What Does "Freedom" Really Mean According to Scripture?

“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” - John 8:32 NKJV

The word “freedom” is as abundant, if not more so, in modern Christian culture as faith and forgiveness. The word brings to mind rugged individualism, Mel Gibson wearing a kilt, and political rallies decrying the overreach of government. But we should be hesitant to confuse the Gospel’s message of freedom with our reluctance embrace of public transportation. The freedom of the Gospels is a freedom from internal prisons, not external ones.

You Always Serve Something

“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” Romans 6:22 ESV

It’s simple psychology. Once you take care of the basics (breathing, hunger, sleep), you have to find something to live for. Do you live for pleasure, serving only your appetites and impulses? Do you live for power, sacrificing all else to climb the ladder? Do you live for money, delaying as much life as possible in the hopes of cramming it all in at the last minute? No matter what you chose, your daily habits and choices are most determined by the thing you value the most.

You Never Really Know What You Serve

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9 ESV

Here’s the rub: no matter what you pick, you never really know your own motives. Human beings are masters of deception, but most of the time we deceive ourselves. Those who seek power tell themselves they are seeking it for good reasons. Those who seek money see themselves as wise. Those who seek to pleasure see themselves as peacemakers, or at least neutral. The heart deceives us all. Our only escape is something that helps us see our own hearts.

So, What is Jesus Freeing Us From?

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 ESV

The freedom Jesus and Apostles are talking about is freedom of the mind and heart. The point is that the world enslaves us with desires for wealth, success, and status. These desires mean we wake up very day unhappy, jealous, stressed, and constantly comparing ourselves to others. Our decisions, therefore, are driven by outside influences instead of our own thoughts and values.

Freedom to Serve

"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Galatians 5:13-14 ESV

The great evil committed by religious leaders, which Jesus spent a lot of time rebuking, was using religion as a way to hurt others. Arbitrary rules and rituals can fill our time and limit our actions, keeping us from engaging with the messy world around us. The freedom of the Gospel means we can priorities helping others over piety and appearances. After all, what prison is greater than one which says you cannot value another person just because they are different from you?

Freedom is a Sign of the Holy Spirit

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17 ESV

When a community of people is practicing the freedom of Christ, diversity thrives; diversity of culture, of expression, of thought, and of intimacy. But this diversity is also cherished as a way to help one another, not hurt or antagonize others. Cooperation grows diversity, and competition creates homogeny. This is because when we are competitive, we all work to be the same. When we cooperate, we all appreciate each other’s differences and unique value.

Taking Back Freedom

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galations 5:1 ESV

Western culture’s idea of “freedom” is often anathema to true freedom. Because it idealizes separation and competition, it creates a world of hyper-normalization where everyone is fighting for the same ideas of worldly success and ambition. The freedom Christ came to bring humanity is one where diversity and cooperation thrive.