Yesterday I posted a quote from Gordon Fee which examined Paul’s use of the word “liberty” in 2 Corinthians 3:17. I included this thought:
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.
Today I want to highlight how counter-cultural this really is, how counter-intuitive it is (it’s not what we would ever think if we just went with our own innate ideas) and also, how clear it is in the Bible.
For instance, listen to how Peter addresses the issue, writing to believers about false teachers and the followers of those false teachers:
“Speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” (2 Peter 2:18-20)
Notice the way he uses our key words here. “Sensual passions” are simply “things you really want to do because of your desires.” These teachers promise people freedom to live out those desires–God is totally cool with you doing what you want! In fact, that’s what he’s all about! Just figure out what your heart wants, and go do it! That’s God’s freedom! (And what could be more American than the ability to do whatever you desire?) The teachers themselves lead the way–they are actively living out whatever they desire. But Peter says they’re not free for doing this, they’re slaves. These inner desires aren’t good, or even neutral, they’re corruption–they represent the breakdown and destruction of what is healthy and good, the rotting away of life. They’re not actually walking in liberty, they’re entangled, and overcome–they’re caught in a net and defeated. What these teachers promised as victory, liberty and life is actually defeat, slavery and death. So Peter is clear: what people think is freedom is actually slavery.
Paul taught the same thing. Here’s what he wrote to Titus about his past life: “We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). Notice, Paul says that before we found freedom in knowing Christ, we served (that is, slaved for) our passions and pleasures (exactly what most people think they should obey). Or take what he wrote in Romans 6. There he tells Christians not to allow sinful desires to “reign” in their bodies. Again–to live out your sinful passions is to be ruled by them, not to be free. He asks the Romans Christians, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” Then he says “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:12-18)
Of course, this all comes from Jesus himself, who said to a crowd of people that: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
And they answered: “We’ve never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
And his paradigm-shattering response was: “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:31-36)
If what my heart desires to do is something the bible tells me is evil, and I go ahead and do it, Jesus says I am not free. I am a slave of sin.
And his whole aim is to set men and women free from that slavery.
Really, doesn’t this bear some serious reflection?