a question concerning the nature of freedom

If you’re looking for a proper July 4th post, you probable want to go to this Fourth of July Primer, or this (somewhat controversial) essay from last year.  This post is indeed about freedom, but is written more as a question about Christianity and life in general than a discourse on our American Independence Day.

The other day in a village, we were studying discipleship and read the first portion of this passage together:

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone.*  How can you say that we will be set free?”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin….  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

— John 8:31-36

Now, my point in our reading was simply this:  It is entirely possible for us to be believers in Christ without being disciples (these Jews were).**  It is not belief — but obedience to Christ’s teachings — which makes one a disciple.  And this is clear from scripture — though we often muddle it (with our strong desires to make Christianity about faith and nothing more, as if faith doesn’t necessarily involve obedience.  But I digress).

My questions come when we get to the bit about freedom.  Let’s get this straight, we will know the truth and be set free when we are obedient to Christ?  Not when we believe in Christ, or when we begin attending church, or when we accept the offer of Jesus’ life as a sacrifice for our sins.  No, when we are obeying Jesus commandments, THEN we will be set free.  Freedom is defined as me doing everything someone else tells me to?!

That doesn’t sound like freedom.

So here’s my thinking — which I desperately want you guys to address.  [I haven’t adopted this as part of my theology, and am hoping you guys will give me a bit of direction.]  

I’m beginning to think of freedom as nothing more than the opportunity to choose our master.  All humanity is in slavery to sin, unless and/or until set free by Christ.  But in being “set free,” I will still necessarily be a slave; I’m simply afforded the liberty at that point to choose whether sin will be my master, or Christ.  

This seems to make sense of passages like:

  • Matthew 6:24 — “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
  • All those passages which speak of leaders first being slaves to all ie. Mt 20, Mk 10
  • Romans 6:16 — “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
  • And dozens of others — maybe another post in the future…?

So freedom is nothing more than the ability to choose one’s master.  Because necessarily we will have one.

The idea seems to work to some extent even when discussing countries (like our own) gaining independence.  We, the American people, are free — if by freedom, you mean we are able to decide (if we’re in the majority vote) who will run our country and make our rules for us.  Rules which we will follow, making us seem not so free (as many use the word).  I won’t go into detail about all the other aspects of life for which this definition works, because you guys are intelligent (and this is a holiday, I don’t want to spend the whole day writing).  

Suffice it to say that many of our ideas concerning freedom don’t harmonize well with Christianity and life itself.  You and I will necessarily serve a master.  Freedom, then, is either an illusion or merely the opportunity to choose that master.

What do you think?

*This is such a funny statement to me.  We’re descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone?!  Really?  Egypt doesn’t ring any bells?
** Interestingly enough, Jesus only uses two words to describe his followers — and believer is not one of them.  Neither is Christian or follower.  They are disciple/student and apostle, the latter being used only to describe a small group of men.  Jesus’ choice of words ought to tell us something about the nature of following him.


Filed under holidays, obedience

5 responses to “a question concerning the nature of freedom

  1. I agree, Brett. I think Bob Dylan expressed it well when he penned, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody. Well, it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

  2. Andrew

    I would also suggest that true freedom comes from understanding who you are, why you are here, and therefore what your purpose is. When these are understood, then true freedom comes – because you are living in proper relationship with God – sin’s shackles are severed and you walk & talk with Jesus in true freedom. Repentance should bring a “feeling” of weightlessness, because suddenly you are finished with sin and you know the joy of serving Christ. In finding this weightlessness, the burden or yoke of being a disciple of Jesus is not at all heavy, because you are at peace with the Lord.

    • good thoughts, andrew. it’s often hard for us to reconcile Jesus’ words about taking his yoke because his burden is light. it’s hard to see any burden at all as being restful, but that’s what he promises… rest. seems to fit well with your thoughts on freedom.

  3. great post and something to think about – I definitely think you could be onto something with the we have to choose a master, there is no option of no-master.

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