“And I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free.” Those lyrics by Lee Greenwood inspired the hearts of all Americans in the hours and days after the 9-11 attacks. Richie Havens sang “Freedom” at Woodstock and gave voice to the frustrations of a generation. President Bush said, “I believe that God has planted in every heart the desire to live in freedom.” We often envy the “free spirit” who has the courage to go against the tide and refuses to be conformed to society. It seems that freedom is the battle cry of mankind—in fact, God HAS planted the desire for freedom in every soul.
We are taught that freedom brings happiness. However, a self-ish outworking of the concept of freedom can be deceiving. I owned a scooter when I was a youngster, and my neighbor wanted to ride it. I wouldn’t let him, so he reminded me that “this is a free country.” I couldn’t resist his patriotism and logic, so I gave him my scooter! I was duped by a false application of the concept of freedom!
This week, we will look at “freedom” from God’s perspective; next week, we will examine the responsibilities of true freedom and how they lead to true happiness.
What I didn’t realize as a child was that freedom has restrictions. Our nation’s freedoms do not include a license to steal or defraud. Freedom of speech does not grant the right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded room or to slander our neighbor. The privilege of driving does not exempt one from traffic laws, enacted to pro-tect the populace.
Surprisingly to the unsaved world, Christianity is the most free-ing of religions. It is only in Christianity that a person is free to be what he or she was meant to be. It is only through a right relation-ship with the Creator that we can enjoy the benefits and blessings that He delights to give us. However, just as a hiker is not free to leave the trail, or a dog is fenced in for protection, a person is guided and guarded by the Word of God for his or her well-being and happiness.
God promises, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you” (Psalm 32:8, 9). In other words, don’t be like the foolish animal who wan-ders freely around, thinking it knows best when not constrained by its master.
God has given us the freedom to choose our paths; however, He warns us ahead of time what awaits us. Moses called the Israelites to make a choice: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your chil-dren may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19). We are free to choose, but God is also free to determine the consequences of our actions. When it comes to life, there is no other sensible choice.
Satan espoused the first false application of freedom in the Garden of Eden. He promised Adam and Eve that they would be like God, the Ultimate Freedom. They disregarded God’s warning that, although they were free to do what they wanted, there would be consequences. Consequently, they lost their true happiness, their freedom to live as life was meant to be, in unhindered fellowship with their Creator. Sin always causes us to hide from God and miss the joy of His presence.
No one, no matter how nomadic or cerebral or wealthy or Zen-like he may think he is, is truly free. Bob Dylan, poet, philosopher, and part-time “Christian,” put it succinctly in a song: “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31, 32). When asked to clarify, he replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36).
To some, the ultimate freedom and happiness stem from “doing your own thing.” Currently, society is fighting to cast off the restraints of Christianity (Read Psalm 2!). If immorality, violence, suicide, depression, drugs, abortion, crime, terrorism, corporate fraud, road rage, divorce, and all the other fruits of this “freedom” are paths to happiness, then we need to redefine our terms!
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