In the fourth of our Stand and Speak series running up to Easter, Andrea Williams comments on what how a Biblical vision of freedom really will set us free.
‘Freedom’: another word that is much loved by just about everyone in society. Who doesn’t want to be free?
We’re no different at Christian Concern. We love freedom. We want everyone to be free.
But Christians have a radically different understanding of what it means to be free than the rest of society. And the clash between a Christian vision of freedom and an atheistic, humanist understanding has all kinds of implications for public policy.
If we misunderstand what it means to be free, we will find ourselves losing true freedom, over and over again.
Let me explain.
Freedom from external constraint
The vision of freedom loved by many in society is well summed up by Sammy Davis Jr. (and many others after him – just think of pop culture today):
“I gotta be free, I’ve gotta be free
Daring to try, to do it or die
I’ve gotta be me.”
Freedom to be found by truly expressing ourselves. It’s being free from restrictions of any kind – free from authority, free from compulsion, relationships, responsibilities and so on.
‘Being me’ becomes the goal to which everyone appears to aspire – or the goal society encourages.
And it’s easy to see the appeal – most of us don’t like to be told ‘you can’t do that’ – or ‘you can’t be that’. Restrictions on our freedoms to think, speak and act the way we see fit are rarely popular. And there have been cruel abuses of these kinds of power in our civilisation’s past.
You can track this vision of freedom from constraints back through intellectual and artistic movements like liberalism, romanticism and the enlightenment. But it goes back much further than that – all the way to Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden.
A Biblical story of freedom
When God created Adam and Eve as his image-bearers, ruling over the world, he gave them probably the least restrictive law code imaginable:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
One tree, one simple rule: don’t eat.
God didn’t need to give them any other laws. They were free to eat from any other tree as they went about their task to fill and subdue the earth.
At this point, Adam and Eve, and the world God had made weren’t ravaged by the effects of sin. It was natural for them to worship and obey God. They lived in a freedom that exceeds anything that we have experienced.
It didn’t last long. The serpent tempted Eve to “be like God, knowing good and evil”. To disobey God and to forge their own path through life. And when Adam and Eve ate from the tree, the consequences were immediate: they experienced shame for the first time and life became cursed with pain, thorns, thistles and – as God warned – death.
By going their own way – becoming ‘free’, Adam and Eve found themselves subject to frustration and death. The Bible’s clear that from then on, humankind has been slaves to sin – not free at all!
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:34-36)
Free from our own struggles
The Christian concept of freedom is not merely freedom from external constraints. It’s freedom to live in line with how God truly made us. Just as God saved the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to be his people and to worship him, he saves us out of our slavery to sin so that we can worship him with all of our lives. That is true freedom.
Freedom doesn’t just mean freedom from other people – it includes freedom from ourselves.
This is good news for addicts to drugs, pornography and gambling. When we are slaves to addiction, we are trapped, unable to make the decisions that are best for us.
It’s also good news for people suffering from depression, gender dysphoria, unwanted attractions and any other mental health or psychological challenge. Because Jesus is able to set us free even from internal struggles.
The need for Christian freedom
Above any other kind of freedom, at Christian Concern, we believe in Christian freedom. Because if ‘religious freedom’ is used to worship false gods, it doesn’t truly liberate anyone. If ‘freedom of expression’ is used for lust-inciting images and videos it ensnares people in sin. If ‘trans freedom’ means that people are given drugs or surgery to misrepresent the reality of their true sex, they will cause real, irreversible harm to their God-given bodies.
That’s not to say that the law should punish anything and everything that falls short of God’s good plan for humanity – far from it. But we need to recognise that when neutral-sounding liberties like freedom of speech or religion are used to disobey God, they do not result in true freedom.
What’s more, they often cause harm to other people.
‘Free to be me’ hurts other people
The issues we encounter at Christian Concern so often provide examples of how one person’s freedom ‘to be me’ ends up hurting other people.
In abortion we see the freedom for some women to pursue further education or a career, meaning another person is killed.
All kinds of unethical embryonic testing, animal human hybrids and three-parent embryos means sacrificing and endangering human beings at their very smallest.
Allowing euthanasia or assisted suicide, means privileging one person’s autonomy over the safety of many others.
The freedom ‘to be me’ means men and women committing adultery or abandoning their spouses and children to pursue ‘freedom’. Same-sex ‘marriage’ and parenthood causes harm to children of a mother and a father and traps people into a commitment to continue in sexual sin.
The freedom to live out your own ‘gender identity’ means receiving irreversible damaging treatments including drugs and surgery. It puts women at risk from biological men in women-only spaces. It forces other people to lie about reality or face consequences like losing their job.
Allowing some to access sex via prostitution damages many women including trafficked sex slaves. Freedom to create or watch porn destroys the ‘performers’ as well as the watchers.
And the freedom to pursue Islamic practices like Sharia law, halal food and Islamic banking hurts women and animals and funds terrorism, amongst many other negative effects.
Let’s stand and speak for true freedom
All this adds up to the picture that general ‘freedom’ isn’t enough. We want people to find true freedom in Jesus: freedom from the devastating effects of sin and freedom to worship God and enjoy him forever.
It’s why we’re always so keen to speak of Jesus and to point to the freedom that is found only in him. He liberates like no other and when he sets you free, you are free indeed – able to live good lives following Jesus’ pattern now and ultimately experience complete freedom from sin and death in the new creation.
That’s a freedom worth shouting from the rooftops. Will you stand and speak for freedom?