What is Freedom?  

Written on: May 1, 2024

Article by: Jon Jackson

This question has been pondered and asked constantly for many centuries, and just over two years ago there was a group called the Freedom Convoy who gathered in Ottawa because they felt their livelihoods were being taken away  due to severe government restrictions. This made more than a few people stop and think about the idea of freedom, and not just in Canada but also around the world, especially in other western countries.

How do we define freedom? I think that many would simply define it as being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want, all the time.

There was a movie about 20 years ago called Napoleon Dynamite, and in it, the main character confronts his Uncle, who had moved in with them.  He says to his uncle that he should leave because he’s ruining everyone’s lives. To which his Uncle responds, “It’s a free country, I can do whatever I want.”

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That sums up a misconception of freedom which is very different from the way than God defines it.

Another such misconception comes from about 60 years ago and arrived in the form of a sexual revolution.  It combined ideas about body autonomy and freedom of expression without boundaries – in terms of promiscuous sex and homosexuality. It normalized divorce along with the widespread abortion, while rejecting God’s covenant of Marriage. It took casual sex “mainstream” – based on the Devil’s falsehood that there is such a thing as “sex without consequences”.

Numerous Biblical passages make it clear that this is not God’s view of freedom at all.  One such passage comes from the first letter of the apostle Paul to the church at Corinth, where he writes:

““I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.  By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!    16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6: 12-20)

Some in the church at Corinth were saying something like: “I have the right to do anything” – to which Paul responded, “but not everything is beneficial” (1 Cor 6:12)  They certainly did not have the right to commit the sins condemned in the previous 3 verses. And even within the freedoms that they did enjoy, they were supposed to use them in light of the God’s purposes within the church.

Having freedoms is one thing. Using them to accomplish positive outcomes for the church, is another. From the very beginning, God has endowed human beings with freedom of choice. And we must practice that freedom to remain in  control over our use of freedom.

I remember turning 18 when I was in grade 12 – back in High School.  It meant that I was considered an adult and if I didn’t want to go to class I could skip it without suffering any immediate consequences. I still went to my classes (most of them, anyway) because I realized that it was beneficial to do so. I used my freedom to gain more freedom.  That kind of freedom was a positive thing because I respected the responsibility that came with it.

Going back the false freedoms of the sexual revolution, those ideas had been planted about 280 years earlier near the start of the “Age of Enlightenment”. This was a movement put forward by academics and philosophers like Kant, Rousseau and Voltaire.

Voltaire is still being quoted today and was probably the kindest of these three to Christianity.  But one of the things which he said, that Christian apologists would NOT agree with, was that “Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.”

The Age of Enlightenment challenged the right of God and of religion to be the centre of human society.  Faith in God was replaced by skepticism which having rejected God turned to science as the basis for human knowledge and experience. They believed that this would give a person complete freedom in life.  And those ideas have borne fruit which is all around us, in our self-obsessed and technology- driven society.

As the Age of Enlightenment spread in Europe and the United Kingdom, many who disagreed took their leave. Wanting to regain their freedom to worship God, they sailed for the new world and settled in what is now the US and Canada.  They wanted to start new societies and to return God to the centre of their culture.

So for example the following quote is part of a letter from the Continental Congress (an entity that represents a number of the founding Fathers of the US) dated October 20, 1779. It was a proclamation to the entire country that contains the quintessential answer to the question: “On what does freedom depend?”

It reads:

Whereas it becomes us humbly to approach the throne of Almighty God, with gratitude and praise for the wonders which his goodness has wrought in conducting our forefathers to this western world; for his protection to them and to their posterity amid difficulties and dangers; for raising us, their children, from deep distress to be numbered among the nations of the earth; …and above all, that he hath diffused the glorious light of the gospel, whereby, through the merits of our gracious Redeemer, we may become the heirs of his eternal glory: therefore, Resolved, That it be recommended to the several states, to appoint Thursday, the 9th of December next, to be a day of public and solemn thanksgiving to Almighty God for his mercies, and of prayer for the continuance of his favour and protection to these United States; …that he would grant to his church the plentiful effusions of divine grace, and pour out his holy spirit on all ministers of the gospel; that he would bless and prosper the means of education, and spread the light of Christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth; …that he would in mercy look down upon us, pardon our sins and receive us into his favour, and finally, that he would establish the independence of these United States upon the basis of religion and virtue, and support and protect them in the enjoyment of peace, liberty and safety as long as the sun and moon shall endure, until time shall be no more.”

It really is almost impossible to imagine a modern government issuing a letter like that today.   

So then, how does God define freedom? It is freedom to choose, freedom to worship and it is freedom from sin. True freedom is, somewhat ironically, obedience, self-control and responsibility.

I think most of us are aware of the novel and film 1984. The 3 mottoes that the dystopian government in power wanted people to read and memorize were; Freedom is slavery, War is peace and Ignorance is strength.

They were trying to convince people that the opposite of what they knew, and of what their conscience was telling them, was THE truth. This portrayal of society is very disturbing as we see it coming true all around us.  The Bible refutes ALL of these mottoes, for in reality, Sin is slavery, War is enmity with God and Ignorance is foolishness.

So then, why are Freedom and Christianity intertwined or overlaid in our society?

The people that are often passionate about freedom and from whom we have often heard over the years, are conservative Christians. Maybe it’s because they know what freedom is since they are now free from the bondage of sin.

As the apostle Peter puts it:

“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” (1 Peter 2:15,16)

The people who are fighting for the wrong kinds of freedoms are often those who deny the presence and the destructive nature of sin.  The freedom that they care about is the right to keep on sinning.

Paul warned about this in Romans 6:16-18,

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?   But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

Sin has made this world, an ugly place in which to live. Pretty much everyone wants to rise above that ugliness. But all efforts to do that without letting go of sin, are in vain.  Wealth cannot protect. Alcohol is no remedy. And Utopian dreams of a society where everyone does as they choose and it all works out for the greater good – that dream ends in a rude awakening. The only permanent and lasting answer is to remove the bondage of sin by turning to the salvation that Jesus Christ provides.

Paul wrote this to the Ephesians (2:14-18)

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.”

Let’s take a moment and ask ourselves, why does freedom seem so hard to achieve?

Could it be, that the freedom that we are trying to achieve is beyond our ability? We cannot undo our sin, but Christ has done it for us. We have to place our confidence in God and not in ourselves. This frees us from fear and the certainty of our own failure.

I am reminded of a song by the The Eagles.  It was entitled “Already Gone” .  One of the lines in the lyrics went like this, “So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, And we never even know we have the key.”

I mentioned earlier that I disagreed with one of the things that Voltaire said.  But I do  agree with this: “It is difficult to free fools from the chains that they revere.”

Now when it comes to intimidation, governments and large corporations have both admitted to using fear tactics. They hire psychologists to better play on our fears so that we will vote for them or buy their products. It is manipulation, pure and simple.

In the face of that, the scriptures call us to place our confidence in the living God.  As the writer of Hebrews puts it:

“I will never leave you nor forsake you “. So we can confidently say, The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Heb. 13:5,6)

Paul expresses a similar thought in Philippians 1:12-14,

“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”

Our adversary the Devil is hard at work. He wants us to think that we have no freedom at all.  That we are born as the result of an accident, and in the world that we are born into there is no objective morality or absolute truth.  In the end, we just die and there is nothing more.  But even if there is a wide path that leads to destruction, there is nothing that we can do about it. We have no freedom of choice. All outcomes are predetermined and choice is an illusion.

Earlier in this article we mentioned the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ and another philospher that came out of this was Friedrich Nietzsche. He who was known as a critic of Judaeo-Christian morality and of religions in general. It was his conviction that genuine ‘free-will’ did not exist in humans. Somewhat ironically he argued his case, hoping no doubt that others might choose – or should I say – be predetermined to agree with him. But for those whom he persuaded, free-will had died.

Nietzsche was the founder of the philosophy called Nihilism. Nihilism holds that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist believes in nothing, has no loyalties, nor any purpose except perhaps to destroy. Sounds like somebody we know doesn’t it?

Totalitarian governments are very good at tearing down the Christian foundations of society and replacing them with their own.  The communist governments of Russia and China have historically removed the Bible from their societies, replacing churches with state institutions and preachers with atheist philosophers. The State has become god so that even the godless collective has no choice at all.

On July 8, 1949 George Orwell published the book “1984”. His vision of humanity’s future under totalitarianism was not only bleak in fictional form but even more so in the real world.  When asked about the future (before his death in 1950) he was quoted as saying, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face- forever.”  What a horribly pessimistic view.

But there was also cause for pessimism nearly two thousand years ago as a man hung on a cross. All of that changed when 3 days later his tomb was found empty.  For as the writer of Hebrews put it: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him”. (Hebrews 5:8,9)

When you think of a person who has little or no freedom, you might picture an inmate in chains, shackled and incarcerated. Or an animal caught in a trap and struggling in vain. But for those who have accepted the gift of salvation offered by Jesus Christ, there is freedom now and moving forward into eternity.  It is freedom from sin, freedom to worship and freedom to obey.

Others have done it, and so can we. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1,2)