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Another of the hymns of Christian initiation (principally baptism) is “Freed in Christ from death and sin”. It is probably based on the declarations made by the adult about to be baptised, or by parents on behalf of their child – “I turn to Christ, I submit to Christ, I come to Christ”. These replaced the older promises to “renounce the world, the flesh and the Devil” and assent to the Apostle’s Creed, which people no longer easily relate to.
The first verse – turning to Christ – is about freedom. The symbolism of baptism is most commonly seen as that of repentance from past sin. But it’s also about being set free – “free from death and sin, slaves no more to self within”. In Christian theology, “the Law” (by which is meant the old Jewish system of detailed commandments and regulations”) is seen as rules of life that were intended by God as a way of guiding willing followers to how we should follow him, but had instead become a burden. As rabbis over the centuries added more and more detail to the basic Biblical laws to prescribe in minute detail what was required to live a ‘holy’ life, it became impossible to follow it exactly, and any serious attempt to do so would take away any joy in living.
The second verse – submitting to Christ – is about moving from darkness to light, which is a parallel to that of moving from bondage to freedom. Christ has shed light on how we should live, rather than keeping us in the darkness of trying to keep the detailed law. Although he said that he came to fulfil the Law rather than abolish it (Matthew 5:17), he is seen as embodying the essentials of the law in his character and actions, rather than “laying down the law” in all its rabbinical detail. Following the example of Christ and trusting him, rather than the written Law, as the basis of righteousness before God frees us from the fear that we will attract God’s judgement every time we sin by failing to keep a commandment. Chapters 3 to 5 of Paul’s letter to the Galatians cover this argument in more detail. “What would Jesus do?” isn’t all that can be said about Christian ethics, but it’s a starting point.
The third verse – coming to Christ – is about the coming of the Spirit. The Spirit’s role is to equip us with fruits (good character) and gifts (talents or capabilities) to follow Christ, and the hymn asks that we may “in fruitful lives show we belong to Christ”. The fourth verse with its reference to bread and wine reminds us that the baptised are admitted to Communion, and the final verse praises Christ for “his love outpoured, our lives renewed and hope restored”.