|by Lee Underwood
Many times we hear Christians use the phrase "We have freedom in Jesus" or "Jesus has made [or 'set'] us free". This is especially true in the United States where, when speaking of Jesus, the term "freedom" usually seems to be included in the conversation. Jesus Himself spoke of freedom, as did most of His disciples. God declared a Year of Jubilee to release the Israelite and the Land from bondage. The real question is "what exactly is the Biblical definition of 'freedom'"?
Definition of Freedom: Man's Perspective
Freedom: "The quality or state of being free: as a) the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action; b) liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another; c) the quality or state of being exempt or released". Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 2002
The word "freedom" has many different meanings depending upon your background, where you live, and the context in which it's used. In the United States the word is generally equated with "personal rights". It usually refers to someone having the personal freedom (or right) to do or not to do something. A great many of these "personal rights" are set forth in the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and other Federal, State, and local statutes. In fact, many Christians in the US generally assume that the rights given in these documents are taken straight from the Scriptures. According to the 1992 World Almanac, only 13% of Christians live in the United States. So then freedom, as understood by Christians in the U.S., does not necessarily mean the same thing as it does to the rest of the world.
A Christian in China does not have the same freedoms guaranteed to him by the government as Christians do in the US. Does this mean that Jesus has not set him free? In Saudi Arabia a Christian cannot own a Bible like his brother in the US. Does he not have freedom in Messiah? Authorities in Cuba have threatened to confiscate the home of a pastor due to the powerful work of the Lord in his local home gathering. Is he not free in Messiah? In Vietnam, hundreds of Christians are being held in prisons without formal charges being filed, even though the Vietnamese Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Would we say that these brothers and sisters are without freedom in the Lord?
Of course all of these Christians have been set free by Jesus and now experience freedom. Yet many are not free to do or say what they please or to go where they want. Is this a contradiction in terms? It's obvious there must be a deeper meaning to the Biblical definition of "freedom". In order to understand it, we must look at it from God's perspective, not man's.
Definition of Freedom: God's Perspective
The focus is not on the freedom "to do"; rather it is on the freedom "from". When man says he is free, he means it in a physical way, i.e., being freed from prison, free to 'follow his heart', or free to do as he pleases. God, however, works on a spiritual level. (Remember, although Jesus set Paul free, he still spent much time in prison.) Notice in the dictionary definition above that the focus is not on the freedom "to do"; rather it is on the freedom "from" or "absence" of something. This is nearer the Scriptural definition of "freedom".
When we look at the word "freedom" in the Scriptures, one of the Greek words used is eleutheroo, meaning "1) to make free; 2) set at liberty: from the dominion of sin". It's derived from the Greek word eleutheros, meaning "1) freeborn, 1a) in a civil sense, one who is not a slave, 1b) of one who ceases to be a slave, freed, manumitted; 2) free, exempt, unrestrained, not bound by an obligation". The words refer to being set free from something, i.e., slavery, an obligation; they do not refer to what we have entered into.
Jesus proclaimed in the synagogue in Nazareth, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden" (Luke 4.18). The word used here for "release" and "free" is the Greek word aphesis meaning "1) release from bondage or imprisonment; 2) forgiveness or pardon, of sins". So then the literal interpretation would be that He has released us from bondage and set us free (pardoned us) from our sins. Notice He did not say that we were now free to go and do whatever we pleased, only that He had released us from bondage and sin.
While it is true that Jesus has set us free, the usual Christian implication is that He has now given us "personal freedom" in our daily lives. This is not exactly true. The only "freedom" in the Lord we actually now have, is the freedom to either follow or deny Him. To do anything else would mean that we are Lord and He is not. This may seem like a foreign concept in American Christianity, as it goes against the teaching of "personal freedoms". Once again we must remember that, in American Christianity, salvation and personal freedom are usually linked together and are considered, for the most part, to be one and the same.
The main reason we were in bondage to begin with was because we were determined to do things our own way. We wanted to be our own authority. Yet, when God created the universe, He designed it to be under authority, specifically His authority. Everything operates under the authority of someone higher. The only One who is not under authority is God, Himself. Even Jesus submitted Himself to the authority of the Father (John 5.19). But if we are not under God's authority, then we must be under some other authority. This generally means under the authority of Satan (Ephesians 2.1-3; 1 John 5.19), although many would say they are their own authority. Being under our own (or Satan's) authority is described as being in bondage or slavery (Romans 8.21; Colossians 1.13). If this is true, then how, after being delivered from that bondage, can we go back under our own (or Satan's) authority? It's easy to say that now that we follow Jesus, we are under His authority, but is this really true in our day - to - day lives? How can we be under His authority and yet have the freedom to pick and choose what path to follow or which laws and commandments we will obey?
Slavery has been outlawed here in the United States for more than 130 years. We can then say that all men and women in the United States are "free". Yet we must still obey the laws of the land. If we disobey the laws, we are put into prison (bondage). When we have "paid our debt to society", we are "set free" from the bondage of prison. When we get a job we're not usually free to set our own hours and pick and choose what we will do. Our employer would not tolerate it. We must follow the rules set forth by our employer or find another job. The same applies to other things within our society, yet we would not say that we have entered into slavery, would we? But the fact remains that we are not free to do whatever we please. We submit to authority all the time: the police, our employer, the government. Yet we would still say that we are free. We even have the freedom to change the rules and replace the authority if we do not like them.
The difference in following the Lord is that we do not have the freedom to change the authority or the rules. We don't even have the right to have a voice in the Kingdom. God sets the rules and we must obey them. We don't have the freedom to pick and choose which ones we'll follow. We have no say in the matter. There is no compromise in the Kingdom of God. The only alternative is to turn from following the Lord, and that's not much of an alternative.
We must give up our "personal freedoms" as seen from a world viewpoint. But the Lord has been gracious. He's given us a set of rules (Torah) to follow that are not too hard (Deuteronomy 30.11-14). He has provided us with the strength we need to walk in righteousness before Him. He has planted within us His Holy Spirit. He's shown great mercy to us. And while it is a free gift, we must give up our "personal freedoms" as seen from a world viewpoint. We no longer have the freedom to choose where we'll live or work or worship. We do not have the "right" to decide the path we'll follow. Everything we do must be submitted to the Lord for His approval and guidance. We must constantly seek His Face in order to know the path we are to follow and what it is He would have us to do.
Let's return to the dictionary definition of freedom given at the beginning of this article. We can now see that this description fits perfectly with the biblical definition of freedom: We're not coerced into doing anything; we've been liberated from slavery and from the power of another; and we've been released from our sins. Notice that nowhere does it say that we now have the "right" to go forth and do whatever we choose.
When Jesus came to earth, He emptied Himself and took on the form of a bond-servant (Philippians 2.7). This does not mean that He was in bondage to anyone or anything. The term "bond-servant" here means "one who gives himself up to another's will; devoted to another to the disregard of one's own interests". Jesus came to live and die in complete obedience to the Father and out of love for His creation. Paul says "although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped" (Philippians 2.6). He did not assert His "right" as the Son of God; rather He humbled Himself in complete obedience. He did not care about what was "rightfully" His. His heart was dedicated to serving the Holy One of Israel.
It's unfortunate, especially in the United States, that this doctrine of "personal freedom" has permeated the Church. It's made it hard for many to give up these so-called "freedoms" and completely submit themselves to the Lord. Yet it's to the Lord that we must submit. Many try to submit to the Lord and hang onto their "freedoms" and "rights". Only this does not work: "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Luke 16:13). Peter encouraged us to "Act as free men ['one who has ceased to be a slave'], and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil ['wickedness that is not ashamed to break laws'], but use it as bondslaves ['devoted to another to the disregard of one's own interests'] of God" (1 Peter 2.16).
Neither is it our job to fight for the freedoms of others. Our job is to provide a witness of the disciplined walk before the Lord; to show others, by example, how they may be delivered "from" the tyranny and bondage of sin. Our job is to hear the Word of the Lord and obey it. The awesome thing is that we have been delivered ("freed") from the tyranny of sin and now walk in His light. Praise God!
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