Freedom is a concept that is thrown around a lot in our society, one that I discussed at some length on my YouTube Channel recently. T
2 Corinthians 3:17 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
Galatians 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Acts 13:39 “Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.”
Now what these verses are getting at is what we Christians refer to as ‘Freedom in Christ’ and ‘Freedom From Sin’. More specifically being free from things such as certain aspects of the Old Testament law, and freedom from the supernatural consequences of sin. Yet, many think of it as counterintuitive to say that the God of the Bible promotes freedom and admittedly it’s not hard to see why. After all, a large portion of the Bible is commandments listing out things we are forbidden from doing. Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery… Are just a handful of examples of the many things the Bible prohibits us as followers of Jesus from doing. Granted these are commandments from the old law, but there are numerous New Testament verses that indicate that such behaviors are indeed sinful and thus not permitted. There are far more verses on top of these that may not outright label certain behaviors as sinful, but strongly suggests that we are wise to avoid them. In fact, the very first sin was Adam and Eve making a free choice to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
So, how can one be a Christian, or follow any major religious belief system for that matter, and still claim to be “free”? The answer lies in the fact that our culture fundamentally misunderstands what freedom truly is. People tend to think that freedom and liberty mean doing whatever you please with no impediments or consequences, similar to the concept of Positive Liberty that I discussed in my most recent Hot Take
Freedom, true freedom, the kind the Bible discusses, is the ability to choose what your boundaries are, to decide for yourself which rules you will follow, not to have no boundaries and no rules at all. Specifically it is the ability to choose to follow God’s edicts.
If you really think about it, it makes sense. As a Christian who has struggled with lust I know all too well what it feels like to do things that you know logically and morally are wrong, but yet feel like you are compelled to do them anyway. Now, that’s not to say I bear no responsibility for my actions. There are steps that I ought to have taken so that I didn’t get to the point where I felt like the temptation was irresistible, that I stubbornly refused to. My point in bringing this up is that it’s very possible and I would even say common, to get in situations where our emotions and other urges override our rational thought capabilities. It’s in those moments that you realize what it means to be what the Bible calls a “slave to sin”. It’s not that you are being mind controlled by an outside force or anything like that, but in these situations are emotions and physical urges are so overpowering that even while you are simultaneously thinking that this is wrong or a bad idea or whatever, the emotional voice usually wins out.
It’s not only religious people who experience things like this. Just about all of us can think of a time when we let our emotions get the best of us or were under the influences of drugs or alcohol and did something that we knew was wrong, and would probably take back if we could. The more we give in to our passions the more often this happens. If we are ruled by our passions, and sinful desires to the point that they commonly overpower our rational thought capabilities, how free are we, in practice?
Second Peter 2:19 backs up the idea of being ruled by our passions being equivalent to slavery: “They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”
Choosing to follow God or choosing to set limits on our behavior, as counterintuitive as it may sound, actually winds up giving us more freedom in practice. By exercising self-discipline and placing limits on ourselves, we can reduce the number of situations where we would be tempted so strongly by our passions that we could not overcome them.
A good example would be a married man trying to avoid the sin of adultery. Few men, no matter how committed to their wife they may be, wouldn’t be able to reject the sexual advances of an attractive woman, were said woman able to get him alone. Even though those men may in absence of that temptation staring them in the face, very strongly desire not to cheat on their wives, in the heat of the moment their passions, rather than their irrational thought capability will likely win out. So to avoid a situation where he might become a slave to his passions, a man might choose to limit himself by not traveling alone, or perhaps not staying at the same hotel with his attractive female secretary. Thus, even though the man is placing a restriction on his behavior, something we might think would make him less free, the restriction is a voluntary decision made to prevent a situation where his rational thought capabilities would be impaired, which in turn would hinder his ability to make a truly free choice.
So, in short, if you want to experience true freedom, learn to set boundaries for yourself based on God’s word. As Jesus says in the Gospel of John 8:31-32 “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”