“We live in a world awash with fantasies of freedom. We spend enormous sums of money and immense amounts of… energy on these fantasies. We fantasize a free life based variously on power, on sex, on fame, on leisure. Whole industries develop out of these fantasies… But the world we live in is conspicuously and sadly lacking in the experience of freedom… For all our elaborate and expensive fantasies, the actual lives that most people live are filled with… boredom, obscurity, and hassle… Living in the land of the free has not made us free: we are a nation of addicts and complainers” (Traveling Light, Gene H. Peterson, p. 9).
Even in the First Century world there were people who were boldly proclaiming that they could offer people a life of freedom, yet the reality was they were offering nothing more than slavery to sin (2 Peter 2:19 “promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption”). “Shouting the world freedom does nothing to bring about its reality. Labeling thoughts or actions as free does not alter their actual nature” (Peterson, p. 12). Throughout the centuries the human race has been constantly plagued those who boldly asserted that freedom could be found either apart from God or in defiance to God, and they have always been wrong (Jude 4; Romans 6:1-2). From time to time we will encounter someone who claims that instead of discovering bondage in something the Bible says is sinful, they found freedom instead. Yet Jesus has already spoken on the matter, there is no need to try this dangerous experiment ourselves: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (John 8:34). “For one thing, all the rah-rah formulas for freedom that our society spawns are nonsense. They are either simplistic, escape-hatch freedoms from responsibility or vulgar, manipulative freedoms to exploit others. Many people have tried one or more of them, found them unworkable or immoral, and, hearing of no other freedom, succumbed to ‘lives of quiet desperation’” (Peterson, p. 14).
There is No Absolute Freedom
“Absolute freedoms are fantasy freedoms. They deny God and they ignore creation, using only the ego as a base for freedom. They brook no qualification, no limitation, no compromise, no relationship. ‘The first condition of freedom’ says Will and Ariel Durant ‘is it’s limitation; make it absolute and it dies in chaos’” (Peterson, p. 14). In other words, if you are looking for a life with no restraints, no accountability, and no responsibilities, you are not looking for freedom, rather, what you are chasing is selfishness. In the letter to the Galatians, the great epistle about freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:1), the freedom under consideration comes with many limitations and responsibilities to both Christ (Galatians 2:20), His truth (Galatians 1:8), His people (6:1-2) and all men in general (6:10). It is a freedom that comes with an expected code of moral behavior (5:19-23). It is not a freedom from God, accountability or morality, rather it is a freedom to pursue God and virtue.
It is noteworthy that in the letter to the Galatians, that the world is often completely wrong about what it means to be a free spirit:
The truth does not confine, rather false doctrine eventually results in a loss of freedom (1:7). A compromised or altered gospel will not accomplish what the gospel can.
Following God does not enslave, but following and seeking to please man does (1:10). Wanting to be popular with the crowd can prevent us from not only living and speaking the truth (2:11-13), but becoming a Christian in the first place. Observe how wanting to fit in and be popular will result in a hypocrisy that many people forget or willfully ignore.
The world is completely inaccurate when it attempts to describe the free life or being free spirit. What the world often pictures as a free spirit, God plainly says is a person in bondage (5:19-21). The free spirit is not in Galatians 5:19-21, the free spirit is actually described in 5:16, 22-26.
“Man That is Livin”
“In 1978 all my friends were telling me that I simply must see the museum exhibit of the treasures of King Tutankhamen. Everyone was going. Long lines of people crowding their way to see the splendid display. I fully intended to join them but was prevented. I had to depend on reports and photographs. What I remember most about the reports were sophisticated variations on the phrase ‘Man, that’s livin’! It dawned on me one day that people were talking about a corpse and a tomb. The gold was so alive, my friends said. The jewelry communicated such a sense of vitality. Then another contrast took shape in my imagination: between that treasure-packed Egyptian tomb and an empty tomb in Palestine. And I thought about how the source of life for persons, who, now and for centuries past, have crowded weekly into churches all over the world, came from the empty tomb from which no jewelry, no artifacts and no corpse had been recovered. Out of that emptiness poured the freedom to live” (Peterson, pp. 17-18).
Freedom Must Begin with God
“The most honest and searching examinations of freedom that begin with the human conclude, rightly, that there is no freedom. There is only economic determinism (Marx), or biological determinism (Freud), or psychological determinism (B.F. Skinner), or philosophical nihilism (Nietzshe). If there is a story of freedom to be told, the story must begin with God”: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:3-4).
Freedom is not something that we can just make for ourselves apart from any relationship to God or following the truth. “If freedom was natural, it would be inevitable. But it is not inevitable” (Peterson, p. 21). Thus, we see many people, even really smart and talented people, becoming slaves to darkness and afraid of peer pressure. Thus, lives in which noble motives never develop, dreams are never accepted, and challenges are never faced.
“This Present Evil Age”
“Paul describes the course of the world apart from Christ as ‘this present evil age’. Any people who attempt to live in defiance of God – and every age makes the attempt – lives badly” (Peterson, p. 22). “The age is evil. We fear nuclear holocaust, overpopulation, destruction of the ozone layer, starvation in the third world… along with assorted personal fears of rejection and failure, insignificance and ill health. Fear is a normal response to the chaos around us, the threat of being overcome by hostile forces or of being ineffective or hurt or thwarted of fated to be poor and mean and scrubby lives” (Peterson, p. 27).
One Option People Choose
Many people opt for an instant fix or immediate relief from the pressures and fears of life. They turn to something pleasurable, yet sinful (5:19-21).
“It is far easier to huddle in self-pity or whine in resentment or gossip rumors of doomsday than submit to rescue. It takes a certain bold courage to receive freedom. The free life is a strenuous life. Living in freedom is demanding and sometimes painful. If security is our highest priority, we will not want to live free… In every generation great crowds of people mindlessly shuffle along with the herd and do nothing beyond providing statistics for sociological surveys. But also in every generation a few persons live intelligently and courageously in freedom” (Peterson, p. 28).
What Will I Choose?
Paul boldly proclaims that in Christ there is grace, peace and rescue (Galatians 1:3-4). Such comes with the ability to live above the crowd, free from the fear of men (1:10), and free to follow a noble and courageous style of living (5:24-26). A life in which we are freed from the petty (5:26), freed to freely serve others (6:2), and freed to look honestly at ourselves (6:4).
“Many of us spend a great deal of time running away from things we know, deep down, are true. We deny these things, suppress them, and pretend they aren’t so – but all the while, the truth is still there waiting to be dealt with. Closing the blinds doesn’t make the sun go away. How much better it would be if we just went ahead and dealt with the truth, doing whatever is right about it. How refreshing it is when we finally give up what was never anything but an unwinnable battle: the battle against reality. Reality is a tough opponent. Eventually, given enough time, reality always wins. So giving up the struggle and getting ourselves in line with reality is one of the most invigorating things we can do. On a related point, many of us spend a great deal of time running away from decisions we know have to be made (based on what we know is true and have also been running away from). Nothing more exhausting than an unmade decision. So let’s not procrastinate the tough decisions that are waiting to be made. The sooner we make them, the better we’ll feel” (Gary Henry).
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017