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 to bind 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:
9 “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).