"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (Gal. 5:1)
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)
"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32)
We have a particular kind of cultural view of freedom:
- “No matter what they say, I’m doing to do whatever I want.”
- “Break the rules. Find your freedom. Live your life.”
- “Walk where your heart leads you.”
- “Run without a destination, and you’ll finally see what freedom can be.”
I think of it as a fish jumping out of a fishbowl that it considers to be this horrible confinement…and goes nowhere. All it wants to do is leave, but it has no destination. It does what it wants, it finds its freedom, it jumps where its heart leads it, and it jumps without a destination. But it doesn’t jump to freedom. It doesn’t realize it is leaving behind the very thing that brings it life. We know this principle is true. We see it everywhere.
- A train needs to run on tracks
- Drivers need rules for driving
- Our diet needs restraint
- Fireworks need guidelines
- A band needs to be in agreement about the constraints of the song in order to make music to which anyone wants to listen.
At the heart of the culture is the idea that freedom is simply having choices or being able to do what we want. Yet that clearly is not true. A book called The Paradox of Choice pointed out that too many choices often immobilize us or make us unhappy. When we have too much in front of us, we don’t want to choose out of fear that we will choose something that is not the best, and when we do choose we are unhappy because we assume we are missing out.
Even worse, there are freedoms that bring bondage. Paul said he did not want to become enslaved by permissible things that were not beneficial (1 Corinthians 6).
- I am free to eat what I want – but I will probably gravitate toward unhealthy foods made to hook me and then hurt me.
- I am free to use social media – but I can easily become addicted or narcissistic.
- I am free to spend money to enjoy life – but I can become greedy and materialistic if I’m not careful.
There must be more to freedom than merely the license of choice.
Let’s go back to the fish imagery. Mere choice says the fish is free if it jumps anywhere it wants to jump. But the choice that brings life and real freedom is the jump from a bowl into a lake or the ocean. That’s still not a life without limits: even the ocean has boundaries. But it’s life with the kind of limits that allow us to flourish. The fish can now live a fully life – whatever that means to a fish – because it’s in an environment where it was made to live.
At the heart of the gospel is the idea that true freedom is not freedom to do whatever we want; it’s the ability to become what God intends us to be.
“Freedom, then, is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us.”—Tim Keller
This is a principle we hear repeated a lot of places.
“There are two freedoms – the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought.” Charles Kingsley
“Order without liberty and liberty without order are equally destructive.” Theodore Roosevelt
“What is this liberty that must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not the freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check on their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few — as we have learned to our sorrow.” –U.S. judge Learned Hand, in his speech "The Spirit of Liberty"
This is a universally recognized truth: genuine freedom is not the license to do what we want. It’s the ability to do what we should – and as Christians we would add a very important point: so that we can flourish in God’s design. This is a biblical principle that God in his grace has made clear outside of His Word.
- You are free to eat what you want or watch what you eat. The first will liberate your choices and hurt your health, the second will constrain your choices and liberate your health.
- You are free to be lazy or productive. The first will liberate your time and hurt you, the second will constrain your uses of time and free you economically.
- You are free to be greedy or generous. The first will liberate you from the burden of self-sacrifice and enslave you in the rat race; the second will constrain a self-centered use of your time, energy, and priorities and free you from the power of money.
- You are free to be resentful or to forgive. The first will constrain your peace, your health, your understanding of grace. The second will constrain your selfish desire to be right and hold a grudge, but it will free you and bring you peace and a better understanding of God’s grace and forgiveness for you.
We are free from the bondage of the law of sin and death to serve God and in so doing, truly live. But we will have to live within the constraints of that new freedom.
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." Galatians 5:13-14
“Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.” 1 Peter 2:16
There is the paradox of Christian freedom.[i] Jesus said:
"Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." (Matt. 16:25)
The love of God, as seen in Christ, demands that we lay down our lives so that we can truly be alive as we are continually molded into the image of Christ. The more we sacrifice ourselves for the sake of Christ and in the service of others, the more we are free to bless those who persecute us, to love those who hate us, to forgive those who hurt us.
This kind of love constrains us, but it liberates us as well.
“When we obey God, we become more, not less, free, in the same sense that your automobile will run more freely if you obey the owner's manual sent with the car by its manufacturer, and thus take good care of it. The car has a given nature which can be abused and damaged.
Human beings likewise have a given nature which can be abused and damaged, thus eroding our freedom, or destroying it all together. God gives us a Manufacturer's manual by which we can maximize our ability to act, and pursue our rightful and most joyful life — the ‘pursuit of happiness’”.  (F. Earle Fox)[ii]
Christian freedom is a directed, purposeful pursuit of the life given and empowered by God that allows us to increasingly participate in the character of Christ.[iii]
We are created in the image of God; genuine freedom, then, is found in conforming to that image, not rejecting it.
When we say, “I am a Christian,” what we say, what we do, what we post, what and how we picket, what we laugh and cry at, how we show Christ’s love, how we balance justice and mercy, how we balance law and grace, how we prioritize our life, how we engage in relationships, the kind of person we commit to becoming in our homes, our workplace, at church, in sports leagues…. These all matter. Every moment leads us further away from or further into the likeness of Christ, and with it the freedom Christ offers.
We must stop fixating on ‘my freedom’ as though it were not bound up with everyone else’s. We realize that our lives are intertwined with the lives of others, and we “put on” a commitment to live like Christ, and we sacrifice ourselves for others. We give up our pride, our greed, our selfishness, our lust, our pettiness, our jealousy and bitterness. We use our freedom to serve others.
Christian freedom shows us what to “put on,” and promises that God will help us accomplish this in ways we never could on our own. We are free to become what God created us to be: children and ambassadors who are constantly being transformed into the image of Christ. (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18)
Don’t be discouraged if the path of freedom is a struggle. God will help you. You have been given the Holy Spirit, God’s word, and God’s people which will all work together to transform you into the image of Jesus. God has begin a good work in you; he will be faithful.
Remember: you are a child of God. He is the perfect Father who will love and chastise and encourage and prune and build. God will work faithfully on you for your good and His glory so that we can experience not just life, but the abundant life (John 10:10)offered in the Kingdom of Heaven.
 Check out this most excellent article at Christianity Today online called “The Bonds Of Freedom.” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/october/bonds-of-freedom.html
[i] Martin Luther wrote in On Christian Liberty: "A Christian… is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian… is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone."
[ii] C.S. Lewis noted, “The lost enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded.” The opposite is that the saved can forever enjoy the freedom that have been graciously given.
[iii] “The Word of God teaches that the Christian is a free man and should “stand in the freedom which Christ has made him free.” What is meant by Christian freedom? What is freedom in general? We answer: it is not the right and the ability to do as one pleases, but the ability to move without constraint in the sphere for which God made us. Freedom therefore is not inconsistent with limitation and law. The bird is free only when it can move in the air unhindered. A worm is free when it is not prevented from moving in the ground–in a sphere which would mean bondage and death for many other creatures. A locomotive is not free unless its motion is confined to the two rails on which it was made to run. Man was made in the image of God to be like Him and to reflect his holiness. Consequently he is free only when he moves without constraint in the sphere of holiness and obedience to God’s law.” –“Christian Liberty,” in “Report of the Committee on Worldly Amusements,” Agenda: Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, To convene June 13, 1928 at Holland, Mich., p. 22.