Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Freedom

I once asked my friend Michael Schwartz to define freedom. He had one ready. “Freedom is the power to do right.” And with his typical confidence he added, “You won't find a better definition than that.”

Asked how he came up with that, his explanation started with a couple questions. (1) Is God free? Yes. (2) Does God do anything but right? No. Therefore freedom is the power to do right. It sounded reasonable, and I also wanted something based more directly on Scripture.

In the same context as that great word, “Live as free men” (1 Peter 2:16) is the defining purpose of why God gives us governors under which we live: “to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (1 Peter 2:14). In other words, as long as there is no need to punish us for doing wrong, then we can live as free men. Freedom is indeed the power to do right.

I've heard libertarians argue that unless one is free to make the wrong choice—a wrong choice or an evil choice—then one is not really free. This may sound compelling until you dig a bit further and realize that they have very little basis for considering anything wrong or evil. Limiting that which is wrong or evil to “the absence of not only violence but threats of violence” may make for a working definition of peace or fake peace, but that makes for a very anemic definition of freedom. This denies all evil in the heart of man which is never physically acted upon.

No one filled with “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Galatians 5:19-21) is free, yet all of those things—including even fits of rage—could be done with “the absence of not only violence but threats of violence.”

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36).

Spiritually speaking, no one is born free, even if they were born in a free country, or a nation that has embraced and even formalized freedom. We're all born in sin and are thus slaves to sin. Only by trusting in Jesus are people set free from sin and truly set free.

Does that match up with our definition of freedom? Yes, because until we trust Jesus, “all our righteousness (the good things we do) are like filthy rags” to Jesus as long as we still have our sin (Isaiah 64:6). The good news of Jesus is that God “made Him who knew no sin (had no sin) to be sin for us so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Once we no longer have our sin and are free from our sin, we are no longer enslaved to sin, and we have all of God's righteousness and true power to do right.

Then, the whole point of doing right is not to earn salvation, but out of love because we already have our salvation.

Libertarianism is not without its place. In its simplest practical form of do no harm, I can even find place for that in the Bible: “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10).

The absence of not only violence but threats of violence is a good thing. It's just not a complete definition of what it means to be free.

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