Our modern culture loves to talk about freedom. Feminists rant about how free they are without men or children, influencers flex Lamborghinis and private jets as signs of their financial freedom and even credit cards and mortgages are marketed as giving their users freedom. It seems that the higher debt, BMIs, and body counts climb, the more free people proclaim themselves to be, all while being more miserable and having fewer options in their lives. And still, they say they are free. In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Freedom is, at its core, an absence of constraint. If you are free from fear, your choices are not limited by fear, if you are free from being duct-taped to a chair your choices are not limited by being duct-taped to a chair, etc. This is historically how freedom has been conceived of, as freedom from particular, individual constraints, as in the U.S. Bill of Rights. If you are free, you are free from something.
The modern concept of freedom, however, has less to do with particular constraints, such as fear, or duct tape, and is more concerned with constraints in general. This new freedom is presented as having no restraints whatsoever on one’s choices. Thus, to be ‘free’ in the modern sense, one must be able to do whatever one wants, whenever one wants to do it, without adverse consequences or social disapproval.
There are many examples of what this looks like in real life. There are the morbidly obese women who, in addition to calling themselves ‘beautiful’, or ‘healthy’, have the audacity to demand the same treatment as the most beautiful, non-porcine women. Another example, ‘empowered’ career women expect to be able to devote their youth to their career, make lots of money, be ‘successful’, and then settle down with the man of their dreams and have perfect children in their 40s, and never have to sacrifice or compromise in any way. But let’s finish with the ultimate example: transgenderism.
The entire premise of the transgender movement is that your subjective will is not to be constrained even by your own body. Whether it’s a dude wanting to become a woman, or a woman wanting to become a dude, transgenderism holds that you are what you identify as, regardless of your body. This leads to such ridiculousness as government officials referring to ‘birthing people’ or, and I swear I’m not making this up, ‘women with penises’.
What do all of these (and the other examples you’ve doubtless thought of) have in common? A denial of any constraint whatsoever, whether from nature, God, or even other people’s opinions.
But is this really freedom? Is such freedom from all constraints even possible? The Apostle Paul would say no. All we need to do is look at Romans 6, where Paul teaches that you can either be a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness; not both and, crucially, not neither. If you serve righteousness, then you are free from sin. If you serve sin, you are free from righteousness. This is what we have forgotten about freedom; you can be free from some constraints, but not all of them. Let’s look at some examples.
For our first example, consider the archetypal fat woman. We all know the type, eats what she wants (everything) when she wants it (all the time) and exercises when she wants (never). The type of woman who makes you want to do some push-ups just from looking at her.
Sounds pretty free at first glance, just doing what she wants. The truth of the matter, though, is she’s a slave to her appetites. She eats whenever she craves food, whether she needs it or not. Her belly demands food, and she must obey. The very weight of her corpulence demands that she move no more than strictly necessary, and she must yield to it. Simple physics restricts her freedom of movement, as the human body wasn’t designed to move 300+ pounds of fat. For all her unhindered consumption, she is still a slave to her cravings.
Our second example: the alpha male. You’ve probably got an image of this guy too. Women want him, men want to be him. He’s super-rich, super-jacked, and super-good at everything he does, and he knows it. This dude is Chuck Norris, Donald Trump, and James Bond all rolled into one. He eats the best food, lives in the best houses, and sleeps with the most beautiful women. And he’s even got a Bugatti. Dude sounds pretty free, right? Nope, still a slave.
If he wants to stay in amazing shape, he’s got to spend hours in the gym every day. If he wants to be the best at everything he does, he’s going to have to put in the work to stay there. If he wants to keep making obscene amounts of money, he’s got to put in the work to stay ahead of his competition. And if he doesn’t? What if he lets himself go a little physically, or some young upstart makes more money and lives a little more lavishly than him? Then all those women he surrounded himself with will abandon him for the higher-status guy. In the end, he’s still a slave. A slave to his stuff, a slave to his ego, and a slave to promiscuous women who never loved him.
Consider now the faithful Christian. He’ll miss the Superbowl to go to church. She submits to her husband and tends to the home. He works a job that he really doesn’t like to provide for his family. She shuns the readily available stream of attention she could get posting inappropriate photos on social media. Anyone in the world would say that a faithful Christian is a slave, and they would be right.
Christians are slaves to God; we do what He says, not whatever we want. The key difference is why we do it. Unbelievers, as slaves to their appetites, are constantly working to appease those appetites, which keep demanding more and more. God makes no such demand of His slaves. We don’t obey God to appease Him, but rather because we love Him. Jesus already appeased God’s wrath, leaving us with nothing to do to earn our salvation.
That is what should motivate us to obey, simple love and gratitude. It’s not like God needs anything from us. He isn’t deprived of anything if we don’t obey, and He doesn’t gain anything from our obedience; only we gain from obeying Him. This is the exact opposite of our sinful appetites, which would suck us dry and still demand more. Consider our examples: in both cases the unbelievers’ appetites demand more and more, to their detriment. God’s commands, on the other hand, only benefit us when we obey. You have to serve somebody. Even if you say you only serve yourself, then you are just a slave to your own appetites, which will never be satisfied.
The other option is to serve God, who is satisfied with you in Christ. Then you are free of your old sinful appetites. You don’t have to chase money, women, status, food, or anything else. You are free from the power of sin which would destroy you, and free to serve God, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. If you want to be as free as possible, you must submit to the constraints God puts on you. The more you obey God, the more truly free you will be.
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