IN THE IMAGE OF GOD
Freedom. If asked, many would suggest that it’s an endowed right bestowed upon every human being. It’s even in the United States Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” <https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript>. And it is also heralded as a right of every human worldwide, as described in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes “…the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family with its foundation being Freedom, Justice and Peace in the world” From <https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights>.
And this call for freedom has been a rallying cry throughout the generations. “Let my people go.” “Give me freedom or give me death.” But along the way, our definition of freedom has shifted. According to Webster’s dictionary of 1828, freedom was described as “A state of exemption from the power or control of another; liberty; exemption from slavery, servitude or confinement. Freedom is personal, civil, political, and religious” From <webster’s dictionary 1828 >. However, today’s meaning of freedom seems to have shifted. According to the updated Webster’s Dictionary, the definition has been expanded to include “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action; unrestricted use; and the quality of being frank, open, or outspoken” From <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/freedom>. Additionally, upon examination of Collins Dictionary (2022), Freedom is defined as “the state of being allowed to do what you want to do; exemption from arbitrary restrictions on a specified civil right; exemption or immunity from a specified obligation, discomfort, etc.; a being able of itself to choose or determine action freely; a being able to act, move, use, etc. without hindrance or restraint; a being free from the usual rules, patterns, etc.; and the power to exercise choice and make decisions without constraint from within or without; autonomy; self-determination” From <https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/freedom> .
So how should we, as Christians, define or understand the concept of freedom, and what should the Christian’s fight for freedom look like? When I sought a Biblical understanding of freedom, I saw three overarching meanings of freedom: 1) freedom from oppression and slavery, 2) freedom from sin, and 3) freedom from false and destructive mindsets.
Scripture: Galatians 5:13 – For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
There was a time when I was pretty clear on what my people’s fight for freedom was all about. We fought to end the institution of slavery. We fought for freedom from brutality, oppression, and the denial of our unalienable rights to pursue life, liberty and happiness. We fought against the burning of our homes and communities, the theft of our possessions and land, and we fought against lynching and violent brutality. We fought against the denial of civil, political, religious and personal rights. We fought to change laws, abolish laws, and adopt new laws. And we fought for restitution. We fought to just breathe and to catch up. And the role of the church and our reliance on and recognition of God as the One orchestrating our fight and as the source of our strength was evident.
Today, I’m not so sure. It seems that freedom no longer means the same things as described above, and the fight for freedom has shifted from a fight defined and led by God. So let’s go back to the source and re-examine the concept of freedom from God’s perspective.
One of the central themes of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is the quest for physical, mental and spiritual freedom. Let’s examine all three.
From their early beginnings as a people, the Children of Israel were taken into slavery by the Pharoah of Egypt because of his fear of and dread for them (Exodus 1:1-13). And although the first time, this wasn’t the only time the Children of Israel were taken into captivity. Because of their continued disobedience, the Children of Israel found themselves in an unending pattern of disobedience, captivity, oppression, repentance, and freedom (II Kings 17:7-22, 22:19-20; 23:25-28).
Despite the cause of their captivity, the Bible sheds light on God’s heart for His people who were physically enslaved and oppressed (Jeremiah 30:8, 34:8-22, Psalm 106:46, Ezekiel 34:27, Isaiah 9:4, Hosea 11:4). God witnessed the suffering of those held in captivity, and whether deserved or not, by His grace, he delivered His children from slavery (Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 7:8), II Kings 17:23-41, 21:10-15). God also spoke about how those in slavery or servitude should be treated (Exodus 20:9, 21:1-11, Deuteronomy 15:12-18, Leviticus 25:39-40).
“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:34-36).” Here, Jesus is speaking of a different kind of freedom than that of physical freedom. Jesus uses the analogy of slavery and freedom. He describes how our continual engagement in sin makes us slaves to sin. But Jesus doesn’t leave us hopeless. He shares the Good News that our faith in Jesus frees us from the death we deserve for sinning against God (John 8:31-32). Yet, we live in a fallen world and are fleshly beings, so we will constantly battle sin (I John 1:9, 2:1, Romans 7:21-22). But as Christians, we don’t have to become slaves to it (I John 2:1-6, Romans 6:2). Through the power of Christ, we are set free from the bondage of
every thought, action, or attitude falls short of God’s holiness (Romans 3:23, 8:21).
When we choose to live for Christ, we obtain the power, through the Holy Spirit, to live triumphantly over sin (I Corinthians 15:56–67; Romans 8:37) because as God’s image-bearers, we receive a new nature (John 3:3, I Corinthians 5:17). To be free from sin means sin no longer wields its power over our lives. The strongholds of hatred, selfishness, greed, pride, and lust have been broken (Ephesians 6:10-18). We gain freedom from sin and then willingly become slaves of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:18, Philippians 2:13).
in her book, One in a Million, Priscilla Shirer, motivational speaker, author and actress, shared a story about her children’s elephant encounter at the circus. Her boys were fascinated by the animals, but mainly by the elephants. They were amazed by their size and strength yet surprised about their seemingly docile behavior. They asked the question, “Why don’t they run away? There’s no fence, and they aren’t chained or kept in cages? Why do they stay?” And what she learned was that the elephants had been conditioned to stay. She discovered that as soon as the elephants were born, they were shackled around the ankle and tethered to a pole by a chain. The chain only allowed them to go so far, and when they attempted to go further, they were yanked back into place. After many attempts, the elephants give up trying, thus learning to stay in “their place.” By the time the chains are removed, they have been conditioned to stay within their boundaries. Even though they were free, they continued to react as though they were shackled.
The Matrix is a movie that depicts a futuristic world in which humanity is unknowingly trapped inside the Matrix, a simulated reality created by intelligent machines to distract humans. At the same time, they use their bodies as an energy source. And like the circus elephants, those trapped inside the Matrix were captives, yet they were blind to their state of imprisonment. On the surface, they appeared free, and as long as they didn’t resist their bondage, they were “safe.” But it’s in this state of mental captivity where you have the appearance of one who is free, but you actually aren’t. And this type of “blind imprisonment” is perhaps more terrifying than physical bondage because it is one of the most effective ways to keep us captive.
The Children of Israel experienced a similar type of “mental captivity.” When Moses first shared the promise that God would deliver them from slavery in Egypt and give them the Promised Land, they were too discouraged to believe Him (Exodus 6:6-9). They had become accustomed to their identity and life as slaves, and at the first sign of trouble, although free, they wanted to go back (Exodus 16:3, Numbers 14:4). Instead of living as ones who were free, they wanted to remain settled in slavery, remaining as victims rather than living as victors, as free.
With all of our supposed freedom − freedom to go where we want, eat what we want, shop where we want − we can still be imprisoned by thoughts that hold us captive to fear, numbness, busyness, sadness, worry, guilt, condemnation, anger, and pain (Ephesians 4:18). When our thoughts dwell on the lies of satan or continually entertain evil, strongholds develop and hold us captive. Our habits, beliefs, traditions, and perceptions can trap us in a prison of the enemy (I John 4:1, I Peter 5:8, John 8:48, 2 Corinthians 4:4).
On one of my trips to Rwanda, Africa, I had the pleasure of going on a Safari. And like Priscilla Shirer’s sons, I was enamored by the elephants. But these elephants, unlike the elephants they encountered at the circus, these elephants commanded respect and made it clear that they were the kings of the land they roamed. They freely explored the vast lands upon which they occupied. And they did not hesitate to warn us when they felt we were getting too close, assuming a protective stance when they felt threatened, and charge when we apparently hadn’t gotten the message to move on (I didn’t know that elephants could run so fast. Praise God our jeep went slightly faster).
It may surprise you to know that both elephants, the ones at the circus and the ones in Rwanda, existed within boundaries. The difference, however, is that the “boundaries” established for the circus elephants served to oppress them, whereas the boundaries established for the Rwandan elephants protected them. Despite the illusion of “freedom,” the elephants in the safari still had boundaries. Bobbed wire placed around the perimeter of the reserves served to keep them from venturing into towns and villages. Security guards were strategically posted to ensure that the elephants were safe from poachers. Tourists had to be escorted by a guide in a Jeep and could only be in designated areas to not disturb the ecosystem.
This is the true freedom God promises us when we give our lives to Christ and choose to follow Him. Jesus has always been God’s answer to our cry for freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17, John 8:32). In Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin or satan’s erroneous, destructive mindsets (Romans 6:1-7). In Christ, we are free indeed (Romans 8:15).
So as Christians, what should our fight for freedom look like? We must first recognize that gaining freedom will be a battle. As demonstrated in the movie The Matrix, those who awaken to their captivity will threaten the balance of the matrix. Any attempt to escape signals a breach in the order and exposes the deception and The Matrix does not react well to threats to its existence. We have a similar enemy in satan. But the good news is that God has provided us an escape plan (I Corinthians 10:13). Our fight for freedom should begin with a personal commitment to walk within the confines of the freedom that only Christ can give (2 Corinthians 3:17). A commitment to stand firm, not allowing ourselves to be burdened by a yoke of slavery to sin or despair (Galatians 5:1).
Our freedom must depend solely on Christ, rather than “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world (Colossians 2:8).” Every day, we must “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we must take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).” We are to “live as free people, not using our freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God (I Peter 2:16).” The Word of God is plain – Jesus said, “If you abide in My Word…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (Joh 8:31-32).” Praise God it doesn’t say my truth or your truth. Praise God that freedom isn’t based on my experiences or your beliefs or their truths. No, my friend, freedom is found in God’s Word, in God’s truth alone! So to live in freedom, there are times when we will need to let go of sin or let go of the story that satan has written for us and then cling to Jesus!
And as we’re living in the freedom of Christ, we must seek to “liberate” others who are living in the bondage of sin and “hollow and deceptive philosophy.” We need to be the voice that offers hope, speaks truth, and points others to Christ (2 Timothy 4:2). Our rhetoric shouldn’t sound like the world’s (James 4:4). Being able to do what you want without limits or standards is not freedom; it’s chaos and confusion. Our fight for freedom should point others to Jesus, “Who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry and Who sets the prisoners free (Psalm 146:7, Luke 4:18).” It’s only through Christ that we find light within the dark and scary pits of the mind. Only through Jesus do we find an escape from the sin that has us shackled (John 8:36). Know Freedom. Know Peace (Isaiah 26:3, 48:18).
- How does Galatians 5:13 speak to you?
- Compare the “world’s” definition or understanding of the concept of freedom to the Biblical understanding.
- How does your understanding of freedom align with or differ from the Biblical meaning?
- What are your thoughts about our fight for freedom as described above?
- How might your “fight for freedom” be impacted by the information shared?
- What are your personal LIFE Lessons?
- Liberation: What new insights have you gained that have freed you from past thoughts and practices?
- Inspiration: In what ways have you been spiritually, emotionally and mentally motivated to live for Christ?
- Fortification: What additional scriptural texts, passages or stories can reinforce and strengthen you against the attacks of the enemy?
- Edification: How might you share your story to edify others and bring glory to God?
As you process, digest, and apply what’s been shared, here are a couple of songs from “My Black Life” Playlist. Listen and let the music infiltrate your soul. Read the lyrics and let the words encourage you. And I pray that you’ll be blessed as I was.
- Shackles by Mary Mary – Mary Mary – Shackles (Praise You) (Video)
- I Am Free by Tasha Cobbs Leonard – Tasha Cobbs Leonard – I’m Free (Live At Passion City Church)
- Free Indeed by Timothy Reddick – Free Indeed by Timothy Reddick