Reflections on Freedom
I don’t know about you, but this year the celebration of July 4th, Independence Day, the birthday of our country, seemed a little bit surreal. It seemed everywhere I turned there was a news article or soundbite that was critical of our country, our history, our founding fathers, and even our flag. There were bitter debates and even violent protests over the meaning of the day, and the concept of freedom.
During these discussions there was often reference to two different words, which are regularly used synonymously, freedom and liberty. But are they truly synonymous? In an article from the website of Jeffersonian Perspectives we are given this insight; “One should distinguish between the terms "freedom" and "liberty." Speaking generally, Freedom usually means to be free from something, whereas Liberty usually means to be free to do something, although both refer to the quality or state of being free. Jefferson's use of the terms almost always reflected those meanings.” (found at: http://eyler.freeservers.com/JeffPers/jefpco26.htm).
Did you catch that distinction – freedom is free from something, liberty is freedom to do something. These ideas and concepts have their root in the very teachings of the Bible. Jesus speaks of it when he says to His disciples, if the Son has set you free, you are free indeed (John 8:36). But what was he speaking of being free from? The Old Testament accounts of Adam and Eve share with us the basic concept of freedom and liberty. In their freedom they chose to exercise their liberty to disobey God and eat from the forbidden fruit. This willful exercise of their liberty resulted in all of creation being placed in the bondage of Sin, which is willful disobedience of God. The often overlooked perspective of both freedom and liberty is that the exercise of both results in consequences. We are free to exercise our free will, but we are not exempt from the consequences of the choice that we make. Even in the forgiveness of our sin, God does not always remove the consequence of our action. You see freedom is not without limitations or boundaries. The freedom that Jesus spoke of was the freedom from the bondage to sin which resulted in the liberty to act in ways that were not in disobedience to God.
Laws and regulations are meant to assure that we are free to enjoy our liberty without limiting the freedom of another to exercise theirs. This is why our current world situation is so complicated and divisive. We all want our freedom and liberty, without allowing those around us, or those we disagree with, to enjoy theirs.
When explaining the result of the freedom Jesus was offering, the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, shares some very pointed and appropriate instruction for our world today.
13 It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. 14 For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom. Galatians 5:13-14 (MSG)