As Americans, we pride ourselves on being a freedom-loving people. But what is this freedom we cherish? Our secular age has interpreted liberty to mean a radical moral and spiritual autonomy, the unfettered freedom to live by one’s own self-determined meaning, morality, truth, and identity.
This notion of freedom was virtually codified as law when in 1992 Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote:
At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.
These words could practically serve as commentary on the temptation with which Satan beguiled Eve in the Garden of Eden: “For God knows when you eat of it (that is, the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). Rather than trusting her Creator to define for her the meaning of her life and how she should live, Eve was enticed with the idea that she could be free to define and determine her own existence.
In other words, she could be like God, knowing good and evil. It turns out our modern, secular notion of freedom is as old as the fall – independence from our Creator.
The logical and practical outworking of this philosophical grounding of human liberty is that I am free to pursue the desires of my heart. “Follow your heart!” is the rallying cry of freedom today. But what if our hearts are bad? What if there is in the heart of every human being a profound moral corruption (as indeed there is, see Mark 7:20-23)? Then what becomes of our freedom?
Because are hearts are sinful, our freedom from God doesn’t bring us life and bliss. Rather, the lamentable result of such freedom is the flourishing of evil and the spread of misery. The sexual revolution has “delivered” us from the supposed oppressive norms of traditional morality. But the fruit of this freedom is the massive decimation of marriages and families, with all the pain and broken hearts that follow from that. We’ve virtually made sacred the “right” of a woman to terminate her pregnancy. But this freedom has not only meant the destruction of millions of unborn human lives, but incalculable guilt and sorrow suffered by those involved in abortion. The freedom to do as we please with our time and our bodies has led us into all kinds of soul-destroying addictions.
We are a broken people, and so much of our pain and misery we’ve brought upon ourselves in the name of freedom.
The problem is, freedom from God always means bondage to sin. This was the truth that Jesus declared in John 8:34: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Like the Jews to whom Jesus spoke these words, we think we are free. But in fact we are not; we are slaves to sin. We are in spiritual thralldom and helpless to free ourselves.
Jesus also said: “… if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). In Christ, we are “free indeed”! We are free from guilt, and from the condemnation our sins deserve. We are free from the law of God as a means to establish our righteousness before God. In Christ we are already counted righteous!
And we are free to serve and worship God, and to love others for the sake of Christ. And this is genuine freedom – not the freedom to please myself and serve myself, much less the freedom to be autonomous man, determining my own truth and morality – but the freedom to love others.
Jesus was the freest man who ever lived. As God, he could do anything or have anything he wanted. But he willingly constrained himself to obey the will of his Father: to live, suffer, and die in the place of others in order to bring salvation to a lost people. Jesus was free, but used his freedom to love. He was (and is) Lord of all, but out of divine love made himself the servant of all.
And true freedom for us means the same – by God’s grace I make myself a willing a servant to my neighbor, to advance his good. If the Son sets us free indeed, he sets us free to love others as he first loved us.
Soli Deo Gloria!