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One of the significant challenges to humanity throughout time has been the question of freedom. In biblical times, freedom meant not being a slave. However, people became enslaved by several different methods. If one nation militarily conquered another, all of the surviving citizens of the conquered nation became slaves. Because slaves had no rights in the Roman system, the slave owner could do anything to them, including putting them to death.
Under Jewish law, when a Jew owed a debt, one way to pay it was to become a slave voluntarily. This was also a way to escape poverty. The law limited enslavement to six years, and upon release, the slave received enough assets to make a new start (Exodus 21:2–6 and Deuteronomy 15:12–18). There were elaborate rules about female slaves, but in any situation, a person gave up physical freedom when they entered servitude.
In the ancient Roman system, slaves could buy their freedom. This was a frequent way of getting out of servitude for a person seized in a Roman military operation. In Acts 22:24–29, Paul was about to be scourged, but when the Roman captain learned that Paul was born as a Roman citizen, he backed off the scourging. In the discussion between the captain and Paul, the captain said he had paid “a great sum to obtain my freedom,” and Paul replied that he was born free.
In America today, we have a major conflict between those who would restrict a person's freedom and those who want to be free to do as they wish. At issue in this battle is what a person can say and not say, what sexual rules they must follow, and what rights a person has and does not have. Women's rights to abortion conflict with the fact that the unborn child is a human. The use of specific pronouns has become another freedom issue.
There are no easy answers to these issues, and it reminds us of the story of an immigrant who had heard that America was the land of the free. He stepped off the boat that brought him to New York City, saw a man he did not like, and walked up and punched him in the nose. As a result, he was arrested and brought before a judge. “I thought America was the land of the free,” he said. The judge responded, “Yes, it is, but your freedom ends where the other man's nose begins.”
Christianity brought a new understanding to the issue of freedom. Jesus taught his followers to respect and obey the government, even the Roman government. He told his followers to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's.” The things that are God's are not the material things of this world (see Matthew 22:21). The apostles made it clear that Christians are not concerned about the things the world holds dear. Peter said, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or to governors … for this is the will of God that with well doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as servants of God. Honor all men, Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king …” (1 Peter 2:13–17). The Bible repeats this message over and over (see Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, and Romans 13:1–8).
The Christian biblical concept of freedom is spiritual freedom. In John 8:31–36, Jesus spells out what spiritual freedom means: “If you continue in my word then you are my disciples, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free … Whoever sins is the servant of sin.” Galatians 5:1 repeats this concept: “Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free and do not get entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Romans 6 elaborates on spiritual freedom from allowing sin to have dominion over us and summarizes in this way: “And now being made free from sin and having become servants to God you are set apart [have holiness] and have everlasting life, for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
This is not just meaningless theological rhetoric. A careful reading of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7 details what it means to have spiritual freedom. The concept of agapao is a love for all people, believing that every human being is a creation of God and has infinite value. That eliminates war, conflict, hypocrisy, religious division, materialism, selfishness, hate, racism, and ritualism. Galatians 5 tells us the importance of spiritual freedom (Galatians 5:1), and the results of being enslaved by sin compared to being spiritually free. Galatians 5:19–21 lists the effects of being enslaved to sin: “sexual vice, impurity, indecency, idolatry, sorcery, quarrels, a contentious temper, envy, fits of rage, selfish ambitions, dissensions, party intrigues, envy, drunkenness, carousing.” How much of the pain and suffering in the world today are rooted in people being enslaved by those things?
Galatians then lists the benefits of spiritual freedom: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, benevolence, meekness, temperance, tolerance, self-control.” Everyone can be free spiritually because God's Spirit makes it available to us. In Acts 2:38, when Peter talked about becoming a Christian, he spoke explicitly about the freedom it brings: “Each of you must turn from sin (repent) and be baptized for the remission (forgiveness) of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
If every person on the planet embraced this freedom, life on Earth would be free from war, prisons, and the conflicts tearing our world apart. Unfortunately, because evil is attractive, some will embrace it and sacrifice their spiritual freedom by selling themselves to spiritual slavery. This, in turn, brings physical slavery, and its collateral damage hurts us all. Jesus came to offer true freedom, and his message gives meaning and purpose to life. Eventually, spiritual freedom will win out, and Matthew 25:31–46 describes the final complete freedom given to those who choose to strive for it in life. In the words of Joshua, “Choose you this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). Understand that choosing spiritual enslavement is a choice with horrible consequences today and in eternity.
© W.Scott McGill. Image from BigStock.com
Cover: © W.Scott McGill. Image from big stock.com
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© red10. Image from BigStock.com
Scripture links/references are from BibleGateway.com. Unhighlighted scriptures can be looked up at their website.