Summary: God offers freedom to those who admit their slavery.
The world defines freedom as the license to do whatever we want. God (on the other hand) says it is the ability to do whatever is right. Human freedom flows from obedience.
I can sit at that piano with “liberty” to pound each and every key; but I lack the freedom to make beautiful music. Obedience to music theory and the discipline of practice are necessary to free me to play the piano. True freedom is the power to create melody within the laws of music.
Many folk think of freedom like jumping off a tall building without a parachute. For a while, the adrenaline rush courses through our bodies. But the pavement races to confront us with a reality that cannot now be avoided: no one has the freedom to break the law of gravity. Creaturely freedom submits to the laws of the universe.
Students of American history know well of Patrick Henry’s 1775 speech urging military action against British troops. Henry ended with these stirring words: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” The crowd rose to their feet shouting: “To Arms! To Arms!”
General John Stark (New Hampshire’s most famous soldier of the American Revolutionary War) expressed a similar sentiment. He was invited to an anniversary reunion of the Battle of Bennington, but poor health made him decline. He sent his toast by letter: “Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.” In 1945, New Hampshire adopted, “Live Free or Die” as their official state motto.
The poem on the plaque in the base of the Statue of Liberty, The New Colossus, Emma Lazarus, 1883:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
The hope of freedom fills our history, thrills our souls, and unites us in a common cause in this uncommon country. But we are not the only people to long for freedom, nor the only ones to be defined by it. Israel, the people chosen by God, dated their calendar from the day of independence, the day in which they were delivered from slavery. And when Jehovah gives the law that sets them apart from all other nations, he begins the same way: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20.2). I believe it is accurate to say that freedom is a universal desire.
It is good news, therefore, that for freedom Christ has set his people free (cf. Galatians 5.1). But what is true freedom? How do we walk in it? How do hold to it so as not to slip into moral relativism or sinful rebellion?
Just before this teaching on freedom, Jesus sharply rebukes the Pharisees, the religious leadership. They were enslaved by what is called, “legalism,” placing their hope in their obedience to the law. Then, rather than fail, they lowered the standards and counted themselves righteous. Legalism always produces pride and self-exaltation. Jesus condemns it harshly.
But Jesus does not promote the opposite error (called “antinomianism”), which leads to licentiousness, living without standards. Antinomianism suspects the law of being our enemy and supposes that grace urges breaking of the law. But the law is not our enemy; it is perfect, good, and holy, therefore, it must be my friend. It exposes my true nature and drives me to my Lord as my hope. There I find that he kept the law both that we might love it and love his keeping it through and in us.
Our hearts ache for the freedom Jesus offers. Not the freedom to sin, but to live as God intends. In order that we might possess it, first notice…
1. We Find True Freedom in Submission to Jesus (John 8.31-32)
Jesus offers the incomparable blessing of freedom in his gospel.
John Calvin: “All feel and acknowledge that slavery is a most wretched thing. Since the Gospel delivers us from this, it follows that the treasure of the blessed life comes from the Gospel.”