Sunday, May 29, 2011

Are You Free?

What is freedom?

Oxford defines freedom as:
1. The power or right to act, speak or think freely.
2. The state of being free.
3. The state of not being affected by something undesirable.
4. A special privilege or right of access.

I appreciate the fourth definition the most, and I have been musing over another aspect of freedom that is closely knit with this concept. I believe freedom can also be defined as the absence of consequence. Any action that would bring a mandatorily penal consequence is something we are not free to do. There is a distinct difference between being capable of doing something, and being free to do it. I have the ability to murder someone, but I am by no means free to do so. It is not within my privilege or right of access to take a life, for it is not mine to take. First, that life belongs to God who gave it, Ecclesiastes 12:7. Second, that life has also been given to a steward who has been charged with its responsible use, and will be entirely answerable for its condition upon its return to God, Luke 19:12-15.

In a very real sense no one on earth has true freedom as definition #1 presents it. If “power” in this instance means authority rather than raw capacity then we certainly do not have the ability to act freely. I have no authority to murder, rape, steal, cheat, or commit any other immoral act; for there is a lawgiver higher than I who set the boundaries of what is permissible and what is not. To act within those boundaries one is free; to deviate and step across those boundaries one is not free, but a transgressor who must answer for their actions: which is why I stated that freedom is the absence of consequence. When I act outside the boundaries of moral law I am making choices I really have no right to be making. Laws are present for one’s good. The prohibition for murder, for instance, is for the good of society and the individual. The prohibition against stealing, arson and extortion are the same. When I act outside what I am free to do I revoke my freedom and become subject to the authority I have trespassed against.

The Bible states that there is no law against love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, Galatians 5:23. In other words, we are free to do these. These are against the works of the flesh, which is condemned by the law, and the list is extensive: adultery (taking another’s spouse), fornication (sex outside of marriage), uncleanness (sexual depravity), lewdness (sexual crudity; “dirty” humor, etc), idolatry (worship of anything other than God), sorcery, hatred, contentions (being easily provoked to argue and debate), jealousies, outbursts of wrath (quickly angered to the point of irrational fury), selfish ambitions, dissensions (rebellion), heresies (deviation from God’s truth), envy, murders, drunkenness and revelries (debauched parties where lewd or drunken behavior is not only accepted but encouraged).

In short, we are not free to break the law. There is a defined legal code. Each county, state, country, etc, has one. We know because we are told what is permissible; namely what we are free to do. Going beyond the defined boundary of the legal code invites consequence. It is like owning an orchard. We may roam about in our orchard eating our own fruit because it is free. If we leave our orchard and enter someone else’s and begin to eat their fruit, it is no longer free. The fruit isn’t ours, and eating it comes with a consequence. But to make the point more clear everything beyond our orchard yields poisonous fruit; so not only do we steal onto another’s land to eat something we shouldn’t, it only serves to harm us anyhow. That is why that land wasn’t ours to begin with: nothing good grew on it.

We know the universe is governed by scientific laws. There is the law of gravity, the law of entropy, the law of biogenesis. Scientific laws (I use the term loosely) such as gravity cannot be broken; they are fixed for good reason: to break it would be our immediate destruction. The same with moral laws; God fixed them because to depart would result in immediate spiritual death. Death itself was not designed to be a part of this world; it is alien and brought in not through God’s perfect creation but through man’s volition, when we opted to annul our freedom and perform the one act that was not free for us to do. Death is a reminder that man is not free as he wishes; death is the consequence of doing what we were not free to do. Morally speaking, when you do something you are not free to do you sin.

Sin was the vehicle that brought death into the world, Romans 5:12. Spiritual death was the consequence of sin, and physical death likewise the inevitable result. When we break the law there is always a prescribed penalty involved. Likewise with the Lord; when we deviate from the norm of God’s moral law impressed upon the conscience of every soul we incur penalty; we are indebted to God’s penal code. God has only one penalty for a trespass in which we abuse our freedom by opting to rebel against Him: death. Severe crimes receive capital punishment and subjects that rebel against a king are executed. God is both Judge and King and it is He who defined the boundaries of our freedom. When we do what is in our ability to do, but not within our authority, we are disclaiming Him. This is why Jesus paid for our sin on the cross. Christ suffered the death demanded by His own justice for payment of sin so we do not have to die; i.e. suffer eternal separation from God forever in the maximum security prison known as the Lake of Fire.

The freedom of a sinner under God’s law is like a man sitting in a completely blackened jail cell awaiting transfer first to the local prison (Hell) and then to isolation (the Lake of Fire). We pace around in spiritual darkness pretending we are free to do this or that; pretending especially that if there is a God all is well between you and Him. What sort of God would find you guilty for all of the crimes committed against your neighbors, conscience and Him? Then comes Christ to the door of the cell with the key to open it and release you. He asks the simple probing question we must all endure: do you want to be made free? We would apparently prefer, by and large, to remain prisoners than accept freedom on terms we cannot negotiate on.

We are not free to commit idolatry. When we prefer the things of this world to God, we are idolaters. When we accept that the universe made itself, we are worshiping the creation more than the Creator. When we elevate a religious system (such as Roman Catholicism) over God’s truth we are idolaters. When speculating about philosophical notions regarding God pleases us more than His revealed word, we are idolaters. When family, lovers, or any other human being (including ourselves) replace God in our hearts as the center of our affections, we are idolaters. We have the ability to do this, but not the authority. Christ may grant authority to become sons and daughters of God (John 1:12), but until our God gives us authority to do something, rest assured we are not permitted to do it. Notice in ancient Israel the people were not permitted to approach the Lord unless and until He allowed anyone. Until we know what is permissible ignorance may be a fleeting excuse. Once that flimsy veil is removed no reasoning or logic will satisfy the charge of disobedience. God gave man a conscience so that His moral law is impressed upon our hearts. Creation itself is witness of God’s presence and power. No one at the judgment will have an excuse to plead; no exceptions will be made. We are free to choose what is good; and what is good is God giving His Son to save us from our sins: the consequences of our moral law-breaking.

Is God totally free? Not exactly. God is not free to do anything He pleases; only what He wills to do and what is compatible with His character. God cannot lie, change, or fail, for instance. God is incapable of doing evil; this is what separates us from God and demonstrates the nature of sin. Sin is a perversion of what might normally have been good at one point, now taken into selfish interests with no intention of discerning whether or not God wishes us to do what we are doing, or even a care if He does. We are capable of sinning, but not free to: otherwise there would not be a coming judgment. God is free to offer salvation to those who will receive Christ by faith; He is also free to punish those who refuse to be reconciled to Him. God is free to dictate how life was meant to be lived by us because He created us. He knows what His intentions for us were. If God is far from your thoughts, or you have invented a “god” who doesn’t care about your sins, rest assured you are far from where God desires you to be. God answers to no one and in this sense is free; He is bound by His own character, and sometimes binds Himself willingly through covenants to demonstrate His steadfastness toward mankind.

I leave you with a verse that addresses what I have been relating much more succinctly: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death,” Proverbs 14:12. God bless.

1 comment:

  1. As you so ably point out, freedom allows us to make our own choices, but it does not mean that those choices do not have consequences. The choices may well bring us into slavery whether political, judicial, or spiritual. The truth allows us to keep our freedom by identifying where slavery lies.

    Greast post.


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