What is Freedom? Webster’s dictionary has several definitions including the following:
1: the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
2. liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another
3. the quality or state of being exempt or released from something onerous
4. the quality of being open or outspoken
5. boldness of conception or execution
6. unrestricted use
7. a political right
Freedom is a subject few of us have taken the time to study precisely because few words are so common, and as people living in a so-called “free” country, we all think we understand what freedom is. Clearly politicians, businesspeople, advertisers and military leaders all know how to use “freedom” to attract attention and draw interest. And this past week on FaceBook I’ve seen several posts where “freedom” and “rights” have been used interchangeably – a clear error that even I have made at times.
Every follower of Christ knows the verses “the truth will set you free,” “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom,” and “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Still, the Biblical idea of freedom is much different from the cultural value of the same name. And neither one is the same as “free will.”
While independence from tyranny is not a bad thing, it’s just not true freedom. Freedom has nothing to do with one’s material circumstances. It’s a state of mind – a soulish and spiritual thing. One can be physically located within prison walls, constrained by chains and still be totally free. In contrast, one can be walking about in the world, able to do whatsoever one desires and have no freedom at all.
Freedom is Trusting Obedience
Real freedom doesn’t fit any of the nice Webster definitions. Real freedom is found only in setting aside everything secular culture touts as freedom. According to the Bible it is trusting obedience; clearly not the image portrayed in popular culture. To understand this consider the following example I recently heard: A train is free only so long as it stays on its tracks; a train that jumps the tracks is “free” of the rails but no longer free in the most important sense of the word. It’s a freed wreck that can’t go anywhere. “Free” but no longer truly free. In order to be free, a train requires the constraints of the tracks guiding it along to its destination.
Two of our Church Fathers also provide great insight into true freedom. According to Augustine, it is not choice or lack of constraint, but being what you are meant to be – and we were created in the image of God. The closer we conform to the true image of God, Jesus Christ, the freer we become. The farther we drift from that image the more our freedom shrinks. And in Martin Luther’s words: “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.” In other words, because of what Christ has done for him or her the Christian doesn’t have to do anything. On the other hand, out of gratitude for what Christ has done for him or her, the Christian is bound in servitude to God and other people. She gets the privilege of serving them freely and joyfully.
The following is a sampling of what Jesus and His leaders had to say about true freedom:
From David: “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out Your precepts.”
From Paul to the Romans: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”
From Paul to the Corinthians: “Everything is permissible for me–but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me–but I will not be mastered by anything.”
From Paul to the Galatians: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
From Paul to the Colossians: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”
From Peter: “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.”
From Jesus: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, …”
Six things to remember about True Freedom
- Man was created by God to be free. But if man rebels from God he gives away his freedom. He becomes enslaved to bad behavior, wrong thoughts and the enemy of God.
- Freedom does not exist apart from God. An ability (or a right) to exercise a choice is not the same as freedom. A “right” granted by a governmental authority is never a freedom when it runs counter to the Word and will of God.
- There’s a price to be paid for freedom. And Jesus paid that price for us.
- Freedom is a “pass through” – it can’t be kept to one’s self. If we do not share our freedom with others, then we are not truly free ourselves – at least not to the degree God intended.
- We are not “free” to do everything or anything just because we are “able” to do so, or just because it is not necessarily evil.
- Our degree of freedom can be measured by our attitudes and motives in the exercise of our freedom.
- So if you’re asked “Is a Christian free to drink alcohol, or to listen to a certain kind of music, or to party, or to do whatever?” tell them the answer is conditional. It’s conditional based on your present attitudes and motives, on the long-term impacts it may have on you in the future and on the potential impact that behavior may foreseeably have on others who may or may not be offended by it.
- Behavior based on selfish desires and interests is never free – for these are slavish by nature.
- Freedom reflects the character of God. The character of God is Love, Compassion, Truth, Life, etc.