Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8 31-32 NIV
Freedom is a word wistfully used as a solution to all kinds of unsatisfactory situations.
It starts at a young age. Children often want to be free to make their own choices. Teenagers often long to be free to go on holiday without their parents and then free to live away from their parents.
As we travel through life, we seek freedom of choice in many different areas; freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
No matter what stage of life we are at, or the time we live in, we frequently seek to be free from something, to be free of a perceived or real outer constraint.
Suppose we can free ourselves from any particular bondage but achieve nothing as a result, or even in a worse situation, we would probably wonder why we even bothered to change our ways.
It’s a bit like the goldfish in the image above, leaping from their safe fish bowl into the dangers of the deep sea.
Freedom is what we were made for. It is natural to strive for it. But authentic human freedom needs to be carefully managed, and we need to be clear about what we want to be freed from and freed to become.
For example, when we want to be free from being controlled and confined by other people’s agenda, it could be so that we can be free to develop as the person we want to be. But we need to know what the person we want to be looks like – for true freedom, that person needs to look like Jesus.
Old Testament Freedom Fighters
The Old Testament can teach us much about freedom, and there are multiple parallels between the life and mission of Moses and Jesus.
God was losing patience with his chosen people, the Israelites, as they continually failed to live the way he wanted them to and had allowed the Egyptian Pharaoh to hold them captive as slaves for 400 years; their lives were a long and hard struggle.
God chose Moses to be his intermediary between the Pharaoh and the Israelites, and they were eventually able to flee from the Pharaoh but then spent 40 years wandering around in the desert.
God revealed his presence to Moses in the desert and dwelt in a tabernacle that the Israelites had built, and they carried it before them as they sought the path to freedom in the promised land. After a long and hard journey, the Israelites finally arrived in Jerusalem.
During this time, Moses introduced a symbol of freedom, the Passover Supper of a sacrificed Lamb, to absorb God’s anger and frustration with the Israelite’s ways.
The tabernacle, Passover Supper and long struggle in the wilderness were all signs of what was to come in Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah.
Because Jesus was destined to lead the world to ultimate spiritual freedom through his death on the cross, he died once and for all for the world’s sins when he allowed himself to be sacrificed as the Passover Lamb.
Life today can still be like the merciless struggle the Israelites experienced. Still, the reading from John 8 above says, through Jesus, we can find true freedom because death (the ultimate constraint) has no hold on us any longer when we choose Him as our way.
What does this mean for us today?
No one can take our freedom away without our consent, but we give our power away when we do things we know we should not.
When we do what we know is morally wrong, we put our desires before what we instinctively know is the right thing to do. Some call it sex, drugs and rock and roll. Others say it is idolatry, addictive enslaving and destructive. Some call it to sin.
There are many ways to go down this path in today’s world. But this way dehumanises us and the lives of those we touch. When we live this way, we stop being God’s stewards and look after ourselves, regardless of what that does to anyone else. Then we miss out on the genuine human freedom God longs for us to live our lives.
To get the right balance, we need to be disciplined and free at the same time. Genuine freedom is being free for God and for one another and discovering along the way what particular purpose God made us for.
Jesus is the new tabernacle replacing the one the Israelites carried in the desert. He is the freedom-giving God dwelling in our midst to lead us out of slavery, as Moses led the Israelites out of slavery. His death and resurrection defeated the dark forces and led the way for a new life and authentic freedom.
Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the worldwide Church is constructed for the new tabernacle-following people freed for creativity, love for one another, and stewardship of God’s creation. But don’t make the mistake of thinking the Church is full of blissfully happy and free people. Because this is a lifetime work in process, and very few, this side of heaven, have perfected Jesus’ teachings.
Jesus, purpose and community combined form the map of the road to freedom. They pave the way for the freedom to be oneself, but in a structure within which we can do far more than just various people, all being simultaneously free in the same space. Such freedom can be destructive and selfish and of no good for anyone.
It’s not necessarily easy; like the Israelites, we can experience tremendous struggles. But through Jesus, the Passover Lamb, we can inch together, with gentle nudges from the Holy Spirit and strive for spiritual freedom by taking responsibility for ourselves, others, God’s world and worship.