causes such as affirmative action; global warming; worship of nature; recycling; sex education taught by pagans and the praise of homosexuality. At the Cleveland Clinic tyrants decide what food McDonalds can serve and how much you are allowed to weigh if we want a job there. Smokers need not apply! At Parma Hospital other tyrants decide how fast you can walk through their revolving door. Go too slow and the door stops. Go too fast it stops and rebukes you like Balaam’s ass to, “step back from the door.” And you had better listen if you did not pack a lunch. Buy a Japanese car you are Benedict Arnold. Condemn the nation’s social policy you are heartless. Denounce its fiscal policy and you are a hopeless Luddite. So God says to us through His apostle: Live as free men! How many times we need to hear it, believe it, and let those words wash over our souls, oppressed as they are with sin, death and endless edicts which come from the bowels of hell itself.
But other things work against us as well, namely that Sinful Nature which will always interpret the Gospel’s liberty as license to sin! This is very bad and will rob us of liberty more quickly than anything. Those who do not fear God do not care if they violate His laws, but the sinful nature within us can be just as perverse. It reasons that, “if Christ paid for all my sins, and offers me ongoing remission, then I can do whatever I want, repent later, put a few extra dollars in the offering plate and everything be okay.” No it won’t! Not if you use your liberty as license. Every Christian sins, and no one knows if a person is using his liberty as license, except God, but it is to this person that St. Peter solemnly warns: do not use your liberty as a pretext for sin!
While Peter could take a harsher tone, and at times we all need it, he does not. This manic-depressive disciple knows only too well the weakness of the flesh so he takes a pastoral tone with his flock instead. Rather than threaten or chide he reminds us all that we are sojourners on the earth, temporary residents, citizens of heaven who are merely passing through, and therefore must abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. In addition he exhorts God’s people to maintain exemplary behavior among the Gentiles noting that some, by seeing our good works, might come to faith and join us in glorifying God on the Day of Visitation.
Because we are still in the world there are certain things we must do and tolerate, however distasteful, and we should do them as far as conscience allows. But to know, love and serve God by doing His will is to be truly free. As Christians we answer to a higher calling and march to the beat of a different drum. While man’s rules are often irrational, contradictory, un-realistic and un-pleasant, God’s ordinances are never onerous (1 John 5:3); but always logical, reasonable, sweeter than honey and more valuable than gold. (Psalm 19) As a way of life nothing is more pleasant or liberating than to control the appetites of the flesh and thereby know the liberty of the children of God.
Why does Peter say what he says? Why does he tell free men to be free? Because his word is God’s word and it always generates the thing that it states, so when Peter says: live as free people, we become free. When he says: don’t use your liberty as a cloak for evil, God’s Word turns us from great shame and vice. And when he says: live as servants of God, we are empowered to do so. And therein is our true liberty, to live as His servants in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.
Rev. Dean Kavouras