Chapter Four: Freedom and Liberty in Jesus

Are you really free? If you answer yes – maybe you are, and this chapter is to challenge your answer. If you answer no – then we hope this chapter will help to truly set you free.

Do you really know yourself? Are you allowed to be yourself? Or are you like a robot that just plays a role in life? Do you really think the way you think – or is it the way you are supposed to think? What is ‘the truth that makes you free’?(1) Has the truth of Jesus really made you free? – and free from what? We hope you can answer these questions after you have read this chapter.

Freedom can mean a lot of things. Some banks offer ‘freedom accounts’, most people in jail crave for freedom in a different way. People with severe disabilities desire freedom from the limitations of their disabilities. Many of us live in ‘free’ countries’, and we have freedom of choice. Freedom therefore is used in many different ways, and means different things to different people. What does God say about freedom? and what freedoms does He want us to have? In the two greatest commandments(1), the first is the freedom to love ourselves – ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ This doesn’t mean I kiss myself, tell myself ‘Imp so adorable’ and ‘I can have whatever I want’ or ‘I have had enough of speaking about myself – its over to you - what do you think about me?’ It is not like an insurance ad I saw – ‘to the most important person in the world – you.’ It does mean to know and appreciate who we are – what we are like – to think the way we think – feel the way we feel. Like the apostle Paul says, ‘we are all like different parts of a body’(2). God made us to have very diverse personalities, abilities, likes and dislikes – and His creation reflects this diversity.

In the two greatest commandments there is a word highlighted more than love – “you.” Your and my desire to love must be your freedom to want to – not forced upon you and me by a group, by pressure or expectation or guilt or the fear of rejection. On these teachings hangs the way God uses freedom in His Word.

The apostle Paul says, “ For you, brethren, have been called unto liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another”(3). Each of us is called to freedom, but if I am free – why can’t I do what I like? God tells me I am free –now to live a life of love – that’s not freedom! Freedom is about me getting what I WANT – music, relaxing, drinking, eating, sleeping and people around me who think the same. Why would I want to go to church and love people very different to me? I can praise God much better being where I want to be, doing what I want to do. This sounds like a great argument!

One answer to this is – because God loves us He calls us to the greatest freedom that can be found in life – which is love. I can do all the things I WANT, but I will still find underneath it all something lacking. I will not find full freedom in a self – centred life.. To live a life of love doesn’t mean I don’t listen to music, relax and do things I enjoy. God in His love gave us this beautiful world and “richly all things to enjoy”(4) – in balance.

The freedom and liberty God calls us to - is to care for people in their troubles and show His character and mercy – and not judge (5). This is the most fulfilling freedom we can find in life. This is true Christianity. To live like this and treat others like this frees us all from guilt, pride and condemnation.
If I am really afflicted because lots of bad things have happened to me and my family – and I come to get some comfort from my church – and some condemn me, some look down on me like I am a failure, some avoid me, some make me feel guilty – can I call this a place of liberty and freedom? How can others rejoice in their freedom they have in Jesus – and not set me free by their attitudes toward me?(6)

There are many freedoms that seem to be so, but in the end their consequences do not bring freedom. I am free to keep my anger and hatred of another person – but in the end it eats me up and takes away my joy. I am free to sleep around – but in the end there are STDs, unwanted pregnancies, dissatisfaction and frustration. I am free to get drunk – but in the morning there’s a headache or hangover, or a car accident, or I have done something I would not normally have done. I am free to smoke dope – but in the end there’s short term memory loss, depression, schizophrenia, bi-polar.

When we compare any freedom to its consequences – love is the greatest freedom.

The apostle Paul says, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Chris has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage”(7). We have freedom from being justified by law in Christ. The Jews generally have chosen freedom through works of law. Jesus highlights the consequences of this freedom – “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortionary, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I possess’(8). When we choose to justify ourselves by ‘I do this and I do this’’ the consequence is pride. That is self elevation, judgment of others, and the right to have and use power to crush offenders – and so freedom is destroyed.

There is a very good article by John Stibbs that summarises many of the things we have learned:

Few of us take rejection very well as we all want to be part of something greater than ourselves, so much so it seems we are prepared to modify or even compromise our personal belief system (what we believe about ourselves) to gain or keep that acceptance. And thereby we project an image of ourselves which, simply put, is pleasing to others whom we may hold in high esteem. We hold them in esteem because for instance they know more than us and can pontificate on many matters scriptural and so on, and whose approval we may desire to make us feel good about ourselves etc. This is putting one's foot on the slippery slope of power and control, because we are handing our own power over to others; and control of ourselves to control by the group or its tacit leader and legalism. Of course we don't know we're doing this, as we have become well socialised by this time into this sort of 'going along to get along' behaviour. We in essence hand over our freedom which Christ died to secure for us. Freedom in Christ is emancipation from the arbitrary rule of men. The freedoms I mean are these:

To see and hear what we see and hear, rather than what we're supposed to see and hear; to think what we think, rather than what we're supposed to think; fee! what we feel, rather than what we're supposed to feel; imagine" what we imagine; rather than what we're supposed to imagine. When these freedoms are compromised, as they are in all of us from childhood, then we are mystified, we cannot trust ourselves, indeed we become taught not to trust ourselves. Hence we are unable to exercise self control because we've handed that power over to another or others.

There are some other passages that speak about the use and misuse of freedom, and I would like to summarise these:

We are to respect each others freedoms(9). To legislate, or see righteousness in practices outside the gospel are contrary to the freedom of love(10). The Pharisees had strict laws about washing before eating and about exactly what you could and could not do on the Sabbath day. Jesus opposed these, and even though the Pharisees were offended – he continued his practice. The reason? The Pharisees believed these things were righteousness before God – and they were not. Therefore what we wear, as long as it is modest(11), is part of the freedom of love we are each given. Likewise with the songs and music we play – if it is hymns and an organ or songs and a band – both can equally give glory to God. Every person’s freedom should be respected, not just our own, as this is selfishness and not love.

We have the freedom to believe what we believe on teachings that are outside the Gospel that saves us. There are different interpretations about the creation account, prophecy and so on – and these are part of the freedom of love. That is – I love you – and respect your opinion, even though I may not agree.

There are times though when we do not exercise our liberties. This is when we have someone who is really weak in conscience on an issue – and would leave Christ and sin if I exercised my conscience. An example of this is when our friend has a problem with alcohol. When we are with them we don’t drink alcohol. We don’t exercise our right to drink alcohol – because we love the person, and seek their health and salvation.

We do not limit our freedoms when others force or pressure us to do things their way because they have power or control – or they see righteousness in works that are not part of the Gospel. As Jesus – we are to oppose them in love.

‘The truth’ in the Bible is Jesus(12). Jesus is ‘the truth’ – because He is the true saviour, the true Son of God and showed us the true way to live. This truth makes us free because we are freed from sin, we see the free love of God to us in giving His Son, and we are made free to love – which is the greatest freedom God could give us.

(1)John 8v31-36 (2)1 Corinthians 12 (3)Galatians 5v13-15 (4)1 Timothy 6v17; Psalm 104 (5)James 1v25-27,2v12-13 (6)1 Peter2v16-17, 11Corinthians3v17-18 (7) Galatians5v1 (8)Luke 18v11-14 (9)Romans14 (10)Matthew 15v7-9; Acts 15; Colossians2v20-23 (11)1 Timothy 2v9 (12)John 8v31-36

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