Monday, December 8, 2008

True Freedom

"Freedom" is a wonderful word, but like many noble-in-themselves concepts, it has frequently been twisted to suit evil purposes. "I have a right to my freedom" is a cry common to the teenager protesting a curfew, the motorist grumbling about speed limits, and the employee unwilling to do one more minute of work than he was officially hired for. Not to mention the sexually active couple demanding abortion without restriction, and the Web site creator posting "false testimony against your neighbor" (Ex. 20:16, NIV). To many people, "freedom" means the right to be selfish without restriction.

St. Paul saw freedom somewhat differently:
  • "You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness" (Rom. 6:18).
  • "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible" (1 Cor. 9:19).
  • "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love" (Gal. 5:13).

Likewise, Peter writes, "Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God" (1 Pet. 2:16). And as for those whose idea of freedom is unrestricted sin: "they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him" (2 Pet. 2:19).

Anyone who has struggled with drug addiction or pervasive depression knows that one need not become the legal property of another person to be a slave. But even in everyday matters, freedom without limits leads to disaster. The new worker, told to "just do what needs doing," freezes in dread of doing the wrong thing. The aspiring violinist, who thought she had taught herself fairly well, is told that she'll have to spend years unlearning second-rate techniques. Traffic slows to a crawl as a stoplight breaks down and each driver is forced to use his own judgment on how to get through the intersection without denting any fenders.

It's because our own sin-infected judgment is so poor, that freedom to do as we please equals serious trouble waiting to happen. Even our attempts to do right--even our attempts to follow God's law--go sour when we try to navigate on our own, leading us toward either despair or smugness. When Paul wrote "through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2), and elsewhere, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1), he was thinking of the "slavery" that comes from the constant drive to "get things right," the drive that thinks in terms of "it's all up to me" and forgets that God is our true Source of strength.

And the only Master Who knows the real meaning of freedom.

Freedom to do all that's right in your eyes
Is life's cruelest slavery in disguise,
And freedom to have everything you wish
Bears the bitter taste of a poisoned dish;
For the more that you flout the rules God gives
And insist each should choose the way he lives,
The more you will find, as each day's race ends,
You are "free" of peace, and of joy, and friends.

When God made for us all the rules of life,
They were not, like the slash of a cruel knife,
Meant to ruin our fun and erase our smiles
And make life a highway of dull, dry miles.
No, God writes His rules with the pen of Love,
As His gifts that flow freely from above;
But we foolish souls cling like vine to tree
To the notion selfishness makes us free.

It is only when to God's will we bow
That we finally understand just how
Heaven's yoke of peace will relieve our strain
And to do God's work is the greatest gain.
There is peace and rest laboring for our Lord;
For the poorer souls there is rich reward;
And the truth that guides saintly lives must be:
Only slaves of God can be truly free.

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