Alexander Supertramp was the name he gave himself. His real name was Chris McCandless. He grew up in a high-achieving family. His father worked for NASA, and his mother worked for Hughes Aircraft. That kind of family created pressure on Alexander to go to college, get good grades, and find a respectable, upper-class job as his parents did.
But after graduating from Emory University in Georgia, Alexander surprised everyone. He sold all his belongings, donated all the money in his savings account to a charity, and hitchhiked across America. He canoed down the Colorado River, then he hitchhiked to Fairbanks, Alaska. He was done with the pressure from the world — from his parents and professors to get good grades, and from his friends who were getting good jobs out of college. Alexander wanted freedom. And he found it, or so he thought.
Many of us can relate to the external pressure from the world that Alexander Supertramp felt. It comes from our parents who want to be proud of us, so they push us to get an education and land a good job. It comes from school when every teacher insists that success in life requires that you do well in their specific class. It comes from our jobs where no matter how good our work is, someone always points out how we could have done better.
We, too, search for freedom, but we need a deeper kind. In the last words of Paul in Galatians, he summarizes for us the freedom we experience because of our faith in Christ.
For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus (Galatians 6:15-17).
Verse 15 is the apex of the final chapter of Galatians. When we are liberated by Christ, we are a new creation by God’s transformative grace: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The new creation has taken the place of the world.
An encouraging part of church ministry is seeing this kind of transformation in people’s lives.
A woman named Mona used to attend a class I taught for new believers. Throughout that class I learned how God liberated Mona from twenty years of drug addiction and dysfunctional relationships. Was it because of something she did? Not really. She would tell you that God was the source of her change. God miraculously removed her addiction and provided a way out of her abusive relationships.
Now Mona works a full-time job, takes care of her mom, and lives a peaceful life. Stories like this are encouraging because you see how God changes people when they become a new creation.
When we are liberated by Christ, we experience peace because we are free from the world’s pressures on us. No one is telling us what we have to do to gain others’ favor. We don’t have to put pressure on others to perform at work because of the pressure put on us. We don’t have to climb the ladder of success, only to realize it’s leaning on the wrong wall.
We have peace because we know where we are going and that God’s Spirit walks with us along the way. The path might be difficult and painful, but we know it ends with spending eternity with God.
When we are liberated by Christ, we will experience persecution as well as peace. The Greek word Paul uses for brand-marks (Galatians 6:17) comes from a verb that means “to prick, to sting, or to stick.” In the first century, slaves and some military soldiers had the name stamp of their owners placed on their bodies. Paul uses this Greek word to describe physical scars that he had on his body (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:4-6; 11:23ff).
Paul saw his scars as proof that he was a true believer. This provides a reminder to believers today that we, too, experience persecution for our faith. The brand marks for us might be co-workers who mock us because of our faith, not getting a promotion because we refuse to cut corners on our job, or a family that ridicules us because of our walk with Christ.
Alexander Supertramp was looking for freedom from the pressures of the world. He thought he found it. While living alone in the Alaskan wilderness, he ate some bad seeds that prevented his digestive system from absorbing nutrients. He eventually died from starvation. Alexander was looking for that freedom but never truly found it.
As believers, we experience freedom from the world, but that freedom doesn’t come because we sell everything, abandon our family, and go live in Alaska (even though that might be appealing at times). It comes from our liberator, Jesus Christ, who died on a cross for us and freed us from the sins that enslaved us. Liberated by the Liberator, we enjoy peace.