What is freedom?

I read a post from a former Christian about how wonderful it was to be free from the shackles of Christianity. This made me wonder what they thought they had actually escaped from. It certainly has not been my experience, quite the opposite. So, while I didn’t agree at all with their assessment, it did get me thinking about what we call “freedom.”

What is freedom? Here’s the dictionary definition (Merriam-Webster):

1: the quality or state of being free: such as. a: the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action. b: liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another :independence. c: the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous freedom from care.

What’s ironic to me about this “deconvert’s” sentiment is that every one of these descriptors about freedom describe exactly what Christ came to do! The only thing I can decipher from this response is that what the person left was religion, not Christ. Religion and its adherents certainly can put someone into bondage, even if it’s dressed up to look like Christianity.

By the way, Christianity is how Jesus defines it, not necessarily how we’ve defined it. It’s not up to a vote. You’re either following Christ or you’re not.

The word “religion” is instructive. It comes from two Latin words (re-ligare) which means tbind again, or as Dr. Andrew Farley points out in his book, “God without Religion,” a return to bondage.” But following Christ is quite a different story.  As Robert Farrar Capon put it, “Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion.”

Jesus came to bring us real freedom:

Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. (Gal.5:1 MSG *)

31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32 NKJV *)

36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:36 NKJV *)

Religion is binding yourself to rituals to try to appease God. It’s transactional. You do this, God will do that. It’s about fear and rules to follow or else. But none of that has anything to do with following Christ. We are compelled by love to follow Christ; it’s relational (2 Cor.5:14-15), and His perfect love drives out our religious fear (1 John 4:18).

If being a Christian has produced fear in you, you have not encountered Christ, you’ve encountered religion.

Freedom also has nothing to do with whether or not people can tell you want to do. Insecure, controlling, emotionally immature, self-centered, or otherwise relationally toxic people often can’t be told what to do. That doesn’t make them free.

This kind of freedom is a myth.

Cells in our body have a specific purpose to carry out to make us operate at peak efficiency and physical freedom. But when cells do their own thing in our body it’s not called freedom, it’s called cancer. And cancer produces death.

No one is actually free to do whatever they want, whether you believe in God or not.

First and foremost, real freedom is found in other-centered, self-giving love. That requires that we think about someone other than ourselves. It requires giving place, honoring and respecting one another, which often means not doing a thing because we are free.

Freedom is being free from bondage and living according to our purpose and design. This means living according to our authentic self and not the counterfeit we’ve often brought with us through emotional wounds and other lies we believe about ourselves.

Freedom comes when we’re living from the center of who we are and what we’re here for, which produces joy and peace. Joy is not the same thing as happiness and peace doesn’t mean the absence of conflict. Joy produces a consistent sense of well-being and peace, even during the worst possible circumstances (James 1:2-4).

These are fruits of the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23); they don’t come from doing whatever our self-indulgent heart wants.

Jesus’ one command is to remain in His love, and to love others as He loves us. That’s it. We live with complete joy when we love like God loves us. Everything else that God has ever wanted is accomplished when we focus on this one thing:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:9-12 NIV *)

Following Christ looks about as much like shackles as falling in love and living a vibrant life with meaning and purpose does.

So, this idea of leaving Christ for freedom is misguided…actually, it’s total nonsense. It only reveals a profound ignorance of what a relationship with Christ actually is. It could only be said by someone who has either totally forgotten or never truly encountered the absolute freedom found in Christ.

Finally, to think we’re free by leaving Christ is delusional. It’s like a child playing peekaboo, thinking they can’t be seen because their eyes are covered. Whether we believe or we don’t believe, and even if we think we’ve thrown off God, all things in this cosmos still consist and are held together by Christ and “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Col.1:16-17; Acts 17:28).

* All emphasis added.
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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 38 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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13 Responses to What is freedom?

  1. Salvageable says:

    I find it interesting that Paul rarely used the words “religion” or “religious”–and when he did, it was generally in a negative sense. In Athens he said, “I see that you are very religious–you even have an altar to an unknown god.” And in one of his epistles, he describes his former life as a Pharisee as “religious.” J.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Yes, Paul used it negatively (the way I’m using it) and even James used “religion” in the sense of acts of other-centered love, not defining Christianity itself that way.

  2. Yes, amen! Kind of fun Mel, but whom the Son sets free is free indeed! I feel as if I escaped “religion” too, and became a deconvertee, but it was the “religion” of atheism, secularism, and scientism that had me trapped. I really had to live a double life there, wear a mask, pretend I was going along with the program. A big part of that bondage is a need for people favor, putting religion or social status before our relationship with Jesus Christ, and assorted other idolatries.

    It’s so ironic to me, if I had stumbled into a cult or a dysfunctional church or something, I may well be like one of those deconvertees, blaming Jesus or falsely perceiving Him as oppressive, but I didn’t, I walked right into atheists who suffer from all the same kind of people afflictions, rigid fundamentalism, a need for control, legalism, stuffy ideology. That is not Jesus at all, that is simply people being people, and about all you can do is to try to understand, forgive them, and move on.

    • Mel Wild says:

      You said about as perfect as you can here, IB! I couldn’t agree more. This line summarizes it all: “That is not Jesus at all, that is simply people being people, and about all you can do is to try to understand, forgive them, and move on.”
      Exactly! What’s funny is that wherever you go, there you are! They leave one dysfunctional fundamentalism for another, then congratulate each other on how smart they are. LOL!

      What’s annoying to me is when people try to say they are free now to do whatever they want and blame God for their former captivity. What??? First, NO ONE is free to do whatever they want, regardless of what you do. You just need to pick your master, whether it be your own self-centered narcissism, your tribe, your job, your boss, your addictions, your fears…or God. But, to quote Bob Dylan, you WILL serve somebody! Second, Jesus is trying to free us from our broken and blinded pointy-headedness. How can people get it so wrong. Sheesh! 🙂

  3. tsalmon says:

    “Following Christ looks about as much like shackles as falling in love and living a vibrant life with meaning and purpose does.”

    Nicely put!

  4. tsalmon says:

    Mel,

    It seems to me, that believers mistakenly respond to nonbelievers in the negative with moral indignation. I can’t remember who and it is a rather harsh statement, but it is also often true: Moral indignation is the way that we don the idiot with dignity.

    Rather than heaping dogmatic moral criticism upon the nonbeliever, thus proving the atheist’s point that religion is some sort of unnatural bondage, I really enjoy the positive way that you have put belief as perhaps the most naturally meaningful thing that any human being can actually do.

    God is love. As you so beautifully characterize it, a commitment of one’s individual free will to God’s Will to love is to fall into a dazzling and awesome, even terrifying, bliss of constant choice. I often forget that this love is not just some intellectual enterprise of ideological dogma; it is a lifelong dynamic myriad of choices to reflect God’s love through our hearts into action. It’s not just the choreography – it’s the beauty of the dance. It’s not just stale notes on a page – it’s the music of all life vibrating and playing through us. God does not want to involuntarily imprison us. God wants willing, blissful lovers.

    Thanks for reminding us of this.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, tsalmon. Well said. Your last paragraph describes our relationship with God beautifully. The last sentence says it all:

      “It’s not just stale notes on a page – it’s the music of all life vibrating and playing through us. God does not want to involuntarily imprison us. God wants willing, blissful lovers.”

      If we ever experience anything at all in this life about love, we have caught bit a small glimpse of very heart of God.

      And this whole thing you bring up gets to the heart of what I’m trying to contend with here, the absolutely false idea of what God really wants from us, which is NOT our sacrifice but our heart. Both the prophets of the Old Testament, David, Jesus, and the apostles express this one thing, over and over again. And what’s sad to me is that many Christians don’t seem to have a much better view of this one thing, which speaks to what you said about their moral indignation.

      The truth is, even the most hardened atheist can be a moral and conscientious person (sometimes, more so than a lot of Christians!). We are all made in the image of God, and unless we’re a sociopath, we have a conscious and know what we should do and not do. This is what Paul addresses in the first two chapters of Romans. God has expressed His overture of love to every person, if they are willing to open their heart to Him. As Paul says in chapter 10,

      “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom.10:8-10)

      • tsalmon says:

        I’m grateful that you appreciate my comment, but I don’t want to give the impression that I practice what I preach much better than the average well meaning humanist nonbeliever. In my pride, I confess that on occasion I have filled myself with the same sense of superiority that leads with moral indignation instead of trying to be the empty vessel of humility into which God can pour His love. I often have my dark moments, even years, of, not so much disbelief, but instead a reflexive belief that is actually closer to indifference than it is to actual love.

        But, plodder that I am, I am slowly trying change my default approach to be toward love rather than being trip wired to quick moral judgements.

        I read recently that if someone is on fire with earnest enthusiasm, people will come from miles around just to watch him burn. So many of the Christian sites I visit are burning with moral outrage. I appreciate the way that you are burning here.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Thanks again. It’s good to have a healthy self-assessment. One of the hardest things to do is to remain in God’s love because it’s so often counter-intuitive. I, too, fail often but I’ve learned that even in our failures God can deepen our understanding of grace and mercy. And if we fail in showing love we can at least be gracious. 🙂

  5. Victor Jeremiah Oladokun says:

    Am actually dumb folded, when I read someone describes Christianity as “shackles” it’s absolutely a foolish saying, but your exposition on freedom really gives account of what the true knowledge of Christ is. But in regards to the sayer of that word, i mean the shackles…… Is nothing but end times signs…. Love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:12)

  6. Amen, religion is binding, Christ is freeing. No one should feel shackled as a Christian and to be honest, if someone says they are id question whether they really have received salvation which is essentially freedom. A gift freely given.

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