“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love (Galatians 5:13).”
We are called to be free. That is good news, but what is freedom? One definition is, ‘the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.’ So in this sense, freedom is the ability to captain your own ship, to steer your own course, to make your own decisions. This is the freedom children discover, desire, and fight for as they grow up. “I don’t need help.” “I don’t want to go.”
This freedom is built into the bedrock of what makes America an amazing country. Our Constitution, Bill of Rights, and government system are designed to protect individual freedoms. What a wonderful thing! It is our God given right to be able to make our own decisions and not be controlled by the wills of other people.
In the verse above, Paul writes that yes, we do have freedom to choose, but then encourages us not to ‘indulge the flesh’. Is Paul encroaching on our freedom, trying to take our rights away? No! In fact, He is pointing to an even deeper form of freedom, the freedom of our hearts!
“They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity--for "people are slaves to whatever has mastered them (2 Peter 2:19)."
“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another (Titus 3:3).”
The bible is very clear that we can exercise our freedom of choice, and in so doing become enslaved to ‘fleshly desires’, to sin. “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God's slaves (1 Peter 2:16).” We can be held captive by anger, by lust, by selfish ambition and pride. Our hearts can be broken in un-forgiveness, bitterness, and jealousy. The bible calls all these actions, attitudes, and feelings ‘sin’. It is a way of living that results in death, enslavement, and oppression. The bible says that this dark influence that enslaves us in ‘passions and pleasures’ is a Kingdom that we need liberation from. It is a kingdom that has power, a kingdom that influences our decision making, a ruling entity that places us in bondage to our own brokenness.
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient (Ephesians 2:1-2).”
So true freedom isn’t having the ability to choose whatever you want, for when we are influenced by the ‘Kingdom of the Air’, we become spiritually enslaved. The Jews struggled to understand the freedom Jesus promised them, because they were oppressed by the physical kingdom of Rome. Freedom they desired had to do with their earthly rule, to be free from foreign government, and to ultimately be able to make their own decisions as a nation. They didn’t have eyes to understand the ‘kingdom of the air’, the Kingdom of darkness, that had enslaved the entire world.
It would be wrong for us to think that liberation from the kingdom of darkness comes from our ability to choose. If, at the root of our choices is pride, all our decisions will be for self promotion, even if we think it’s the ‘right choice’. The darkness is not so simple that we can choose to not be in it. The scriptures show that the darkness is a blindness that effects humanity. The blind cannot lead the blind. The blindness we experience isn’t just caused by sinful choices either, we need to see that we choose sin because we are blind. What are we blind to? We are blind to who God actually is.
Why do we choose to do evil things? Because we don’t know God! Why is there “another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me (Romans 7:23)?” Because we don’t know God! Knowing or not knowing God, rather than just being intellectual knowledge, is seen most clearly by how we see the world, ourselves, and why we make the decision we do! The church still often functions as a moral reform program, trying to encourage people to ‘make’ the right decisions, and ‘avoid’ the wrong ones. Just like doctors shouldn’t just try to get rid of the ‘symptoms’ of sickness, we need to go beyond the external actions and minister to what is going on inside of people’s hearts. Freedom doesn’t come through our choices, but from how we perceive the world and ourselves. If our perception changes so will our actions!
How Jesus Brings Freedom: Revealing the Father
“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him (John 1:9-11).”
John points out throughout his Gospel that Jesus, God Himself, stepped into the world He created and sustains, and that His own people not only didn’t recognize Him but killed Him! How they ‘saw’ the world, what they ‘thought’ about God, completely blinded them to who He actually is!
“No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known (John 1:18).”
In the West, we separate our ‘beliefs’ from our actions and our head from our heart. To truly understand and know the person of Jesus we need to embrace a more interconnected perspective on how we function as human’s. Our actions cannot be divorced from our perception but are actually birthed out of it! For too long our Western way of thinking has blinded us to the Gospel and caused us to incorrectly view and proclaim what the good news of Jesus is actually about!
“To the Jews who had believed him, 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).”
What is this truth? Is it an idea, a law, a prophecy? We tend to think that the truth is an ideal or a teaching. In the evangelical world it is a concept that we just need to intellectually agree with. Normally it goes something like this, ‘If we intellectually agree with the fact that Jesus died to save us then we are saved.’ Such a notion is systematic in nature, it is causal, and logical and not what Jesus is trying to say.
Let’s analyze that passage from John 8. Jesus says that if they hold to His teachings they will be His disciples. A good step, but sometimes that’s all we want to accomplish in the church. By making disciples we are really just calling people to follow teachings, rules, or a program. It’s moral reform, treating the symptoms. Many find that this doesn’t seem like freedom, it feels like just more principles to follow, more decisions to make. Jesus doesn’t stop at discipleship like we do. He says if we follow Him that then we will come to know the truth. Again we are confronted with our western perspective. What truth, what statement or fact do we need to believe? That is where we get it wrong, the truth isn’t an idea to believe, or a teaching to follow, the truth is a person! Now that boggles our systematic brains!
“Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).”
“I am the light of the world, whoever walks in me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).”
Freedom isn’t a step by step process, it isn’t a system, a formula, or a set of beliefs. Freedom/Salvation is a person. In following Him we come to know Him. He is the light and the life. As we come to know Him we are set free! Freedom is a relationship with Jesus and what He does in us, He doesn’t just treat the symptoms but transforms us from the inside out!
Christians around the world still find it easier to introduce a system or a belief as the truth, and we again become enslaved to system of rules and principles. Many times when someone ‘converts’ to a religion, they are choosing to give credibility to a new set of religious teachings to help guide their decision making. This makes it very easy to feel justified because we are choosing the ‘right’ way. It is rooted in human achievement and divides us in unhealthy ways as it creates an ‘us and them’ paradigm. Christianity is not a set of teachings, it is not a religion, it doesn’t function that way! Jesus isn’t saying ‘a’ truth will set us free, but that ‘the’ truth will set us free; He Himself is the truth!
He Himself is the way out of the darkness. Knowing Him as a person, not knowing a truth, is freedom. What is darkness, sin, and temptation all about? Not knowing the Father! If we don’t know the Father we live in darkness, which is captivity to sin. On the other hand if we know the Father we live in light and are free from sin! Jesus came to reveal the Father to us, to bring us from darkness to light!
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him (John 14:6-7).’"
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent (John 17:3).”
We don’t ‘believe’ in a truth statement and all of a sudden receive eternal life. It’s not a transaction but a relationship! In knowing the Son we know the Father, this is Eternal life itself! Mind bending isn’t it!? True freedom is knowing the Father, who the son came to reveal. Because of the darkness that blinds us and keeps us from knowing God, we need Jesus to reveal the Father to us! In that sense He is the only way to the Father, all other sources of knowledge and revelation are faulty. It’s not that Jesus is the formula to getting to God, but that He alone knows who He is! ‘Believing’ in Jesus, in an intellectual sense, isn’t how we ‘get to God’. It’s not a system, it’s a relationship. We cannot divorce salvation, freedom, or life from the person of Jesus. Knowing Him is freedom, knowing Him is eternal life.
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 5:39-40).”
How Jesus Reveals the Father
They way Jesus reveals the Father to us is simple yet profound. If Jesus just started saying a bunch of truths to us through the bible, we would still be functioning in the same way as all religions, from principles, teaching, and knowledge that we need to apprehend. We don’t have the ability to see the Father on our own, so as ‘the only one who know’s the father’, Jesus enters into our blindness and unites Himself to us in the darkness. “Christ in us the hope of glory!” Jesus doesn’t call us to follow principles, but enters inside each of us and reveals what He knows to be true about the Father with us from the inside out!
“On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you (John 14:12).”
He shares His relationship with the Father with us, He gives us His eyes, His perspective, and the love He shares with His dad is now shared with us! That is what brings transformation, that where freedom reigns, that is what eternal life is! Wrap your mind around that one!
To finish up I encourage you to read Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Below are a couple small sections that point to the purpose of Jesus, the hidden revelation of knowing the Father, and the truth of what freedom is all about!
“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me (John 17:6-8).”
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one,Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (20-23).”
“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them (25-26).”