Christianity and Freedom
Of all the people in the world, what group enjoys the greatest amount of freedom? “Americans” might be the preferred answer, although some people in other places might disagree. Strangely, however, the answer has nothing to do with borders within which someone lives. Of all the people in the world, those who enjoy the greatest amount of freedom are Christians. In fact, Christians living under an atheistic dictator enjoy more freedom than a person without faith living right in America.
Of course, you recognize this matter comes down to the definition of freedom. From the point of view outside faith, Christians aren’t free at all. There is a verse in the Bible which says “The love of Christ constrains us…” (II Cor. 5:14) Christians often refer to doing “God’s will.” To some, that doesn’t sound much like freedom.
It wouldn’t sound much like freedom when other person’s definition is to live without constraints and to do as one pleases. It means being your own boss, making your own decisions without any outside restraint. Such an idea means choosing to go to school or not, to work or not or to live as undisciplined life as possible. As good as that may sound on paper, it doesn’t lead to much productivity or happiness. There really is no such thing as total freedom. Neither are most of those very free who seek that kind of freedom. The usual application of that philosophy of life is slavery to something else such as broken lives, failing health, various addictions and loss of job or worse.
The point of this article is not to point an accusing finger at those with whom we might not agree, but rather, to lift up a positive word about Christianity and personal freedom in Christ. It is a discussion I think we must have in a post-modern society and one in which Christianity is less of an influence than it once was. We must consider that freedom is not as simple a concept as it may sound at first in both the social as well as spiritual arena of life.
There are those who think Christianity is the enemy of freedom. For example, some think Christianity is culturally rigid and the religion of the white man. One writer has said of the faith, “It forces people from different cultures into a single mold. It is the enemy of pluralism. Actually that is not so.
Christianity has been highly adaptive wherever it goes. We don’t have to go far in our own state to see how faith is practiced in very different styles and structures which address a broad spectrum of cultures. In our own city we have churches under a number of language groups each having their own manner of worship and making disciples. Go to the large metropolitan areas of our land and you would be amazed at the number and variety of practices of the Christian faith. They may be different than our practices, but are genuinely Christian from their understanding of the Bible and faith.
Christianity did begin in a small part of the world but has spread and adapted to every culture and people group. Christianity thrives in Africa, South America and continues to grow in the Asian world as well as being a vital part of American history. In each of these places one finds uniqueness in expression of the faith and an ability to relate to a Savior in Jesus Christ. Why the ability to adapt anywhere? Christianity addresses the sense of sin and lostness present in people everywhere rather than simply trying to make churches all alike. It does not require its followers to wear certain garments or to have specified methods and times of prayer.
Cultural diversity was built into the New Testament. There wasn’t a more different people from the beginning than Gentiles and Jews. Christianity holds out the hope of one day being where there is no tongue, tribe, people or nation. (Is. 60 and Rev. 21) Christianity is not a western religion which destroys the cultures it touches. Instead, it lifts people out of poverty, stands against injustice, uplifts women and seeks to give hope to the hopeless.
In contrast to what some claim, Christianity is about freedom. It is about the freedom to become the person God created no longer under the burden of sin. It is the freedom to be and to do. To appreciate this freedom in Christ, one has to understand freedom is about choice, not lack of any restraint and not shifting into neutral. Freedom cannot be defined in negative terms or as the absence of confinement or direction.
For example, if someone wants to be a musician or an athlete, that person expects hours of training and practice. It is the exchange of the freedom to do nothing in order to engage in something you were free and wanted to do. Christians live their lives under Christ because it gives them the ability to fulfill a purpose.
It is much like falling in love. The very word implies a choice not to love anyone else or anything else in the same way. It is a commitment of time, energy, emotion, finances, etc. Someone said, “If you want to keep your heart intact, love no one.” But does that really work? Yes, it limits your freedom while at the same time allows you to be free to be yourself.
We love Christ and one another because we have been freed to do so. We understand that an athlete who plays football is free to do so within the boundaries of the field and not the parking lot. In the same way a fish is only free to breathe if it is in water. Otherwise, even though it is surrounded by oxygen in the air, it will die. The fish dies if we do not honor its purpose of life in creation. The Christian does not flourish except within the tenets of his or her faith which become the boundaries of life.
We submit because we want to be on His team, not because we are forced. Have you ever thought about how many athletes and mommas and daddies would give anything they had if their sons could play football at AL and AU? They would not complain or worry if their son’s freedom to do as he pleases was curtailed if he got a scholarship to play football at the highest level. It’s all relative to choices which add meaning to life.
Let me be honest, “It’s far easier for me to love God than to love myself or anything else.” I am free in Christ to be me. You also discover in life that loving is easy when you love a person. It doesn’t feel oppressive to give a present to someone you love.
That’s why for the Christian, it’s not hard to love Jesus. He has done so much for us. Freedom for Christians is not about the absence of limitations and structure to live, but finding the right ones that fit our nature and liberate us. So when the Bible says, “The love of Christ constrains us,” it simply means that you aren’t afraid of giving up personal freedom in order to find real freedom in Him.