What Does It Mean to Be Free?

There are a lot of conversations in our world today dealing with the issue of freedom. But instead of getting distracted by issues of rights and people’s ideas of how freedom should be exercised in various places, let’s look at freedom from a Biblical perspective.

This past weekend Pastor Dave talked about what it means to be ‘in Christ.’ About how we are made righteous and are free from the power, the presence, and the penalty of sin because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. If you missed it, you need to go back and listen to it (there’s even a great illustration to help us understand this). I for one will never look at a doughnut the same way again.

Jesus says in John 8:36 that, “He who the son sets free is free indeed.”  The Apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 5:1 that, “It is for freedom that we have been set free.”

If you’ve been to church before you’re more than likely to have heard these verses. But what do they mean? Why do they matter? How do they apply to our lives as followers of Jesus?

May I suggest that a biblical understanding of freedom has two main aspects: being free and living free.

Being free

In the book of Exodus, we read the story about how God’s chosen people were living as slaves in Egypt. They didn’t choose to be slaves, but through a series of events they ended up being born slaves in a foreign land. If you remember the story, God used Moses to miraculously deliver His people out of Egypt. They even walked through a sea on dry ground as their captors chased them. Eventually God’s people crossed the sea while their enemies drowned behind them. If you’ve never read this story before, you really should go check out Exodus chapters 1 through 15. Or if you have kids, rent the Prince of Egypt, and watch it together. It’s an amazing story and to this day the Jewish people celebrate this event every year at Passover. They continually remember how their God delivered them out of slavery.

An interesting development in this story, however, is that even though God’s people were no longer in Egypt living as slaves, they still thought and talked like they were. You see they had never known what it was like to live as a free people. Many preachers put it like this, “They had been delivered out of Egypt, but Egypt was still inside of them.”

My in-laws have a dog named Tippy that reminds me of this point. When Tippy is outside, she’s always on a 50-foot leash. The property is over 5 acres and most of the time Tippy the dog stares longingly at the unreachable land before her. For her there are so many squirrels to chase, so many holes to dig, and so many neighbouring properties to explore. Yet there remains that menacing leash around her neck. The funny part is, sometimes the end of the leash isn’t even attached to anything, but since she feels the one end attached to the collar on her neck she believes she’s still restricted to her 50 foot radius. She is fully able to enjoy terrorizing squirrels and cats, but she isn’t enjoying the freedom that is available to her. She believes she’s in captivity, even though in reality, she’s free.

Living free

Pastor Dave said this past week, “Jesus paid your sin debt, and because of this we are positioned ‘in Christ’ and set free from the power of sin.” When we accept this, we are free. But our part is to choose to live out the freedom that Christ has freely given to us.

You see, in Exodus, God’s people had been set free outwardly, but like Tippy, inwardly they still had a captive mindset. In the desert they didn’t have food and water regularly supplied for them to the consistency and predictability they had in slavery. Encountering these hardships caused them to look back longingly at their former lives as slaves. God did supply their needs in the desert, but not in the way that they were expecting. Food miraculously showed up on the ground each morning, and water miraculously flowed out of rocks.

This same captive mindset can also happen for us today. Even though we’ve been set free by Christ, when things get tough in our lives, like they did for God’s people, we can tend to return to the coping mechanisms and habits that we used to use before. It’s easy to remember the relief and the temporary distraction that those things brought us, while forgetting the pain of captivity that went with them. For example, we know we should cast all our cares and anxieties on God, (1 Peter 5:7) yet it’s must easier to nurture the worries that we have and catastrophize the future. Or we know that we should trust God, but it’s easier to entertain and trust our doubts.

Let’s go back to the verse I mentioned earlier in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that we have been set free.” Before Jesus, we were slaves to sin, but Jesus has opened the prison door! It’s our responsibility to walk through it and enjoy the freedom that He has given us. It would be ridiculous to continue to sit in a prison cell while just looking through an open door of freedom.  

There are so many things on the other side of that door that God would like us to do that we don’t have time to be looking back at the past or being distracted by shame, regret, or worry. God wants us to live free so that we can bring hope and healing to the world that He so loves.

Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Having a captive mindset will stop us from doing the good things that God wants and created for us to do. Our goal and our mission is to see His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven, through us.

If we know who we are, and if we know the power of what we have in Christ, (going back to Pastor Dave’s message) then our approach to life should be completely different. Instead of returning to an unhealthy coping mechanism in difficult times, we need to go to our heavenly Father in prayer. We need to trade fear for faith and doubt for trust knowing that our God sees us and cares for us in every circumstance (Matthew 6:25-34). We need to remember that we are also set free from the guilt of our pasts. There is no shame, there is no condemnation as children of God (Romans 8).

The second half of Galatians 5:1 says, “Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.” We are free, Jesus said we were free indeed. Let’s walk through that door and enjoy the freedom He has given us as we bring His light and love to those around us.