A little more than a year ago, Walt Disney Animation Studios released a little movie called Frozen. At the time I am writing, the film is ranked as the fifth-highest-grossing movie of all time. The film is also notable for producing the hit song “Let It Go,” an anthem extolling the virtues of leaving one’s past behind, relying on oneself, and refusing to conform to the expectations of others.
The song is interesting because it can be interpreted in many different ways. In the context of the movie itself, Elsa, the girl who sings the song, actually learns the negatives of overt self-reliance, as it takes the sacrifice of her sister, Anna, for her to be saved from certain death. Read as a song that calls us not to conform to the expectations of others, however, it points us to an important lesson.
Christians and non-Christians alike face pressure to conform to the expectations of others. Some of these expectations are legitimate—parents should provide for their children, employees should do a good job in service to their employer, and so on. Many of these expectations, however, are illegitimate—women should be perfect mothers, cooks, housewives, and lovers, all the while looking like fashion models; men should be ideal fathers, lovers, handymen, and corporate go-getters, all the while maintaining the perfect upper-middle-class lifestyle, featuring a large home, immaculate lawn, and children destined for the Ivy League.
In “Let It Go,” Elsa trades one set of illegitimate demands—one set of legalistic requirements—for another. She casts aside demands for her not to feel or let anyone know what she can do. She gives them up, imposing on herself the obligation not to let anything bother her and the demand to keep testing her limits, to keep doing what is bigger and better.
Human beings are expert legalists, and in our pursuit of freedom from constraints, we exchange one kind of legalism for another when we seek freedom apart from the gospel. So often, we confuse our own self-imposed standards with the liberating law of Christ (Gal. 6:2; James 1:25). We come up with our own standards of perfection. We may not live under the legalism of having to maintain a certain economic lifestyle, but we bind ourselves with a law that says we have been horrible parents if our children are not always the definition of politeness. We beat ourselves up for not having the perfect family devotions every night. We look down on ourselves—and others—for not toeing the line on homeschooling, private schools, and public education.
Christ came, however, to liberate us from all illegitimate demands, even the illegitimate demands that we label as “Christian.” It is not that we escape all law—for we are under the law of Christ. But this law is freedom from all that God has not actually commanded. “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1). In Him alone can we let it go without being pressed into a new legalism.