Free for a Purpose (Part 3): Christian Freedom
In the United States, we celebrate the birth of our nation and the freedoms it guarantees on Independence Day. Around this time, it’s important to remember that freedom is more than fireworks, flags, and Sousa marches. I’ve always found it ironic that people celebrate their “freedom” and then get in their (mandated fuel-efficient) cars and drive (55 mph because that’s what the government allows) to their homes (painted a certain color because that’s what the HOA allows) with their quiet music (because of a noise ordinance). That’s not freedom!
Nature of Freedom
Freedom is often misunderstood and rarely appropriately valued. As I mentioned previously, liberty allows us to choose, but independence leads us to isolation. There are two main varieties of freedom: freedom to choose and freedom from consequences. It is important to note that having the freedom to choose does not guarantee freedom from consequences and having freedom from consequences does not guarantee the freedom to choose.
There are a few situations in which you may have both freedoms. For instance, freedom “of” religion means both freedom from state religion (establishment clause) and freedom to worship as you see fit (free exercise clause). However, freedom is usually an either-or proposition. You may have the freedom to make financial decisions, but you are subject to their financial outcomes.
Cost of Freedom
Freedom in most contexts comes at a great cost and is always under attack. The natural progression of this fallen world is toward a system in which some people try to control others. This is why Ronald Reagan aptly observed that “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people.”
Interestingly, though, those who understand freedom’s cost tend to value it differently than everyone else. Lance Corporal Tim Craft was a United States Marine who fought in the siege of Khe Sahn in Vietnam in 1968. He stated the relationship between freedom’s cost and value this way: "For those who have fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know."
There are three words in the Bible for freedom, but they are from the same root word. Eleutheria is a Greek noun meaning liberty or freedom. Eleutheros is its associated adjective and means free, not a slave, or not restrained; born free or liberated, unbound or unshackled; or exempt from or not bound by an obligation. Eleutheroo is the verb form of this word and means to make free, to exempt, or to remove the restrictions. In all of these cases, this biblical freedom refers to our liberty in Christ, not independence.
Christian freedom includes both freedoms to and freedoms from. As blood-bought believers, we are free to enjoy life and life more abundantly, follow God’s plan for our lives, and be fruitful and glorify God. We are also free from sin, hell, sickness, lack, and fear. It is important to cherish these freedoms, because Jesus paid a great price for them. Sadly, many Christians, like many Americans, do not fully understand or properly value their Christian freedom. They continue to live as slaves to this worldly system, but we have been set free and need to live like it!
Jesus spoke to His Jewish followers about freedom in John 8:31-32, saying “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” However, they did not realize the nature of their slavery. John 8:33 recounts their answer, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will be made free’?” Clearly they had forgotten about their slavery to the Egyptians, the Philistines, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the Romans, but Jesus ignored all of those. Instead, He told them in John 8:34-36, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin . And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” Jesus pointed out that their slavery was not political, but spiritual in nature. Thus, the freedom He offered them and offers us is likewise spiritual in nature. This is why 2 Corinthians 3:17 says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
Resist Returning to Slavery
Jesus purchased our freedom at a tremendous cost; His own life. Because of the price He paid, we should value our freedom and not trade it for anything. This is why 1 Corinthians 7:23 says “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.”
People who do not appropriately value their freedom will return to the familiarity of slavery. Booker T. Washington recalled his observations on the day his fellow slaves and he were emancipated: “To some [of the former slaves] it seemed that, now that they were in actual possession of it, freedom was a more serious thing than they had expected to find it. Some of the slaves were seventy or eighty years old… ...deep down in their hearts there was a strange and peculiar attachment to "old Marster" and "old Missus," and to their children, which they found it hard to think of breaking off. With these they had spent in some cases nearly a half-century, and it was no light thing to think of parting. Gradually, one by one, stealthily at first, the older slaves began to wander from the slave quarters back to the "big house" to have a whispered conversation with their former owners as to the future.”
Old habits die hard. Unless you value freedom, you’ll stay in bondage. My own father quit smoking after 40 years, but ultimately picked the habit back up due to stress. He never really understood the freedom of not smoking, so it was easy to go back when life became difficult.
However, as believers, we cannot go back to slavery! We must live out our Christian freedom. Galatians 5:1 encourages us to “stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” We must fight to stay free!