What Does It Mean to Be Free?
We all want to be free. This weekend in the US, we observe a holiday that is dedicated to freedom, while at the same time people are protesting for freedom in the streets. Some desire the choice to not wear a mask, and others long for the liberty to live in black and brown skin without fear. It seems as though freedom is a hot commodity, but we each have a different idea of what it looks like. So what does it actually mean to be free?
I’m afraid that we have often confused the US American ideal of personal freedom with the biblical value of freedom. The US American ideal says that I deserve to have what I want and do what I want whenever I want. I deserve to pursue my own happiness in the way that suits me. It sounds a bit like the freedom that Adam and Eve were pursuing when they reached out and grabbed the fruit in the garden that God told them not to eat.
But to understand biblical freedom, we look to the example that Jesus set. We see a man who was willing to give up what he deserved for the sake of all humanity. He demonstrated freedom by not letting the things of the world or his own natural impulses control him. He understood that when you live to please yourself, it leads to destruction rather than true freedom.
It’s easy to see what that destruction looks like when we think about addiction. We can choose to use a drug that makes us feel good. We might feel free when we take a hit and forget about our worries, but what starts out as a false sense of freedom ends up as slavery to our drug of choice. Along with the cravings that begin to define our lives comes the deterioration of our own bodies, of our relationships, and of our livelihood. It’s not the picture of freedom that we once sought.
We must understand all the manners in which we let our fleshly desires lead in the same way that we understand addiction. Our flesh tells us that if we get what we want, we’ll be satisfied. We’ll be happy and free. But our flesh lies. When we live to please ourselves, we’re not actually free. We’re slaves to our own desires. We’re constantly grasping for what we think we deserve, trying to prove ourselves more worthy than the rest, and trying to maintain a certain status or feeling.
What if we stopped chasing our own glory? What if we actually believed that we were all created with inherent dignity and therefore we don’t need to exhaust ourselves striving for more? What if we really believed that there was enough to go around so that we wouldn’t have to hoard? What if we stopped fearing death and discomfort? What if we stopped fighting against others who threaten what we want? Wouldn’t we be free? Wouldn’t we experience more love and peace and joy? Wouldn’t we see a world in which everyone was thriving?
Has all the striving left you exhausted?
Has all the hoarding left you empty?
Has all the protecting left you feeling more vulnerable?
Has all the biting and devouring left you feeling destroyed?
You weren’t made to live that way. You were made to be free.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:13-14
You were made with inherent goodness and dignity within you. You were made to be loved. And you were made to love. You were made to see the goodness and dignity within others. You were made to live in a community that is characterized by grace and generosity, in which everyone works together for the good of each other.
That is what the church is supposed to look like. The church is supposed to be a light as it stands in contrast to the striving and hoarding and protecting and biting and devouring of the world. It is supposed to be a light that draws others to it just as a moth to a flame. It is supposed to be a light that guides the path to another way of life in which we are all free.
As civil rights activist, Fannie Lou Hamer, said…
Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.
She understood that my freedom is wrapped up with your freedom. They have to co-exist or else we’ll always be fighting for more. If your freedom threatens or disregards the humanity, dignity, or well-being of another, it is not true freedom.
Freedom means to be led by the Spirit, which will always lead us to love one another, rather than living to gratify the desires of our flesh. It does not mean that all of our human desires are inherently bad. After all, Jesus came in human form and experienced the same desires that we feel. The problem comes in when we value our desires above all else and let our desires lead us.
You’re either being led by the Spirit or you’re a slave to your own desires. You’re either living in the truth that you are loved and that you are without lack or you’re living the lie that you can save yourself if you just keep grasping for what you think you deserve.
Do you want to be free? Then, love your neighbor as yourself.
Featured image by Zoritsa Valova on Unsplash