freedom

I’m really appreciating how significant the theme of freedom is in the Bible.

Freedom is opposed to compulsion, captivity or slavery.

Utterly free of compulsion, God freely acts to create and sustain a free creation, particularly free and dangerous human beings, which constantly, continually and consistently become enslaved, manipulated, captive or otherwise enslaved to and by various kinds of anti-freedom things (aptly summarised as sin and evil).  

The work of Creation is a risky yet grace-filled work of giving freedom to that which is created.  But then there’s the work of Redemption.

Utterly free of compulsion, God freely acts in many ways to lead his creation, particularly humans, out of bondage, captivity and slavery and into freedom.  The Israelites are freed from slavery in Egypt, and are given a Law which instructs them how to be free – the anti-enslavement people, the counter-compulsion people, the bondage-breaking people.

Paul, writing in the 1st century to a community at Rome, writes, however, that this freedom-oriented Law Code was unable to make them truly free, and that it had actually served to make their enslavement all the more obvious.  For human beings to be truly and fully free, their hearts and minds must be freed first.  For Paul, this freedom – a liberation which the whole creation waits eagerly for – happens by way of a wholly new kind of Law, which he calls the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus.

Christians are to be freed from all that enslaves them, and to stand firm in that freedom and not be held by any possible thing that could enslave them.  Sin itself and the various schemes at managing, decreasing, hiding or otherwise ‘fixing’ sin (in short: ‘religion’, Jewish or otherwise) both drive humans deeper and deeper into bondage, self-un-control, frustration, un-peace and slavery.  With brotherly yet passionate (and often stern!) affection, Paul continually guarded his loved ones to not be enslaved to anything – food, sex, ideas or religion to name a few.

The vocation (note: a freely given and freely received vocation!) for these freed people is to be God’s vessels of freedom-bringing in God’s world.  To be used by God to release those who are held captive by any and all things that enslave them.

* * *

As I spend Christmas, New Year’s Day and my wife’s birthday in my home country of the United States, I am struck by an irony.  Many (not all!) American Christians are worried about whether or not United States Law will reflect their beliefs.

The irony is not that I disagree with the desired outcomes.  The irony is the methods by which they imagine them to be realised.  Sermons, Books, Websites, Newsletters and Radio Programmes all across the country warn Christians not only of the demise of the nation, but also of the means of rescue – political muscle.

I am not advising withdrawal from the political realm (quite the contrary, actually), but merely am calling to remembrance Paul’s conviction that true freedom does not come by way of any Law or any sin-‘fixing’ schemes, no matter what country or race they are attached to.

I am persuaded to believe that for Paul, the worst news would not be that abortions happened to be legal or even government funded (or that same-sex couples had the same state tax status as male/female couples).  I think Paul might well be more saddened by the failure of the Church to trust God to bring true and complete freedom to the world – the kind of freedom that cannot come through Law (religious or national).

Is this a pro-abortion stance (or pro-homosexuality for that matter)??  Absolutely not.  It is merely an attempt to remember that true Freedom comes not through sin-‘fixing’ systems.  I don’t think American Christians need to choose between democratic process and spiritual transformation – I’m definitely a ‘both/and’ kind of person.  But at the end of the day, a Christian puts their ‘eggs’ in the ‘basket’ of the freedom-bringing Gospel of Christ.  A law can be changed easily enough –especially in the States!– if enough Christians persuade each other to vote the same way on a given issue.  But changing a heart – freeing a human being… now that takes something else.

7 thoughts on “freedom”

  1. Hi Dale,

    You speak against “sin-fixing”. But do you not recognise the Gospel as a sin-fixing scheme?

    Paul, writing in the 1st century to a community at Rome, writes, however, that this freedom-oriented Law Code was unable to make them truly free, and that it had actually served to make their enslavement all the more obvious. For human beings to be truly and fully free, their hearts and minds must be freed first. For Paul, this freedom – a liberation which the whole creation waits eagerly for – happens by way of a wholly new kind of Law, which he calls the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus.

    It always tickled me that the Christian church (Paul) recognised the sillyness of the [Jewish] Law, and in attempting to get at the purpose of the Law; freedom, promptly replaced the Law with yet another one! This time surrounding a Christ figure. It is still a Law because one has to do and believe this, that, and the other.

    I truly believe that religion does have to do with Freedom. But while some manage to get to the freedom without the doctrines seeming to get in the way, others can’t. A religious person cannot empathise to the degree that they can acknowledge the Freedom that another reaches with differing doctrines, and to that extent they are not Free themselves.

  2. Dale,

    Interesting post. How do you understand the word “doulos” in the NT? While we are free from that which enslaves us to death, are we not now slaves to righteousness in Christ?

  3. Simon,
    (sorry for waaay delayed response)
    Paul, of course, saw the Jewish Law as ‘holy’ and ‘good’, but as having reached its goal/purpose/telos/’end’ in Christ – which fits with Jesus’ own talk in Matt. 5 about not having come to do away with, but to ‘fulfill’/fill-out/complete the Law. So I think the language of ‘fulfillment’ is more faithful to the New Testament than the language of ‘replacement’.

    Both Paul and Jesus agree that the Son (Jesus) is the one who truly gives true Freedom. Freedom from all that dehumanises us (sin in its various outworkings). Freedom from all that pulls us back from attaining the goal for humanity – completeness in Christ (Col 1:28-29). This freedom, then, is a ‘humanising’ (or re-humanising) kind of Freedom, in that it frees us up from both sin and religion – which both hold us back (en-‘slave’ us) from being truly human.

    And yes, non-essential (and therefore almost certainly non-Christ-centered) doctrine certainly can do more to enslave than bring freedom.

    Jonathan (howdy again!),
    Thanks. In my understanding, ‘doulos’ is translated as ‘(bond)servant’ or ‘slave’, and is used in different ways in different contexts. For example (to address your question about slavery to death or to righteousness in Christ), Paul uses it quite paradoxically to contrast freedom with slavery. We are, as it were, to be ‘slaves’ to freedom (which was the title of my sermon last night :) ).

  4. Dale,

    Hmmmmmn. I wait patiently until christianity evolves past it’s present Laws and sees the ridiculousness of a god who would send to hell those who, with the earnest use of their faculties, conclude that Jesus was but a man. A doctrine as un-Free as the old Law.

  5. Dale,

    Merely that “Both Paul and Jesus agree that the Son (Jesus) is the one who truly gives true Freedom.” is not true freedom. It is but another Law. What I call [more] true freedom is a god who would accept me despite me not believing in Jesus (I have good and earnest reasons for this). If I am wrong, why should I be thrown in hell for a non bad-intentioned mistake?

    I note that hell seems to have been softened to out-of-the-presence-of-god in modern times. And this is as it should be. Why? Because it is the Freedom that should drive the doctrines, not the other way round. Unfortunately the doctrines tend to take over – in the OT and in the New.
    The idea that Freedom can only result from Jesus is also slavery, just like the OT.

  6. Simon,
    That statement about Jesus being the One who truly gives true Freedom can be agreed upon by Christians with varying perspectives concerning what happens to every single individual person after they die. For example, an Inclusivist position (as opposed to an Exclusivist one) holds that even persons without conscious belief in Jesus can inherit the life of the age to come (i.e. eternal life).

    One can argue in circles about whether or not a claim to ultimate Freedom is another Law (an utterly different kind of Law, as far as my understanding of the NT is concerned!), but just don’t assume all Christians are Exclusivists – I’m not.

Comments are closed.