Celebrating Independence Day earlier this week has me reflecting on freedom.
If I asked what comes to mind with the word “freedom,” an easy response might be “the ability to do whatever you want.” But it only takes a few seconds to realize that freedom is more nuanced. As a child, I thought grown-ups had ultimate freedom; now having adult responsibilities, I know better. July 4, 1776 heralded independence from the crown, but the first Congress acted quickly to establish a new government. Real freedom is not anarchy; real freedom is the ability to choose what, or who, we submit our lives to.
In Romans 6, the apostle Paul describes the human experience as one of slavery. He writes that every human being serves a master, and that our only freedom is choosing the master we will serve. Human beings are fundamentally wired to orient our lives to something greater than ourselves, and whatever that is will get the best of our time, our energy and our attention. We are made to bow before something; our knees bend to kneel. No one is truly free; what we long for is the freedom to choose what we give ourselves to.
Try on Paul’s lens and gaze at the world. When a desire for power is master, what behaviors manifest? When the drive for wealth is all-consuming, how does one act? When there is an obsessive need for approval, how far will someone compromise?
Paul encourages Christians to reflect upon and become conscious of that which consumes our time, our energy, and attention, because those are indicators of what we are serving. Giving ourselves to any form of sin is a cruel master that will eventually destroy us and all we hold dear.
Because of Christ, we are free to choose another master. God is the only master humans are meant to serve.
When we bow to our Creator, we become more aware of each person being created in the image of God, and honor individual integrity.
When we bow to our Redeemer, we increase our sensitivity to the sins that can so easily separate us from one another, and confess our vulnerabilities.
When we bow to our Sustainer, we grow our patience for the slow work of grace, and practice real love.
Turning and orienting our lives wholly to God is the only path to true freedom. Freedom to be fully human as God created us to be. Serving God is both sacrificial and life-giving. The work of becoming holy will cost us everything, and yet give life in ways we never dreamed possible.
Soren Kierkegaard once wrote that “anxiety is the vertigo of freedom.” Whatever it is that we are anxious about: that keeps us awake at night and preoccupies our thoughts in the day, it might very well be the Spirit of God nudging us to real freedom, so we can better serve a better Master.