By Will Green
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." - Gal 5:1.
One of the 'paradoxes' of Christian teaching is that loving and serving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and loving our neighbour as we love ourselves actually sets us free rather than 'enslaves' us.
So what's going on with that? Surely loving your neighbour as you love yourself is impossibly difficult.
I think a key element in explaining why it's not some kind of 'slavery' comes from the Christian view of human nature: that when God made us He made our minds like His mind in many ways (the image of God idea). One aspect of God's mind is that it is love (1 John 4:8
). So our minds were designed to be just as loving as God's. Just like God fulfills His nature through love, so do we.
We don't feel our minds are really like this (in that you can be happy without being very loving), but that can be explained as a result of people being able to create their own happiness from contradicting this system, as one of the 'powers' of free will, so we can make our own happiness from other things.
The Christian 'system' gets legitimacy because when we act according to the above described view of human nature we are actually acting according to the original 'blueprints'. Because of the 'blueprint' idea God's desire for us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves is not supposed to be this horrible duty we are obligated to fulfill, but, ideally, in some way 'freeing', despite its incredible cost (1 John 5:3
Okay, this may sound nice in theory, but how does it address the arduous nature of 'love your neighbour as you love yourself'? Why should we beat ourselves up for not following an impossible standard? As the Bible says, it is, after all, impossible to follow even though it's a legitimate standard (1 John 1:8
One point that Christianity makes is that God just wants us to accept what Jesus has done for us on the cross and doesn't want us to beat ourselves up for failing to keep an impossible, but legitimate, standard that He knows we can't meet (trying to meet it in order to please God would actually contradict the accepting Jesus part according to Gal 5:4
). Because of what Jesus has done, we won't need to try hard to follow it one day, but it will, one day, come as naturally as drinking water. I think Phil 3:9
explains some of the mechanics of how this works: "[I have given up everything to] be found in [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own
that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ."