The gospel may well be shared with modern men and women in terms of freedom. For, as John Stott points out,
1. Freedom is extremely appealing. The revolt against authority, dating from 1960s, is seen is synonymous with the quest for freedom, in is national, civil, economic or personal aspects.
2. Freedom is a great Christian concept. Jesus is the great liberator, Lk 4:18f (quoting Isa 61:1f). See also Jn 8:36; Gal 5:1. If the word ‘salvation’ sound like religious jargon, then ‘freedom’ is an excellent substitute.
3. Freedom is much misunderstood. Even those who talk much about it have often not paused to define what they are talking about.
The negative: freedom from
1. Freedom from guilt. Freud taught that guilt feelings are pathological, symptoms of mental sickness. Some are, but not all, as many psychologists and psychotherapists are now recognising. According to Mark Twain, “Man is the only animal that blushes – or needs to.”
No-one is free who is unforgiven. Guilt makes us want to run away and hide. ‘It was in Eden, not at Watergate, that the device called “cover-up” was first invented.’ But there is forgiveness with God, Psa 130:4. Jesus has died that we might be forgiven.
2. Freedom from self. Sin is primarily self-centredness, for in self-love both of the great commandments (to love God supremely and others next) are broken. We have a rich vocabulary of perjorative words compounded with “self” – self-applause, slef-absorption, self-assertion, self-advertisement, self-indulgence, self-gratification, self-pity, self-importance, self-interest, self-will.
Our self-centredness is a tyranny, “a dark little dungeon” (Muggeridge). But the crucified and risen Jesus can liberate us. We can know ‘the power of his resurrection’, Phil 3:10. A previously closed personality can begin to unfold to Christ, like a flower openning before the rising sun.
3. Freedom from fear. The lives of modern men and women are overshadowed by fear – of sickness, bereavement, old age and death, together with the fear of the unknown, the occult and of extinction. Traditional religions are still haunted by fear of malevolent spirits, whereas the more sophisticated harbour their own irrational fears and superstitions. According to a recent poll, twice as many adults read their horoscope each week as their Bible.
All fear brings paralysis; nobody who is afraid is free. Moreover, fear grows in the dark: if we bring it out into the light of Jesus’ victory and supremacy, we find that he has authority over all things, Eph 1:22, including all those things we have been afraid of.
The positive: freedom for
‘True freedom is freedom to be our true selves, as God made us and meant us to be.’
God himself enjoys perfect freedom, even though even his freedom is not absolute, for he cannot lie, Heb 6:18; tempt or be tempted, Jam 1:13; or tolerate evil, Hab 1:13. Nevertheless, his freedom is perfect, in the sense that he is free to do anything that he wills to do; he is free to be himself. ‘There is nothing arbitrary, moody, capricious or unpredictable about him. He is constant, steadfast, unchanging. In fact the chief thing Scripture says he “cannot” do (cannot because he wil not) is to contradict himself. “He cannot deny himself”, 2 Tim 2:13 RSV. To do so would not be freedom, but self-destruction.’
How, much more then, is our freedom not absolute, but a freedom to be ourselves. And that freedom is limited by the nature God has given to us. Fish do not gain, but lose, if they jump out of the confines of their fish-tank onto the floor. Fish were made for water, and to leave that environment does not mean freedom at all, but death. Similarly, humans find their true freedom within their own natural environment of loving and being loved. Take the two great commandments again. “Not when I breathe, but when I love, I live.” (Robert Southwell, C16 Roman Catholic poet). But true love places constraints on the love, for love is self-giving. Here is a startling Christian paradox: true freedom is freedom to be myself, as God meant me to be; and God made me for self-giving love. ‘Therefore, in order to be myself, I have to deny myself and give myself. In order to be free, I have to serve. In order to life, I have to die to my own self-centredness. In order to find myself, I have to lose myself in loving.’
‘True freedom is, then, the exact opposite of what many people think. It is not freedom from all responsibility to God and others, in order to live for myself. That is bondage to self-centredness. Instead, true freedom is freedom from my silly little self, in order to live responsibly in love for God and others.’ Se Mk 8:35.
Adapted from Stott, The Contemporary Christian, 46-56.