Freedom

Paul writes in Galatians 5:1 that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Jesus died to give us freedom from judgment, freedom from the law, freedom from the knowledge even of good and evil.

How free are we? We can do anything we want, but we are limited by our own natures. For instance, however much I may want to, flapping my arms rapidly will not get me airborne. I cannot leap a tall building in a single bound. I cannot run faster than a speeding bullet. I cannot look through walls with x-ray eyes. I cannot pick up a locomotive and carry it on my back.

So I am free, but I am constrained by my own body’s limits.

I cannot live forever; I will die.

I can choose to jump out of an airplane ten thousand feet above the ground without a parachute. But I will probably choose not to do so because I am constrained by my understanding of the force of gravity and the consequences of such a force on my body.

I could choose to become excessively wicked, perhaps rob banks and beat up those who annoy me; but other people, acting freely, will likely constrain my behavior and I’ll be caught and put in prison. Likewise if I choose to murder, whether an individual or serially, I will be constrained in my freedom by the free actions of others. Feelings of guilt or the fear of being caught may constrain my behavior and either keep me from doing such things, or if I do go ahead and exercise my free-dom that way, others exercising their freedom will likely catch me and punish me.

I will be constrained ultimately by my own mortality. Idi Amin was an evil dictator; he is thought to be responsible for the deaths of over 500,000 of his countrymen. But he was never brought before a tribunal, never convicted, never faced punishment in that sense. But at 78 years of age he died nevertheless. His freedom was ultimately constrained by his mortality.

We are all free, but we are constrained by all the freedom around us: the other free sentient beings, the freely swirling universe, the weather, and our physical limitations. We exercise our freedom in a limited way because our freedom does not exist in isolation.

So it is odd, given that, that people can be so fearful of the freedom given by grace, that they imagine such freedom will lead to anarchy, that folks will run amuck. Anarchy is really not possible, because nothing happens in isolation. Freedom constrains freedom. Those who fear grace don’t understand freedom and in their attempts to impose order and law, create many unintended bad consequences and pitch us all toward chaos.

When she was seven years old, the daughter of someone I know commented to her mother that “It’s more important to God that we be free than that we be good.”

Why did she say such a thing? Because of the story of Adam and Eve. If being good were the most important thing, then why did God give Adam and Eve the freedom to disobey?

Freedom is so important to God that he would rather human beings be free than good. He thought freedom was so important, that he would make the Son of God die rather than make people be good. This is the obvious conclusion from Genesis 1-3 and the New Testament. This would mean that we may make a mistake if we place too much emphasis on “being good”. Not that good is not desirable, just that it must be tempered by freedom. Thus, to enforce goodness through legalistic means in the church is counter to the biblical revelation.

Remember that the Spirit of God indwells believers and that this probably has a profound impact on their behavior. Freedom is that you limit yourself. Non-freedom is that you are limited by another. In Christ, we are free, because we are no longer slaves to that other: sin.

Thus, one of the goals of God is the maximization of freedom

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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