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“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
This past Sunday, I preached from Romans 6-7 about the question of motivation: If I am saved by faith in Jesus, not by my good works, then what is my motivation to “be good” or follow God? Why not just live however I please if God has already saved me?
One of the reasons given in Romans 6 is that “freedom” as our culture teaches it is a fallacy. In the end, you are either a slave to God or a slave to sin (Romans 6:16). The choice is not between following God and living free to do as you please. The choice is between serving God, which leads to eternal life, or serving sin, which leads to death.
The analogy I used, which I first heard in Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God, looks at the natural world. A bird is most free when it submits itself to the laws of nature. If a bird were to try to live in the water, out of a desire for freedom and to “live however he pleased,” he would die. If a fish wanted to “do what was right for him” and live on land, he would also die. Or, think of the world of music. Is true freedom for a pianist the freedom to bang on any keys she wants? No – the ability to be truly free to play and create at a high level comes from restricting her freedom for years of practice. The same is true even for manmade creations – you are free to forego oil changes in your car, but if you do it, your car will eventually break down. True freedom to perform at its highest capacity comes when the car is treated according to how it was designed.
Freedom, therefore, is not the absence of restrictions. True freedom is not just found in creating your own reality and choosing for yourself how you want to live. True freedom is found in living in a way that is true to your nature, operating according to how you were designed, submitting to the right restrictions. Paradoxically, freedom comes from introducing the right limits in your life – just like the bird, the musician, or the car. In that light, consider again some of the restrictions God gives in His Word:
• Rest one day out of seven – While this law was given in the Old Testament and (in my opinion) no longer applies to us since it was not renewed in the New Testament, this was not meant to stifle your freedom to work as many hours as you want. It was meant as a declaration of true freedom, that you are not God, and that your livelihood depends upon Him and submitting to Him, not upon how many hours you work. Plus, it is God’s way of telling us that constantly working will lead to breakdown
• Give a percentage of your income to God – In the Old Testament, a tithe of 10% was expected; in the New Testament, we are told to be generous givers, which for many of us may mean we give more than 10%. Is this because God wants to limit your freedom to buy whatever you want? No – it is a declaration of freedom, that our security and significance are found in God, not in the size of our bank accounts or the things we possess.
• Be faithful to your spouse – Is God trying to curtail our freedom by not letting us follow our desires towards multiple men or women? Or is God’s desire that we experience the deep love that is found when two people are committed to each other and share their intimacy only with each other, and avoid the pain and heartache that come when there is a lack of trust in a relationship?
• Do not get drunk – Why won’t God let us have the freedom to indulge our addictions, whatever the substance or object might be? It’s not because God is a killjoy – it’s because he knows that indulging addictions leads to slavery, and robs us of the freedom that comes from living for Him alone.
True freedom is not the absence of restrictions, but is found in living according to our design. As you spend time in God’s Word considering His good commands, remember that they were given for your ultimate joy. And as you spend time in this world, listening to its false messages, remember that the freedom our culture promotes is not really freedom, but just another kind of slavery that inevitably leads to death.
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