Interestingly, the Bible shows two types of liberty: on the one hand, liberty from anything that enslaves us, and on the other, liberty to serve God. The latter type of liberty may seem counter intuitive, and that's where thinking a little more about the concept of liberty comes in.
Liberty from anything that enslaves us is easy enough to understand. That is the liberty to which the Children of Israel were called as they were brought out of Egypt. It is the liberty from sin that Jesus stressed as He began his ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because ... He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives...to set at liberty those who are oppressed" (Luke 4:18).
The apostle Paul speaks of this freedom: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1). Yet Paul and the other apostles constantly speak of themselves as the servants or slaves of God (Romans 1:1, James 1:1, Jude 1:1, etc.). Being a servant is clearly part of the calling of every Christian (Mark 9:45, 10:44), so how can the two be reconciled?
The truth is, beneath the political and social liberty we rightly praise and strive to protect, at the ultimate foundational level we are all individually servants of someone or something. We can only choose who or what. This is a basic biblical truth and is clearly seen in Paul’s statement: “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin...or to obedience...?” (Romans 6:16).
The person who insists that he or she is individually free and serves no one is, at the very least, the servant of his or her own desires, moods and decisions. In giving up individual liberty in submission to God, the Christian is really switching to a new way of life where desires, moods and decisions are brought into alignment with what God has revealed is best for us.
Paul summarized this situation as he continued in Romans 6: “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18). James agrees - pointing out that the law of God is the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25, 2:12); and Peter himself wrote “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16).
So, counter intuitive as it might seem, no matter how much we cherish and protect our wider liberty, we should remember that ultimately as individuals we all serve something. In choosing to serve God, we free ourselves not only from the penalty of sin, but also from the results of following our own nature. It is in doing this that we find ultimate liberty.
*This post was first published on this site July 3, 2014.