Freedom – it is a beautiful word. I recall as a child being awestruck by the thought. To be free was something I loved both as concept and in those few moments of childish reality. My child-self heard the concept of freedom as being relieved of the gaze and guidance of all these adults who were constantly telling me what to do. Teachers, parents, grandparents, neighbors, clergy, acolyte masters, etc. all had specific ideas of what I was supposed to be doing, when and how… To be free, I told myself, was to be able to do what I wanted to do.
I suspect that many adults still have that sort of concept of freedom. It involves for them a highly personal sense of autonomy and lack of any authority over them making demands or having expectations of them.
In the Epistles St Paul speaks of freedom “For freedom Christ has made us free.” But Paul’s sense of freedom seems different. So is there a Christian freedom that is different from secular freedom? I believe there is.
For Paul the difference seems to be the source of freedom. It is being in Christ that sets us free no matter what our external circumstances. For Paul we can be free even when imprisoned and our every move and moment is controlled. Freedom is not individual. We are free by becoming part of a connected community bound together by our unity in Christ. What that freedom entails is the ability to be completely and totally who we are and who we are meant to be. It is the freedom to choose how we will respond to the circumstances and vicissitudes of life. We cannot chose what happens to us but we can totally control how we choose to respond to it and how we let it affect us. We are not completely out from under expectations and authority for we give our lives over to be influenced by Jesus’ teachings and example.
On the Fourth of July in our celebration of Freedom here in the United States we celebrate getting out from under the control of England and the English King. In doing that we took upon ourselves the responsibility of governing this nation in ways that are democratic, moral and life-giving. And “We the people” do not agree on what it is that is democratic, moral and life-giving. So we have political tensions that ebb and flow as different individuals and parties are in power each promoting their secular and political vision and version of freedom. We need to distinguish that FROM which we are free and that FOR which we are free.
Christian Freedom is formed around the values and expectation of Jesus as recorded by the early church in the Gospels and Letters. We do not get to choose these values for Jesus. Jesus shows us those values in his teaching, life, and death. Jesus life was sacrificial, God-centered and other-friendly. He advocated for the poor and dispossessed. He advocated giving to the poor and needy, the outcast and sinner. He taught us to pray that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven. Our freedom is to choose to act in those ways, and to do those things that bring that vision closer to reality.
To just do what we want, when we want, and to whom we want is not really freedom it is being bound to our ego which says “I am the center of this world”. Christians find that service to God and to neighbor is the route to true and lasting, life-giving and life-affirming freedom. May you be truly free enjoying the freedom to become who God created you to be.