Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Freedom, Pt. 1

This week we begin a new chapter in the serial book I am now tentatively naming, "The Wisdom of Foolishness." This chapter is dedicated to the idea of freedom, with a focus both on the theology of the human will and the importance of grace to our conscience. The introduction to the chapter begins our discussion with questioning the meaning of the word "freedom," while the section "Deep Raving," begins to explore what the Bible has to say about the goodness of both freedom and slavery.


There is no such thing as freedom.

Freedom is a relative term. Free with regard to what? Free to live? Free to die? Free to help others? Free to commit evil? While the Bible talks about freedom regularly, this freedom always has a reference – it is with regard to something. Anarchy, the freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want it, is a very different thing than the liberty of being forgiven for your sins by the sacrifice of the cross of Jesus Christ.1

If you want the first freedom, the anarchy, you might be free from God and societal ideas, but the irony is that you are still a slave – you are bound to yourself, trapped in the limits and confines of whatever it is you want.2 You might even find that what you want is so much a tyrant over you that you have no freedom at all, but are more like a mist driven by any storm that passes by.3

The second freedom, the freedom which comes in Christ, is a freedom of conscience before God.4 It flows out of a faith in the pure goodness of Jesus which releases you with great liberty to good, to love and to serve others.5 Yet, here as well, this is the freedom of slavery, of being bound to Christ like a vine is to a branch, of being a servant to all that you meet.6 For humans there is no such thing as pure freedom. Every single one of us is a slave to something. The real question is not “How can I be more free?” The real question is “How can I be more of a slave to the right master?”7

Deep Raving

This is all to introduce the idea that there is no such thing as a completely free will, at least, Biblically speaking. Especially in American Christian life, that little term has been the heart of no small debate, misunderstanding and, again ironically, much mental slavery. It also rests at the very root of what it means to receive and believe the Bible's pure teaching on the justification of our sin before God by his mercy through the promises we receive in faith. All of this is heartily wrapped up in what it means to be an American, to be a people who were forged in the casting off of monarchy and the power of self-reliance.

But the closest the Bible ever comes to teaching an absolutely “free will” is in the terrible section of Romans chapter one, where St. Paul tells us that God releases sinners to the freedom of their own sins, misdirected passions and reckless desires.8 That is the truly free human will. It is the worst kind of slavery. It is slavery to our own depravity.9

Before we go further, it's only fair to give you a heads up: the purpose of this book, from start to finish, is not to tread lightly. The goal is to lay out as succinctly as possible the many fantastic revelations of the Holy Scriptures of Jesus Christ which have vanished from a majority of 21st century American pulpits. Every topic could have entire books written about it – they have had entire books written about them.10 This book is not written for skeptics who are looking to be wooed. It is for seekers, learners, disciples and the authentically curious. It is for those who just want to know “what the Bible actually says.”

With all of that said, it is more than likely that, whoever you are, this chapter will still be the most aggravating in the book for anyone who has grown up under the pioneer ethos of the American identity. The Bible's teaching on your “will” will rub against the grain of what seems most natural. It will test your metal in your willingness to be challenged. And, for these reasons, it will be the most powerful, life-changing, faith-giving, hope-inspiring chapter in the book.

True freedom with regard to what Jesus creates for us in himself marks is the true final breaking point in wrestling with the foolishness of God's Wisdom. It is all downhill from here. Like Jacob the Patriarch, who met God face to face at the Jabbok ford, it is a fight you will have to lose in order to win.11 It will put your spiritual hip out of joint. It will be a breaking that comes with a blessing. Here, to be injured is to be healed, to be weak is to be strong, and to submit to a yoke which is gentle and light is to be eternally released from the yoke of depraved slavery.12

So keep reading! So far we have learned what the Bible teaches about how we humans are naturally obstinate, self-willed and egocentric. Such “wills,” held in bondage to their freedom to be selfish, will normally rebel against Jesus' free gift of slavery to goodness, which means the death of our wicked freedom to be selfish.13 Be forewarned: at this moment of true liberty, the devil's last line of defense will not be some spiritual voodoo-darkness floating out in the ether and aeons of the cosmos. Now he will retreat to his rag-tag fortress to man its bulwarks against Christ's full Gospel. That fortress is your (sort of) “free” will.

1. 2 Peter 2:16 “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”

2. John 8:34 “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”

3. 2 Peter 17, 19 “These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm.... They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.”

4. Hebrews 9:9 “The blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, [will] purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

5. 1 Timothy 1:5 “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

6. Romans 6:22 “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”

7. 1 John 5:4 “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” Luke 16:13 “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

8. Romans 1:24, 26, 28 “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity....God gave them up to dishonorable passions.... God gave them up to a debased mind....”

9. Romans 6:15 “you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
Titus 3:3 “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”

10. The bibliography at the back of the books provides a good starting point for those who want to do more research on classical Christian orthodoxy.

11. Genesis 32:22-32

12. Galatians 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Matthew 11:29-30 “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

13. Romans 6:16 “Having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

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