One of the books that I’ve had for a while but haven’t read is The Theology of the Apostles: The Development of New Testament Theology by Adolf Schlatter. Last weekend, when I should have been reading something required for school, I found myself skimming through this book. This paragraph (and another) caught my attention:
The terms by which Paul describes God’s grace provide the personal life of the individual with its greatest escalation. The concept of guilt places the decisive event by which our relationship with God comes into being or is broken within the depth of the individual life. As the agent of justification, Christ turns to the individual as the one who gives; “he loved me an gave himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). The individual is granted God’s love in such greatness and glory that his Spirit moves him. He has become free. That the Pauline community doe not merely not hinder, or grudgingly overlook, or just tolerate this rich and strong emphasis on the individual life but that it rather produces it, provides it with its peculiar greatness. Only the community that truly is the community of Christ, that represents his body, that becomes god’s temple, can consist of such vigorous and free members. (286)
I like the way that Schlatter combines the individual aspects of God’s grace with the community. God offers grace to individuals, but he does not do so in a strictly individualistic sense. Thus, God’s offer of grace to the individuals drives the individual into community with others who have received God’s grace.
Beyond this, the community “provides it [individual life in the grace of God] with its peculiar greatness”. The community should not work to limit the freedom of the individual in God’s grace, but should encourage it. I think this is one place where some “Christian communities” have failed. We do not generally give people the same freedom that God has granted them or the freedom that we see communities encouraged to give people in Scripture.
Of course, with freedom comes mistakes, sin, messiness, and a host of problems for those who want pristine communities. But, for those who are interested in communities of grace-filled and grace-freed people, freedom in Christ is an absolute necessity.
One of the things that I’ve noticed is that Christians have become accustomed to living in legalism, where others dictate how you act or how you talk or when you talk or what you do. When we are given freedom, we often don’t know what to do with it. We also continue to struggle with allowing others the same freedom that we’ve been given.
Do you think your community gives believers freedom? Have you ever been part of a community that tried to limit your freedom in Christ? How can our communities better encourage freedom in Christ?