If You Love Somebody, Set them Free: slavery, freedom and the love of Christ

If you love somebody, if you love someone, set them free.


If the Son has set you free you are free indeed.


It was in January 1863 that Abraham Lincoln issued the “Emancipation Proclamation,” officially setting a people free. The great Booker T. Washington, who was nine years old when his family heard the news:

As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom

The story of the American life, as we well know, has been a constant struggle for the practical outworking of this freedom. It was over a century after President Lincoln’s words were enacted that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in his Memphis hotel room for calling on the rulers of our nation to bring about this freedom that was promised so long ago. How can a man be free when he is unable to provide for his family? What is freedom if it forces you down?

Freedom on paper has great sentimental value but if it is not accompanied by action slaves are never really liberated. It is like my dad says about sales. A handshake deal is little better than a warm feeling. Promises of an unfettered life, whether they are for the oppressed in South Africa, or South Carolina are only good insofar as they empower men to be what they were made and called to be.

I am not an historian or the son of an historian but I do know that the transformation of slave to brother seems like an endless task. I know this because I am in the process of becoming what I was made and called to be as well.

Slaves made brothers- now that is freedom. This is the work of love, namely to set us free.



The Most Oppressive of Masters

And we all have masters that have captured us and brought us far, far from home. Some of us have been stolen by our pride and put to work on the miserable task of building our reputation. Others of us have been snatched away by our eyes, which cannot seem to get enough visual stimulation in an ever-increasing madness called pornography. Still others are pressed to the hard labor of winning the love of a spouse, a mother, a father or even God himself. Our captors give us no rest, constantly dreaming of new ways to bury us under their severe hand. The devil, our boss, our wife, our husband, our bank account, our stomach, our collapsing veins have laid too heavy a burden on our backs but as deadly as these enemies are, there is a still-more-subtle captor. Our selves.

We have become our own worst enemy since…oh…say…Adam ate the fruit of the tree in the Garden of Eden. We placed an immeasurable burden upon our own backs when we set out to define life. Man was not made to be God and with our attempts to be “more” than what we were made to be, we have only increased our hardship. A man who is defined by his attempts to be better, more independent, stronger, released and even liberated has placed a weight so heavy he cannot but stumble and fall.

Incarnation and Freedom

All the while, Christ stands by offering a deep and abiding freedom that arises purely out of his love for us. It is freedom Jesus that Jesus offers us through his perfect life. There is no stone left unturned in his obedient life lived for us. He took care of the law in its entirety, crossing every “T”, dotting every “I” and doing whatever you do with jots and tittles. Done. Finished. Jesus was perfectly obedient on our behalf in his life. Jesus’ life for us takes away our reason for the terror of pleasing God and man.

We no longer need pride to know our worth as sons and daughters in the kingdom. We no longer need pornography to fill the “God-shaped hole” inside of us. We no longer need the approval of others- because of the life of Jesus we have the approval of our God. We need no longer cower at his commands nor fear his abandonment. Can you imagine life lived like that? We can put aside the chains we once thought were so necessary to our daily existence. We can leave our lives in the hands of God. This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: Obedience knows what is good and does it, and freedom dares to act, and abandons to God the judgment of good and evil.

True Freedom, The Gift of Love

Love, it seems, set us free not to run in our own way but to stop running in our own way.

It has been nearly two hundred fifty years since Abraham Lincoln freed Booker T. Washington and our African American brothers and sisters were officially freed from their lives forced labor. Dr. King was not the first or the last to die for the freedom of others in this journey. There is still a long ways to go before the promises of freedom, life, and the pursuit of happiness are known by all in our nation. Our people will always wear the scars of slavery, whether our grandparents were the victims or the offenders. History cannot be undone nor can it be ignored.

What the Emancipation Proclamation has been so long in delivering we find in the gospel here and now. We who were slaves to the devil, to the world and to ourselves have been granted complete and total amnesty. The ringing of the song of liberation comes to us morning by morning in the Psalms. The shouts of freedom echo from the community of Christ as we meet together. The provision for our freedom is reiterated as his word nourishes us in communion.

The message of the gospel is that Jesus became a slave so we could be called his brothers and sisters.

Love has come and Sting was right after all. He has come to set us free.

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