Free Time in Christ

fruittree1St. Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia saying, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:1,13-15).

Christ frees us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13), not so we can use that freedom to serve ourselves, but in order that we may freely and with ease love and serve our neighbor. As St. Paul said, we are to love one another, not devour one another. The only way we can love one another, rather than devour one another with our various vices, is by devouring and consuming Christ. As St. Paul said earlier in the epistle,

“For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:19-21).

Christ has set us free. We are set free from the curse of the law, the law that brought us death. That curse is gone and now we live to God because it is Christ who lives in and through us. So, for freedom Christ has set us free to live in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another.

The question to be asked is, ‘What are you doing with that freedom?” We talk about freedom a lot in the USA. We talk about our religious freedom especially in light of recent decisions by the SCOTUS. We talk about our freedom to bear arms and our freedom to either eat Mcdonalds of Whataburger. We are free to go to whatever church we want and free to marry whoever we want. If we pay attention to our freedom language it is usually, if not always, self-serving. That freedom is used to serve me so I can pursue my greatest happiness. Is that why Christ has freed us? Did He free us from the curse of the law, the terror of the devil, and the bitterness of death in order that we can gratify the desires of our flesh? By no means, how can we who died to sin still live in it? To put it another way, how do you use your free time?

You get a day off each week; what do you do with it? Do you catch up on your favorite hobby, be it watching reruns on tv or playing with model airplanes? Do you use your “me time” to chill in your private space at the local bar or department store? Do you use your free time, time where you don’t have to work at your job, for self-gratifying and satisfying activities or do you use that time in fervent love for your neighbor? Do you use that free time to increase your own happiness, or do you use that time to seek the betterment of your neighbor and therefore serve and love the Lord your God. If you use your free time for yourself then that means you are still bound and not free. You are bound in love for yourself and live under the curse of the law. On the other hand, if you use that free time to love your neighbor, but at the same time want the thanks for it, then you are still bound because you desire the praises of men rather than of God.

The baptized child loves their neighbor without compulsion and without compelling from either guilt or the hopes of praise. Faith loves the neighbor without any thought prior to or after the action. Dr. Luther in his preface to the book of Romans asserts the activity of faith saying,

“O, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Woever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever, who gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are” (LW:35:370-371).

This quote from Dr. Luther is also quoted in the Formula of Concord Solid Declaration in article five concerning good works. It is impossible to separate good works, or love, from faith just as it is impossible to separate heat and light from fire. The baptized love their neighbor. Why? Because it is no longer they who live, but Christ who lives within them. As the Formula of Concord asserts,

“When people are born again through the Spirit of God and set free from the law (that is, liberated from its driving powers and driven by the Spirit of Christ), they live according to the unchanging will of God, as comprehended in the law, and do everything, insofar as they are reborn, from a free and merry spirit” (FCSD VI.17).

The baptized serve and love their neighbor with a free and merry spirit, not a compelled and grumbling one. Freedom is lived out in love toward the neighbor.

But how do we love our neighbor? Well, you could think that you are loving your wife by giving her free time while you go drinking with your buddies all Saturday night. You could think you are loving your husband by spending all Sunday afternoon at the mall rather than at home with him. You could think you are loving your children by giving in to their tantrums and letting them watch six hours of TV, rather than teaching them the word and spending time in activities with them. The free Christian is released from the curse of the law in order to walk in the law in love for their neighbor. Article six of the Formula of Concord says,

“For this reason, too, believers require the teaching of the law: so that they do not fall back on their own holiness and piety and under the appearance of God’s Spirit establish their own service to God on the basis of their own choice, without God’s Word or command” (FCSD VI.20).

Because the Old Adam or creature still clings in this life and tries to drown the New Man there will be the temptation to create your own way of loving others or hating others. The Law is given because it is the proclamation of what works are pleasing to our Father in heaven. He is pleased when husbands honor their wives and when children love and obey their parents and other authorities. The Ten Commandments are the works that God laid down for us that we are to walk in, as St. Paul said in Ephesians 2:10. We are justified freely, without works, and because of that we are free to walk in the commands of the Lord without any compulsion, but rather freely and with a merry spirit.

The issue is a simple one. The law will never make you a beloved child of God, nor will the law keep you in the faith. The law can’t make you love your neighbor. The law kills you because it shows you how you are to have faith toward God and fervent love for your neighbor. Because we are sinful and fallen, the law kills us and brings all justifications to a halt.

Only Christ can justify us because He kept the Law and fulfilled it for us, on our behalf, and then wrapped Himself up in our failure and became our transgressions. He became our self-serving free time selves and suffered the wrath of the Father. Because Christ has wrapped Himself up in our sin, bound Himself to our fate, we are free because He is bound. He is bound to our fate, our death, our punishment. Because Christ—who is the Free Lord of all—bound Himself on the cross, we are free. We are free as long as we are in Christ, as long as we receive His absolution. If we are not in Christ then we are bound to the fate of eternal wrath and punishment.

The point Luther made was that faith loves the neighbor all the time and can’t do anything else. Not loving your neighbor is evidence of unbelief. What you need is the law to kill that old Adam and then have the Gospel preached into your ears in order that you may have faith in Christ for your salvation as Paul says in Romans 10:17, ‘Faith comes by hearing, hearing the word of Christ.”

When you are forgiven, cleansed, and that heart of stone replaced with a heart of flesh, it is no longer the Old Creature’s domain, but the house of Christ. It is Christ who lives within you. There is your comfort. There is your strength to live in love for your neighbor. You can’t add anything to what Christ has and will always do for you. Let us feast on Christ and not on each other, lest we get consumed by one another. Let us consume Christ as He comes to us in Baptism, Holy Absolution, the proclamation of the Gospel, the Lord’s Supper, and in the mutual consolation of the brethren.

In Christ we are set free from the curse of the law, the torture of the devil, and the sting of death. We are set free, so while we’re here we occupy our time in freedom to love our neighbor as God gives us to do. As Christ forgives us, we forgive. As Christ loves us, we love. On our own we would not do this, but now that it is Christ who lives in us, we live sanctified lives, lives set aside to receive the holy things of Christ and to live in holy acts of love. Let us be of good cheer, knowing that Christ wraps Himself up in our sin and declares us to be as righteous as He is. Peace be with ya’ll and may our Lord, Jesus Christ, bless and keep ya’ll in your baptismal grace until He calls you home to Himself, Amen.

About Pastor Chris Hull

Chris Hull is the Senior Pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tomball,Texas. He was married to Allison Desiree Monk on June 3rd, 2006. They have been blessed with four boys, Lochlann Richard Patrick, Eamonn Julius Luther, Tiernann Thomas Walther, and Jamesonn Frederick Flacius. Pastor Hull graduated from Concordia University in River Forest, Il in 2006. He received his Master of Divinity from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 2010. He is currently in the STM program at CTSFW.


Free Time in Christ — 15 Comments

  1. “Legalist! Papist! Saved by grace not works!” Great commentary that is desperately needed in our churches. I would love to see more articles on this topic (what a Christian life looks like).

  2. Do you use that free time to increase your own happiness, or do you use that time to seek the betterment of your neighbor and therefore serve and love the Lord your God.

    Are these exclusive? Serving my neighbor brings me happiness, and I desire the happiness that comes from serving. After demonstrating the nature of service by washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus said, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:17) Jesus himself motivated his disciples by the promise of blessing. So perhaps the issue is not whether I strive to increase my happiness in my free time — or any other time for that matter — but rather how I go about it?

    If you use your free time for yourself then that means you are still bound and not free.

    Can’t Christians seek solitude or enjoy a personal retreat in a manner that pleases God? (Luke 5:16)

    The baptized love their neighbor. Why? Because it is no longer they who live, but Christ who lives within them.

    As a practical matter, isn’t it sometimes because they’ve been spurred on to acts of love and good works (Hebrews 10:24) by zealous and joyful members of the body? I’ve been recruited for service projects by people who love to serve; their joy is often contagious and compelling.

    The law kills you because it shows you how you are to have faith toward God and fervent love for your neighbor.

    Kills who? Why would being shown these God-pleasing things be deadly? Even children can appreciate the importance of rules. Even more so, then, don’t mature men and women of God appreciate the great wisdom in God’s commands and instruction? “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being…” (Romans 7:22)

  3. While the overall thrust of the article is good and right, Carl H (post 4) is also correct: it’s not a sin for a Christian to have personal down time. On the contrary, I would argue that there are times when my personal down time with my hobbies or relaxation work out to the benefit of my neighbor. For example, taking free time to unwind after a hard day allows me to be a better husband and father to my family, as that time in “de-stressing” gives me a chance to relax and come to my wife and kids with a fresh attitude.

    Now, free time CAN become a sin if that down time turns into an idol, or if in the pursuit of down time I see a situation in which my neighbor is in dire straits and requires my service but I end up snubbing him/her. Obviously, that is sin. But we have to be VERY careful to emphasize service to neighbor in a manner that is biblically based on all sides, not just on the side of service.

    We need to be careful about our balance of freedom and responsibility. While it’s certainly a terrible and sinful thing to waste our money, for example, it’s not evil to eat an occasional order of fries while we’re out. The same can be said of our time and its use. I’ve seen people become so zealous for serving their neighbors that they end up unnecessarily harming themselves or their own family in the process, and that’s not good.

    It is sinful to abuse our free time when we see a neighbor’s legitimate need, know how to meet that need, yet refuse to do so, but that’s not the same as saying Christians should not have “free time” for themselves. There is just as much a danger in business for the sake of business as there is in relaxation to the point of neglecting Christian duties.

    Oh, one last thing: why would I wait until Sunday to do good for my neighbor? 😀

  4. I think the Luther quote makes it clear that it’s the motivation behind doing good works: is it faith in Christ or something else? Also, Matthew 25 helps us see that we do good works not even being aware that we are serving Christ. Therefore, the post by Pastor Hull should have emphasized one’s vocation.

  5. “Can’t Christians seek solitude or enjoy a personal retreat in a manner that pleases God?”

    Yes, but seeking time for prayer is very different than the 2.8 hours/day the average American adult watches TV, which is one of the abuses of our freedom the author argues against in his article (“..watching reruns on TV”).

  6. @Paul #7

    So tv is a sin?

    For the record, I don’t watch 2.8 hours a day. I MIGHT watch one hour. But if we’re not careful we can turn this into legalism, basing our spirituality on not watching as much tv as somebody else, or reading the Bible more than somebody else, etc. Do you see the problem?

  7. There’s the Lutheran ethos that was bound to come out. “Let’s not exhort people to avoid certain things because it can lead to legalism.”

    What I’m saying is that if your standard Lutheran head of household who works a 9-5 is spending 3 hrs/day watching TV, he’s probably shirking his other duties as a husband, father and neighbor.

    As a Lutheran head of household, it’s already hard enough for me to fit in time after work to spend time with my kids, help my wife with dishes after she’s had a rough day, take care of other indoor/outdoor house chores and somehow manage to pray or do a brief devotion with my family WITHOUT watching television, let alone adding TV, computer, videogames and other such child’s play get in the way of being a Christian husband and father. But maybe everyone else is more efficient than I.

  8. @Paul #9

    “There’s the Lutheran ethos that was bound to come out. ‘Let’s not exhort people to avoid certain things because it can lead to legalism.’ ”

    If you’re referring to exhorting people to avoid things that are clearly sin, I agree wholeheartedly.

    But the issue is that people are not being allowed to exercise conscience in light of adiaphoric matters.

    There are days where I look at your stated situation and am in complete agreement with you. If I have to sacrifice watching a particular show at that moment for the sake of spending devotional time with my family, then you bet the TV is going to take a backseat to prayer and Bible reading/catechism (and for the record, it has). Life gets busy, but we still carve that time out for the things of God. The TV show can wait, be recorded, and watched at a more appropriate time.

    (BTW, as a suggestion, if it’s at all possible, I’ve found that one of the best times for devotion as a family is during a meal. If you can swing it then, I highly recommend it).

    My point is this: if you were to walk into my house and happen to catch me sitting down watching the Michigan Wolverines pound the stuffing out of the Ohio State Buckeyes-and it WILL happen soon, mind you 🙂 -would your first thought be “Oh, he’s enjoying a football game” or would it be “What!?!?! Why aren’t you down at the soup kitchen handing out bowls of gumbo!?!?!” For all you know, I may have been performing a work of service for my neighbor-or even for my family-earlier during the day, but may not have known about it. I would certainly hope that you would have given me the benefit of the doubt, as I would do for you.

    Remember that Jesus also reminded us to not let our left hand know what our right hand does when it comes to good deeds.

    Once again, I’m all with you when it comes to seeing a professing Christian who has a persistent and impenitent aversion to helping his neighbor who is clearly in need, be that neighbor the fellow across the street or somebody in his own household. A person like that certainly deserves our rebuke. But having a time of relaxation and helping one’s neighbor are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

    Tell you what, Paul: I’m somebody who came out of evangelicalism, and saw this line of thinking taken to a dangerous extreme. Check this post out (which is along the line of thinking we’re discussing) and tell me what you think of it:

  9. Thanks for clarifying – I think we’re on the same page in that we both believe (correct me if I’m wrong) that if a Christian man (in this example) can satisfy his top priorities of teaching/leading/loving his family, he has the freedom to spend his free time in other less “shiny” pursuits, even delusions like pretending UM will win more than once every eleven years. OSU alum : ) I’ll check out that link.

  10. That review is massive so forgive me for not reading it beyond the brief overview he gives. I appreciate his best construction of Chans intentions as well as his review that seems to have been written without a polemic tone. However, while I disagree with Chans theology, I have to agree with the sentiment of frustration with this vague notion of the American church as it well represents my experience growing up LCMS. That experience goes like this: Go to church every Sunday because parents and grandma simply say “because you have to”. Common prayer at dinner and Lord’s Prayer at night out of habit without thinking about it (which Luther complains about when people would repeat the Lord’s Prayer mindlessly). And nothing else faith related the rest of the week. I’ve grown incredibly cynical and frustrated at this from my experience and from a lack of discussion on how to improve the faith and prayer lives of people in our church. We accept what I just described as good enough without striving for more (let me be clear – I’m not advocating not works righteousness; just an earnest desire to lead a more God centered life through prayer and study).

  11. Sometimes matters of theology and doctrine are no more complex and nuanced than quantum mechanics. Pastor Hull’s article starts off preaching the Law and you saw the reactions in #2 Paul and #4 Carl, although the message finally resolves with the Gospel. Just last Sunday, I thought my pastor was preaching the Law when he said that we, the congregants, should pray not only multiple times each day but with fervor (James 5:16 KJV). Even though he is scripturally correct, I didn’t feel so much convicted as I did annoyed by the legal prescription. I rather felt as though he was exhorting us a bit much when he said that if we’re not praying regularly and fervently, then we’re not pleasing God, implying either out of apathy or laziness, a lack of real concern for the lost, etc. (Our church happens to be on a CGM trajectory, oh bother). I have been trying to be discerning of Law and Gospel and just about when I think I have it all figured out, I hear a message that sounds like the preaching of the Law presented as exhortation in a prescriptive way to do good works apart from the Law, except that failure to do the works is proof that “you are still bound and not free, living under the curse of the Law.” Hmmm. If “the baptized child loves their neighbor without compulsion and without compelling from either guilt or the hopes of praise,” why are we having this discussion unless it is for those who lost their faith? Am I to be made to feel guilty? Only if the shoe fits, you say? But I thought my baptism drowned the old Adam and I am free to obey the law of the Gospel and that because of faith for Christ’s sake God reckons me righteous, regardless of how effectively or fervently I pray x number of times a day or serve my neighbor (just not during the Super Bowl, thank you). So, do Christians need an attitude adjustment now and again? How do I recognize the difference between blatant preaching of the Law and exhortation to believers to do good works (Hebrews 10:24)? I am sensitive to hearing the Law now that we have committed to the CGM model. The behavior and motivation of a person acting in faith is described and held up as the standard by which many might despair, despite our freedom to walk in the commands of the Lord without any compulsion. You ask, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” How, indeed. Is our faith so mercurial, so high maintenance that it needs constant feeding, watering, and sunlight like my wife’s fragile plants? Faith must ebb and flow throughout the course of our lives. It is a mystery, though, why faith as described in Luther’s Works 35:370-371 is a gift from God we can receive and then let slip through our fingers and fall to the ground. As a listener to preaching, should I expect to be put through the same cycle of being dragged through the mud only to be cleaned up by the assurance that because of faith for Christ’s sake, I am no longer living under the curse of the Law despite outward appearances? The only option I seem to have is to plead guilty and live a life of repentance. Unbelief is the enemy. Believers require the teaching of the Law, too, but don’t forget the sweet Gospel to sooth as with a balm the consciences in need of reassurance that despite past performance, we are saved for Christ’s sake. I will go back after his sermon is posted and listen again for the evangelical silver lining.

  12. @J. Dean #5
    I’ve seen people become so zealous for serving their neighbors that they end up unnecessarily harming themselves or their own family in the process, and that’s not good.

    Some Pastors will remind you that your family are your closest “neighbors” and after them “the household of faith”… which has Scriptural backing.

    I agree that there are occasions when you will be no good to anyone if you don’t reserve a little time for yourself.

  13. @Paul #12

    “OSU alum : )”

    Heretic! Burn forever in SEC Purgatory!!!


    All kidding aside, I’m on the same page with you: it can be rather frustrating to see people who don’t seem to be living out their faith more obviously. But I also remember that, just as people don’t always see my good works, so I don’t necessarily always see theirs. And just because I don’t happen to see them doesn’t mean they’re not doing them.

    One of the remedies for that that should be more emphasized in churches today is more talk about vocation and how it ties in to our response to the gospel. We don’t have to be out “saving the world” with wild causes; we just need to be looking to see in our lives how our good works would play out in our own daily interactions with those around us. I as a dad and husband will have a different playing out of my Christian responsibilities than another man who is single, divorced, or widowed. I will have ways to serve my neighbor (in this case, my family) that the others will not. Conversely, they may have ways to serve their neighbors that I might not. Maybe they can go on a mission trip, which I would have a difficult time doing in my position. And while I may not be able to go, I can serve in another way: by helping pay for expenses, or perhaps send supplies out as part of mercy work.

    The apostle Paul talks about Christians as the body of Christ, and that analogy has great application. Especially in the actual area of faith being lived out; it’s not going to look the same for everybody. The faith lived out for the preacher will not necessarily look the same as it will for the welder. Nor will the policeman, the teacher, and the small business owner apply good works for their neighbors in the same way. Some people will work the soup kitchen; others will buy the cans and the utensils for the soup kitchen. Some people hand out donated clothing; others donate the clothing.

    I’m right with you though, Paul: somebody who has a stubborn and impenitent refusal to commit good works when the opportunity presents itself certainly does have a spiritual problem. That man (or woman) needs a heavy dose of law, and is in need of repentance.

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