Here’s a verse that’s probably on a lot of people’s “top-verse” list:
“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
It’s 2 Corinthians 3:17. Other translations say, “there is freedom,” but the idea is the same. The whole passage is great. And yet, Gordon Fee, in his excellent book God’s Empowering Presence, points out how important it is that we like this verse for the right reasons. (You might want to have a bible open in front of you for this one.) Fee observes:
The meaning of “freedom” here has been much debated and, at the popular level, much abused. In context, it refers primarily to the freedom from “the veil” as that has been interpreted in v.15, as lying yet over the hearts of those in the synagogue at the hearing of the old covenant. Precisely because they do not have the Spirit, they cannot behold God’s glory that shines in Christ (vs. 18). In this argument [earlier in chapter 3] that further involves freedom from the covenant of letter that leads to condemnation and death.
After all, this is what the analogy of the veil is all about. All other kinds of freedom, which evolve from this first kind, are at best ancillary [that is, supporting the main freedom] (for example, freedom from sin), at worst distortions (e.g., freedom from ritualism), at least as far as the text is concerned.
To put all of this in another way, the emphasis in context is less on “freedom from” and more on “freedom for.”
What the Spirit has done for us in appropriating the work of Christ to our lives (“removing the veil”) is to give us freedom, boldness if you will, to enter into God’s presence and behold his glory “with uncovered faces”; freedom to be transformed into his likeness from one degree of glory yet another. This is the glorious freedom of the children of God, made available through the Spirit, which will be explicated in the final sentence that wraps it all up. (pp. 313-314)
Of course, this also means that when the Spirit inspired Paul to write, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” he didn’t mean what we Americans mean when we say freedom, which would best be described as “everyone doing whatever is right in their own eyes.” That, the bible says, is actually a kind of slavery–slavery to your own passions and desires, which will end up costing you the biggest, most glorious experiences you could have. No, God’s definition of freedom has to do with huge, eternal truths–not what you feel like doing right now, but what you were made to enjoy, forever.
And you and I were made to enjoy the friendship of God, forever. We were made to behold his glory, and walk in his presence, knowing him and loving him, while we do his will on the earth, forever. That’s what truly makes a human heart feel free. And that’s what truly makes us alive.