“You can’t make me do this. Don’t you know this is America?”
That’s a direct quote from one of our children. I don’t remember the exact circumstances. Nor do I remember what the “this” specifically was which brought such a statement of indignation. For all I know, the kid might have had a point – perhaps I was telling them they had to do something unreasonable.
Regardless, the thought process behind the response, which came after a long period of exasperation on the parts of both parent and child, was familiar to me. It was familiar because I’ve used it. Said it. Claimed it for myself many, many times. It’s the appeal to freedom.
You can’t tell me what to do. This is a free country, after all.
This is a free country (pretty sure). But thinking like this might be an indicator that we have a misunderstanding of what freedom is. Let me qualify, though – when I’m writing about “freedom” in this post, I am not meaning political freedom. I’m meaning spiritual freedom. I’m meaning the kind of freedom that’s important to Jesus. I’m meaning the kind of freedom that only Jesus can bring, that which He promised in John 8:
“If you continue in my word, you really are my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
This is the kind of freedom we tend to misunderstand. Perhaps we do so because those other kinds of freedom are also present in our lives. Those freedoms are wonderful things – things that should be protected and fought for. And yet there is a different kind of freedom that the Bible talks about. Here, then, are three ways in which we might misunderstand the kind of freedom Jesus brings to His followers:
1. Freedom means a lack of moral constraint.
We might be tempted to think that freedom means a lack of moral constraint. This is a very ironic misunderstanding, especially for someone who claims the name of Jesus, because the opposite is actually true.
If we look back to the context of John 8, we see that Jesus told the Jews He was in conversation with that true freedom, and true slavery, was not only a physical reality, but a spiritual one. Slavery is a condition of the soul, not only an institution of man. And slavery is what comes when we abandon moral constraint, for “everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34).
The kind of freedom Jesus brings leads us not to a lack of moral constraint, but to a greater kind of servitude in which we are actually free from the power of sin and yet bound by the righteousness of Christ. Ironically, true freedom means that we are free to obey with our whole selves.
2. Freedom means a lack of personal responsibility.
Another way we might misunderstand the nature of freedom is by thinking that freedom means a lack of personal responsibility. This misunderstanding runs rampant in the world around us. We see people abandoning their responsibilities to their families because they are tying them down. We see others making choices about their careers to avoid having people rely on them. Even in the church, we see people failing to volunteer to serve because it would inhibit their ability to do the things they really want to on the weekend.
Freedom doesn’t mean we can abandon personal responsibility; once again, the opposite is actually true. When we become free in Christ, we are free from fear. Free from condemnation. Free from ultimate judgment. And that freedom propels us to assume greater personal responsibility because we know that we ultimately don’t have anything to prove. Jesus has proven everything on our behalf:
“For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love” (Gal. 5:13).
3. Freedom means a lack of commitment to others.
In similar fashion, we might misunderstand that freedom means we don’t have to think about other people. We should only follow our own hearts, do what is right for us, and pursue that which gives us any degree of satisfaction, temporary though it might be. Paul addressed this misunderstanding in 1 Corinthians.
One of the issues he dealt with was whether the Corinthian Christians should eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Paul told them that yes, they were free to “eat everything that is sold in the meat market, without raising questions for the sake of conscience, since the earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it” (1 Cor. 10:25-26). But even though they were free, they should be governed by a greater principle than their desire to eat. They were free not only to eat, but they were free not to eat for the sake of other people:
“Give no offense to Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I also try to please everyone in everything, not seeking my own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved” (1 Cor. 10:32-33).
True freedom means that we can die to our preferences specifically for the purpose of serving, encouraging, and moving others further along in the gospel.
Christians are free. They are freer than free. But like everything else, our understanding of that freedom is tainted by sin. Let’s be careful that as we live in this freedom that we don’t use and abuse this freedom.