This week I set out to find how people define freedom. Among the definitions were:
- Being able to do whatever I want.
- Being able to make my own choices and do what is best for me.
- Being able to choose for myself.
- Being able to make bad decisions.
- No restraints
- Not being confined by a stronghold of power over me.
- And one person asked, “Where would we be without freedom?”
- I thought about that a long time. Where would we be without freedom?
We are a people who desire freedom. It is one of our highest values as a nation. We have a list of what we want to be free from. At the end of World War II President Roosevelt argued that “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.”
And yet, when I read a recent gallup survey, 21% of people reported to be dissatisfied with their freedom.
And regardless whether or not people are free, most people don’t feel free. We don’t feel it. We live in fear that our freedom is threatened, that we are threatened, that our way of life is threatened. It’s important to note here, we won’t be talking about American freedom today, but our cultural understanding of freedom heavily influences our Biblical understanding of freedom, and we need to be acutely aware of that.
Jesus said in John 8:31-34:
Then Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’? Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The salve does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."
The response of the Jewish people is a bit ironic. For most of the history of their people, they had not been free. They had been slaves in Egypt, they have a history of oppressive rulers, in fact, they spent more time being under foreign rule than time actually being independent, which included a period of exile from the land, and at the time of this conversation, they were living under Roman occupancy, in extreme poverty, and yet they said that they have never been slaves to anyone.
What is uncovered here is important and profound and has the power to make a real impact on our lives right here and right now. And here it is: Sometimes we are blind to the things that are actually enslaving us.
All we want is to be free. To feel free. We are afraid and anxious and overwhelmed. We’re burdened by things outside of our control. There’s the government and the economy and our mortality and the problem of sin and evil. These are all of the external forces that infringe upon our freedom. Then there are the things within our locus of control. The things that we willingly, both knowingly and unknowingly subject ourselves to. Most of the time it feels like we will never be truly free.
Our eyes aren’t open to the things that hold us captive. There are the obvious things like addiction and debt. But if we look closely at these things, we see that they point to a larger problem. A problem of numbing our pain, numbing our emotions, numbing our reality. We numb ourselves in an attempt to escape from reality. While alcohol and pills are more obvious, rampant consumerism, work, tv and busyness are less obvious ways we attempt to escape from reality.
Sometimes we look at our phones instead of interacting with the people in the room with us, sometimes we overbook our calendars, so that we don’t have to deal with what’s home. Sometimes we stay late at work, so we don’t have to spend time with our spouse. We try to distract ourselves from the things that need dealt with, it’s a way to cover up what we’re feeling, or to numb ourselves from the pain.
To understand our freedom, we first have to realize that we need freed from something. What is it that you need to be freed from?
Now it gets more difficult, because once you realize what you need freed from, you have to accept that Jesus has set you free from it. And once you realize that Jesus has set you free, you have to deal with the underlying issue.
You are free to deal with your shame, your regret, your fear, your anxiety, your relationship, your family, you are free to face your health, your behavior, your sins, your pain.
And here’s the thing we really don’t like to hear. When we realize Jesus sets us free, we have to quit blaming outside forces for what needs dealt with.
In John 1:14 we learn that God became human to dwell with us. God put on skin to be with us. To live with us. He came to show us a new way of life. He came to show us an alternative way to be human. Through his death and resurrection he overcame the external threats to our freedom. He defeated sin, death and evil. He came to set us free.
But once we accept that gift, we realize we can’t continue to blame other people, things outside of our control, and we realize that we are enslaving ourselves.
The scariest thing about freedom is that Jesus sets us free to uncover what lies we tell ourselves. That’s why we’d rather blame things outside of our control. If we realize Jesus has set us free from sin, then we realize we have to deal with our sins. We’re talking about capital S sin and lowercase s sins here. Sin as the disease and sins as the symptoms of that disease. Jesus cured the disease, and now we have deal with the symptoms. If we realize that Jesus has set us free from sin, then we have to deal with our sins. It means that we have to change. It means that we have to begin doing the hard work. It means that we quit blaming things outside of our control, and address the things we can control.
Simply believing in Jesus is the answer to the external threats. Believing in Jesus saves us from the threat of death, the grip of evil, the hold of sin. Jesus saves us from the external threats. The things outside of our sphere of influence.
Here is another important thing to understand about freedom: Being free from something means we are free to do something.
I loved that someone responded to my question about freedom that they got out of debt so that they could anonymously bless others with their resources. That’s a great example of what we’re talking about. Being set free from something, so that we can be free for something.
If we are freed by Jesus from the big things that keep us awake at night, the things that are outside of our control, we are freed so that we can walk with Jesus and begin to face the things within us that we can control. We’re free to fix our interior life. I remember when my good friend who was addicted to cigarettes, decided it was time to quit.I quickly learned in watching that it wasn’t enough to remove the cigarettes from their possession to end their addiction. Removing the cigarettes doesn’t remove the addiction. The cravings, the ritual, the habit still has to be dealt with.
We do not have the power on our own to forgive ourselves of sin, however, being forgiven of sin, means that we have to address our habit of sins.
It’s easier to blame something bigger than you that’s causing all of your problems, than it is to look at your own life and the changes you have to make. Now we do have to acknowledge that there are things outside of your control that deeply affect us- we are mortal beings, our bodies do fail us, we do lose people we love. We can be deeply hurt and wounded, there are things outside of our control that happen to us. But they still have to be dealt with. They still have to be felt and experienced and we can choose whether we take our pain and transmit it, using it to hurt and wound others, or whether we allow God to transform us through the pain.
It’s easier to resist our freedom. It’s easier to find a master, than it is to learn how to be free.
And we do find masters to enslave ourselves to, don’t we?
But in the beginning we were created in the image of God, with an intended way of being in the world. We were made to live in harmony with God and with others, in community and for the good of the creation. To care for the creation. This is in our hardwiring. It’s deep within each one of us.
And Jesus teaches us how to be free so that we can be more fully human.
In John 8:31, Jesus says that those who follow his teaching are his disciples. The Greek word used is meno. Meno means to dwell in, to remain in, to continue in. To dwell is to live. Jesus says that those who live with him, who live out his teachings, are his disciples. Discipleship isn’t marked solely by belief in Jesus Christ, but with following his way of life. With ACTION. To be a disciple is to continue to live out Jesus’ teachings.
And that’s our hope for finding freedom in our interior life. Jesus sets us free from the forces outside of our control, so that we are freed to follow his teaching, to live it out. To be a disciple. We are freed so that we can learn and grow and transform our pain and grief.
There are three things we learn from this passage about freedom.
1. We have to be honest with ourselves about what enslaves us. We have to be honest about all of the ways we try to escape from reality. The Jewish people were oblivious to their oppression and slavery, and so are we. It’s easier to fill our calendars and our headspace and blame the government and the economy and mortality and evil and our spouse and our neighbor and everyone else for our oppression and the infringement on our freedom.
2. We have to understand what actually has the power to set us free. Jesus frees us from the external forces, sin, death and evil, so that we are freed to deal with our interior lives.
Richard Rohr wrote that, “We think of freed as not having to do what we don’t want to do. But divine freedom is the capacity to be fully who we already are, to develop our inherent and true nature, as much as possible,”
Freedom is about doing what we already know we have to do. It’s about knowing that you are not four separate beings, but one whole being. Your physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual health are all part your whole self. And if one part of your life isn’t healthy, then your whole self suffers. We are integrated beings. We cannot claim to be spiritually healthy while the rest of our being is rotting from the core.
We have to recognize the ways that we enslave ourselves in every aspect of our life.
3. We have to learn how to live free. We have to learn how to be who we already are deep down inside. We have to learn to live into the being we were created to be. We are slaves. Every single one of us. Jesus is the only one who can give us membership into the family of God. Jesus is the only son. He is the only heir to the family’s inheritance. Freedom is about belonging to the family, about membership in the family, and Jesus is the only one who can give us that freedom.
Our freedom is about our place within the family. Our freedom isn’t about our individual rights or decisions or not having to do what we don’t want to do. Our freedom is about belonging to a family, it’s about being a part of a community, a world. Paul wrote in Galatians our freedom is not to indulge the flesh; rather, to serve one another humbly in love. In understanding the trinity, that God is three in one, we learn that God is a community within God’s being. And God is love. That’s the image we’re made in. To be human is to be made to live in community and to love others.
It’s one thing to believe in Jesus. But it’s another thing to follow Jesus. Imagine you were watching TV in your family room, and the whole room was engulfed in flames. The room was hot and smoldering, you see it, and feel it and smell it. You see no way out. And then you hear a firefighter break through the door. He cannot get to you, but he sees a way out for you. He tells you exactly how to escape the fire. You can believe him to be telling you the truth. You can sit and watch your evening show until you’re engulfed in the flames, grateful that the firefighter risked his life to tell you a way out of the house. Or, you can follow the instructions of the firefighter.
One of the greatest gifts of the protestant reformation and the printing press is that we can read the Bible ourselves. 84% of Americans own a Bible, and the average American owns 3.6 copies. And yet only 1/3 of people surveyed read their Bible every day.
When we believe in Jesus, we are freed from the external forces that threaten us.
But Jesus invites us to go a step further. He invites us to live out his teaching, so that we can be free from our own enslavement, so that we can feel free. So that we can be fully and completely free. So that we can be who we were meant to be all along. We have to be honest about the ways we try to escape reality, so that we don’t have to deal with the things that need to be dealt with.
Believing in Jesus frees us from sin, death and evil, but Jesus wants you to experience a deeper freedom. Jesus invites you to follow his way of life right now. To live differently. Frederick Buechner wrote that freedom is, “Not escape from reality, but to reality.” We are free to live more fully, authentically, to be more present in our lives. We all desperately want to feel free, and the good news today is that you are free. And you can be.
Jesus said that we are slave to sin. And a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs forever. Jesus is the son, and he has set us free, so that we may receive the family’s inheritance. So that we have the freedom of knowing we have a permanent place and belong forever.
The promise belongs to you. Sin and death and evil have been defeated. You’ve been set free from them. Go, be free!