Concerned about Freedom
“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Pet 2:16).
We value freedom so much that people are often willing to give their lives for it. Valuing freedom respects free will, which honors the fact that humans are free moral creatures made in God’s image. When our freedom is taken from us, we cry foul and may expect some kind of outcry and rebellion aimed at regaining that freedom. People often rebel against what they perceive to be bad or oppressive authority.
Absolute freedom is impossible in a civil society. Reasonable people do not think that we have freedom to murder, inflict injury arbitrarily, or engage in whatever wanton acts of immorality we want without consequence. We recognize this as it touches upon others. We do not have the freedom to incite panic, for example. While we cherish freedom of speech, we know there is something terribly wrong with shouting “fire” just for kicks in an arena filled with people. A “right to bear arms” would not mean a right to use those arms anywhere and anytime one wishes. When we talk freedom, we cannot possibly mean absolute freedom in every sense of the term. There will always be constraints. There are lines not to be crossed, and if we do not think so, we cannot possibly be moral people.
If we think that we can do anything we want, anytime we want it, anywhere we desire, and however we wish to accomplish it, then our view of freedom is careless, shallow, and immoral. This would support extreme forms of selfishness wherein we are, ironically, enslaved by a warped sense of entitlement. If I don’t get my way, then I’m not free, and my personal freedom is to be valued above that of all others. This is the child’s view who demands to get his way in all things, including taking possession of the toys that belong to other children and grabbing candy bars off store shelves. If he doesn’t get his way, he’ll kick and scream and throw fits until he does. Parents ought to know better than to allow this. The one who enters society with such selfishness will invariably seek to limit the freedom of others in order to secure his own absolute freedom. Real freedom will always have fences.
Christians are concerned about freedom, and we ought to think carefully here. Are American Christians conditioned to think that Christianity can only exist where there is absolute freedom, or something close to it? “Of course not,” we assure ourselves. Must we have freedom to do whatever we deem appropriate, then? To what degree? And when freedoms are not exactly as we wish them to be, is it the Christian’s duty to complain incessantly, lead rebellions, and castigate the leaders who bring the restrictions? Is this what Scripture teaches us?
There are many Scriptures that may be brought to the table in thinking about these issues. Christians are to submit to governing authorities and never use their freedom to do evil (1 Pet 2:13-17; Rom 13:1-7). While there have been various times in history when attempts have been made to quell the spread of Christianity, the truth is that the gospel will always make people free in the greatest sense. This is freedom from sin, freedom from a life enslaved to selfish desires and evil actions (John 8:31-36; Rom 6:7). This does not depend on social and political freedom. We understand that “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), but the application of this needs to be weighed carefully in light of each particular context, given that part of obeying God also means submitting to governing authorities and making sure we present no harm to others (Rom 13:8-10).
Consider Paul as an example of one who lived many years bound, but who, in reality, never lost his freedom in Christ. He also saw that, though he was imprisoned, the word of God was not:
“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (1 Tim 2:8-9)
While we all desire freedom (as did Paul), let us remember that living as Christians is not dependent upon the political freedoms to which Americans especially have grown accustomed. Christians around the world live under very different situations, yet remain free in Christ. The word of God is not bound, even if we are, and spiritual freedom in Christ will always be greater than any political freedom granted by governing powers. Perspective here is vital.
Pray, then, for those in authority (1 Tim 2:1-2). Seek the welfare of our society. Whatever restrictions may be forced upon us, pray, with Paul, “that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…” (Col 4:3).
And pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is heaven. We know it will be so.