Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:33)
Mention the word ‘freedom,’ and thoughts will inevitably include the image of a hawk or and eagle flying high above the earth. For whatever reason, the notion of flying and the notion of freedom have become tangled together. It may have something to do with having an unrestricted view, with being so high above that nothing gets in the way, and we can see clearly for miles in any direction. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in aeroplanes recently and confess that I always ask for a window seat. Being able to look down on the world, unhindered, unfettered, and uncluttered by small, ordinary things, does stir up a sense of freedom. Oddly enough, ‘freedom’ is often the word the world uses to justify their rejection of God and His Word. Our worldly notions of freedom seem to clash with the concept of ‘freedom in Christ’ that Jesus Himself promises us. Whenever we find seemingly irreconcilable principles, we need to stop and dig in to what God really means before we blithely follow the world.
Freedom in Christ is not the narrow, bigoted prison the world would like it be.
The reality is that freedom has become something of ‘hot’ word in modern society. While the principles of freedom remain good and noble – anything that has its roots in God is inherently so – its application by man has become perverted. As an example, we only need to look at our South African constitution, a document long overdue and desperately needed, and which is intended to ensure that the tragic injustices of the past are never repeated. In essence, the motivation is good and noble. We cannot fight that. But the document has gone to the extreme. We have legally entrenched the freedom to commit murder by legalizing abortion, to mention only one. Freedom to choose sounds wonderful, but if it excludes, in practice, the fundamental commandments of our holy God, it becomes an abomination. Freedom in Christ is exchanged for freedom in perversion.
We can define freedom as: ‘not being imprisoned or enslaved’ or as ‘the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants.’ The implication, of course, is that being denied the latter is as good as being subjected to the former. It’s a popular trend to paint everything that hinders our ‘personal freedom’ with the brush of discriminatory enslavement. The issue of slavery and unfair subjugation has, after all, occupied centre stage throughout history. While we cannot dispute the fundamental rights of every human being to act, speak, or think as they want, this is a freedom that must be governed by wisdom, morality, and integrity. Without these, it simply becomes a justification for perversity. Freedom in Christ is a freedom that is exercised with the mind of Christ and which includes these critical values. Anything else lacks the fundamental principle of accountability.
Our society is rapidly moving to the place where ‘accountability’ is becoming a foreign concept. We find easy ways to explain away sin by blaming it on others, on our past, our upbringing, our environment, and even our genes. Top of the list, though, is the worldly concept of freedom, the absolute fundamental right to act, speak, or think as we want. It’s a noble idea, but it’s dangerous where there is no restraint. Hitler, for example, no doubt believed absolutely that he was living in the full expression of his fundamental right to freedom. That he murdered, imprisoned, and tortured millions of innocents in the process became irrelevant. Freedom ruled without restraint. The Inquisition was another travesty in which the freedom of some became a life or death matter for others. This vagueness in interpretation is perhaps where freedom in Christ stands in greatest conflict. The Word of God tells and lives it as it is, with no grey areas that can be manipulated for personal agendas.
Our fundamental right to act, speak, or think as we want – our so-called freedom – is what is driving God out of government, education, business and industry, and even the church. Ministers of the Gospel are, technically, no longer allowed to call abortion murder or stand against homosexuality. We all are, technically, open to prosecution and imprisonment if we declare, stand by, and act according to God’s Word. Pastors can be forced, by law, to marry homosexuals in God’s house. Freedom allows anyone to mock, reject, and deny the Word of God, but that same ‘freedom’ does not allow a Christian to read, speak, or believe a single verse of the Bible. The reason for this is that freedom in Christ is not fully understood, nor does the world want to understand it. God is painted as a cruel despot, and His Word as chains to bind our inherent rights to freedom – which really are simply the excuses we want to justify our own agendas and pursuit of self-gratification.
In today’s verse, Jesus makes it very clear what freedom really is. We will know freedom when we know the truth, and we only know the truth by abiding in – living in – His Word. This is the point where we need to remember that Jesus Himself is the Word – the living Word, God-made-man, God-made-visible, the Word of God come to life. To know truth isn’t complicated or convoluted and hard to grasp. It’s knowing Jesus. Knowing Jesus puts us ‘in Christ,’ which puts us in the place of abiding in the Word. We live there. Truth is our home. It’s not something we’re forced into but rather something we’re drawn to. If we think of all the things that define ‘home,’ those are the things that define Truth. Freedom in Christ is the highest form of freedom available. It is the freedom of free choice, the freedom that releases us the vague, manipulative concepts of worldly freedom and establishes us firmly in eternal security.
Free will is the manifestation of the greatest freedom that God has to offer, and it’s available to every single human being, whether they follow God or not. It’s a freedom so sacred that God Himself will not violate it, even though – as the almighty, all-powerful God of the universe – He is fully capable of doing so. The mistake humanity makes is in equating the spiritual law of choice and consequence with the removal of free choice. This is the crux of ‘freedom in Christ debate,’ the first rung in the ladder of justifying a rejection of God and His Word. The principle is that God ‘compels’ us to obedience through the threat of eternal punishment if we exercise our free will that He has given us in ways that are contrary to His commandments. In essence, it infers that ‘freedom’ is simply non-existent. We are not free to choose, because God won’t respect the choices we make.
What these critics of the Gospel forget is that choice and consequence has nothing to do with freedom. It is a spiritual, and even a physical, law. Consider for a moment the truth that, if we were to step off the edge of a high mountain, we can realistically expect either death or serious injury. If we rob a bank, we can expect that we may well be apprehended, tried, and sentenced. That’s choice and consequence. The very nature of choice – the exercise of free will – implies the understanding of consequence. It’s the age-old principle of action and reaction. Consequences aren’t God’s way of forcing us us to comply. They exist, pure and simple. Denying this is like denying the fact that the sun rises when night ends, the tides change as the moon moves, birds fly when they spread their wings, and apple trees bring forth apples in due season. This is the fundamental difference between freedom in Christ and freedom in the world. Human freedom is without restraint. Freedom in Christ is the freedom to choose within a full and complete understanding of the consequences.
Man’s greatest issue with freedom in Christ is this matter of Biblical restraint. We do not, in the natural, want to accept that we are sinners, are utterly unable to get it right, and desperately need someone to bail us out. From infancy, we are gradually taught to do for ourselves. But the normal process of maturing and growing has been taken to the extreme. We now assume that needing anyone or anything – even God – is the ultimate weakness. Accepting consequences is, in the world view, essentially curtailing our freedom. We want to be able to act, speak, and think as we want without consequences. It’s a small step to making consequences the sign that God denies us our freedom. Consequences, whether they be good or bad, are the outcome of our choices. Freedom in Christ brings good consequences, but it first requires good choices. Freedom in Christ includes accountability, but freedom of the world does not.
Humanity is, ironically, rather like the petulent child who cannot get their own way. We hate God because His very nature makes us stop and consider the consequences. His holiness holds up a mirror that reveals our unholiness. His perfection reveals our imperfection. God’s greatest ‘crime’ is that He is inherently holy. That is who and what He is, and we don’t like it. Consequences, if we insist on some kind of definition, are the response of creation to the perfect, holy creation. They are the reaction to His existence and His presence. Ignoring the, railing against them, accusing God for them, or deliberately scorning them will not ever change the reality that they exist and will, for all eternity. Freedom in Christ is that which comes from the Truth, from the very presence and nature of God, the Truth that brings joy in the knowledge that the greatest love we could ever know is that which surrounds us with grace, wisdom, and restraint.
Freedom in Christ is the freedom to live as our holy God intended. It is the freedom to choose what is right, rather than what is expected of us. It is the freedom to to need and receive grace, courage, strength, empowerment, refreshing, restoration… all the wonderful things that our Father gives so freely. It is the freedom to recognise the eternal truths, like consequence, and order our lives accordingly. It is the freedom to be honest with ourselves, with others, and with God. It is the freedom that comes with no longer having to pretend, no longer having to do it alone, no longer having to achieve, and no longer having to fear either man, our own selves, or the devil.
Without God-given restraint, freedom is little more than abuse and self-gratification. It’s a means to justify any word, thought, or action, to validate our darkest desires, and to explain away our weaknesses and propensity to sin. We do have the freedom to choose. We either live in the freedom of the world with its lack of restraint and scorn for the consequences, or we live in the freedom in Christ, secure for eternity. Whether we believe or accept them, the truth of consequences is utterly unalterable. They remain, irrespective of our opinions. Freedom in Christ means to embrace these rather than reject them. Freedom in Christ is the place where we live as our creator intended, no longer enslaved by self, sin, the world, or the enemy. The only thing that stands in the way is free will and how we exercise it.
Lord, Your Truth brings life and light, and freedom in Christ. Help us to abide in it, to make it our home, to rejoice in the safety and security it offers, and to receive the boldness and courage we need to stand in it in the face of opposition. Even as we face growing persecution for living and speaking Your Word, remind us that freedom in Christ is the freedom of living in the heart of God and according to Your purposes.