We read about freedom, dream about freedom, rejoice in the notion of freedom, teach, advocate, and hope for freedom, but what do we mean by freedom?
Freedom means many things to many people. We can view freedom politically, as having the opportunity to vote for particular ideas, people, or parties which best represent our views. Closely tied to this is the notion of freedom of speech, where one has the liberty to voice their personal opinion or perspective. Others understand freedom in a financial context, where people seek to free themselves of financial debt, outstanding credit, and burdensome loans.
What does true freedom look like? Does it look like a voter’s ballot or someone walking out of prison? Is it seen in being able to buy anything I want or in the fact that I don’t owe a thing to anyone? Of course, it’s crucial to define what we mean by freedom so that we know what we’re looking for, what we’re hoping to attain.
We think that once our particular freedom is achieved, all our problems will be solved. Why?
Say a child runs outside and climbs a tree because he wants to get away and be free. In his exuberant effort to be free, the boy wanders out onto a tree limb, turns around, and begins severing the last connection he has with the world — the limb. Having sawed through the limb, the boy quickly realizes that he not only failed in achieving his goal of complete freedom, but discovers that what he was seeking wasn’t true freedom at all. In his effort to achieve freedom, the boy finds himself in a worse situation than before — broken limbs and all!
Two sides of the freedom coin
Not surprisingly, the Bible says quite a bit about freedom, despite any impressions we might have about it being merely a book of restrictive rules. In reality, if we are willing to consider it, the Bible can help us distinguish between what it means for us to be free from something and to be free to do or be something. Freedom from and freedom to are two sides of the freedom coin.
It is interesting that many of the freedoms we seek today are seen as ends in themselves, as a final goal to be attained. It’s as though we think that once our particular freedom is achieved, all our problems will be solved. Why? Because we’ll have freedom! But freedom from what? And freedom to do or be what?
For example, let’s say that we’re in deep financial debt. We realize our desperate state and begin to strategically work our way out of financial bondage. It may take months, years, or even decades, but eventually we hope to balance our budget and move from being in the red to in the black. But, even if we accomplish our goal and attain financial freedom, particularly freedom from debt, have we really attained true freedom? In other words, does having no financial debt necessarily mean that we have attained financial freedom?
Not really. See, our hearts, which drove us into debt in the first place, remain unchanged. It may be the case, and unfortunately it often is, that as soon as we get out of debt, we plunge right back into it. Why? Because our hearts see and desire something it cannot live without. So we buy it, and voila! We’re in debt again. So, if our hearts are not changed, neither will our behavior change. That’s why the Bible says that true freedom begins in the heart. We act on our thoughts and behave according to our desires.
Interestingly, the Bible likens the human heart to a tree: “every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit… For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (Matthew 7:17-18; 12:33-35). The source of our actions is the heart. If it’s diseased, the fruit (our actions) is rotten too.
Of course, it’s always good to be out of debt, but to simply balance the books is only a peripheral remedy. It is merely treating the symptoms rather than dealing with the disease. True freedom is only achieved when our hearts are changed, not when the books are balanced.
The same can be said for political and verbal freedom. Both are significantly good and should be advocated and protected, but they are peripheral freedoms in comparison to true freedom. True freedom occurs only in the heart when it is changed and made new.
What then is this “true” freedom?
There is a debt that every human has, a disease that we all suffer from, which no human strategy can ever conquer or cure. It is not a bondage to external things primarily, though it does work its way out in external expressions. No, our problem is much deeper. It is bondage of the will, a captivity of the soul, a deadness of heart.
The Bible tells us that we were made by God to honor Him and delight in Him forever. Yet, we chose to sin and rebel against God by abandoning our created purpose of worshiping Him in order to do our own thing and pridefully make a name for ourselves. This rebellion against God, known as the Fall, caused mankind to fall from the innocence in which they were created and become corrupted by sin.
Due to our sin, we have all received the consequential penalty of sin, namely spiritual and physical death. Death reigns in all of us so every one of us is spiritually dead (separated from God) and will also die physically one day. Not only this, but throughout our life, the effects of sin infect everything we do. The marring stains of sin are pervasive within each one of us, distorting the way we think, desire, and behave. All of our thoughts, feelings, and actions are tainted by our sin.
Yet, in all of this, the human heart remains free in one regard: free to choose whatever it desires. But here’s the catch — the human heart is corrupted and enslaved by evil. So, it does not naturally desire to do what honors God. All our thoughts, words, and actions are tainted in various degrees with prideful sin and rebellion against God. So even though we are free to choose, we freely choose sin continually as a habit of nature.
Ultimately, the final consequence of our sin against God is hell, a state of total and unending disconnection and separation from God and all that is good, a place of unhindered and perpetual bondage to unrestrained evil, horror, and suffering resulting from everyone doing all their selfish and sinful hearts’ desires, no matter what harm it may cause to others.
Yet, God in His love sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to come to earth and willingly die in the place of sinful humans like us to absorb all our sin, rebellion, and wrongdoing. Therefore, all who entrust their complete life to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins will be saved from their bondage to sin and given eternal life in Him and enjoy an intimate and personal connection and relationship with God himself.
This is true freedom. And true freedom only exists in Jesus Christ. How does it happen? God changes our heart by His Holy Spirit. God makes us spiritually alive by giving us a new heart. This heart desires to love God. It sees Jesus Christ as beautiful and desires to love Him as the Lord and Savior of our life. By faith, we give our life to Jesus and receive His forgiveness and freedom from sin. Not only this, but we are now free to do the very thing we were created to do — to honor and enjoy God forever. And this joy in God is from our heart — our new heart given to us by God.
This is true freedom. This is grace.