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Freedom Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

Freedom is doing whatever you feel like doing, right? People who do whatever they feel like whenever they feel like it are the truly free ones, right? Actually, that’s the quickest way to bondage.

In fact, you’ll find the longer you live that you are owned by something.

As the Apostle Paul put it, “You are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness” (Romans 6:16).

In the context of sexual immorality—there was some freaky stuff going on in Corinth—Paul explained, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (I Corinthians 6:19b-20a). Translation: God owns you. “Therefore, honor God with your bodies” (I Corinthians 6:20b).

It’s sometimes tough to feel “free” as a Christian because sometimes we stumble upon passages in scripture we don’t like.

There are going to be scriptures we don’t agree with, that we don’t feel comfortable with. Well, the one who belongs to God says, “Okay. You’re the boss.” You see, if I come to a place where the Bible and I disagree, then I’m wrong. That’s how it works. I’ve got to change my mind, my feelings, my values, because I’m not in charge.

So, if I’m reading the Bible and something seems to go against what I feel like doing, that shouldn’t be a surprise. That should be a process of learning to leave my old owner to follow my new owner, not controlled by sin anymore.

Really, is it true freedom outside of God where we just do whatever we feel like doing? No, that’s just its own kind of bondage. And you’ll find that when you’re in bondage to sin, you can’t really help but do what that master says. But we have a new master, a good master, a generous master, a kind master who knows what’s good for us better than we know for ourselves.

I teach at a Christian college which has lots of rules. So when my students graduate, they find that they can now stay out till 1:05 a.m. The big joke is that, by the time you’re that old, why do want to stay out that late? There’s nothing going on. That’s the trick. Also, you can have pets once you move off campus. I remember there were a couple guys in a particular dorm. They got a pet rat and had it in the dorm. They came and told me, “Man, this is great. We got a rat.”

They gave him some hipster name like “Trevor.”

I was like, “Yeah. That’s fun. I actually had a pet rat when I was a kid. Here’s the deal. I’ll give you 24 hours to go tell your dorm dad and mom, and if you don’t tell them, I will.”

They’re like, “What, man? I thought you were cool.”

I’m like, “It’s not my job to be cool. It’s my job to help you change. So, if you need 23 hours and 59 minutes, that’s cool, but if not, I’m going to go tell the dorm parents and it’ll be an opportunity for you.”

I realize I’m starting to sound like my mom. I remember her saying all the time when I was a kid, “If you can’t learn to obey me, how are you going to be able to obey God when he asks you to do even tougher things?” If you can’t be home by a certain time and not have a rat, how are you going to be able to tune your heart and ear to the Lord when he tells you to do something which will inconvenience you? Belonging to God means letting God be in charge of both the big picture and the small stuff.

And it’s true that sometimes particular passages can get a little complicated. For example, I teach 1 Corinthians, and I have to come to a good explanation of why I don’t think it’s any problem that our women aren’t wearing head coverings. Sometimes it’s not as simple as “The Bible says it, so I do it.”

But sometimes it is that simple.

If it says, “Don’t slander,” I don’t slander. If it says, “Be patient,” I am patient. If it says, “Speak the truth,” I speak the truth. If it says, “Don’t steal,” I don’t steal. If it says, “Submit to the authorities that God has put over you,” then I submit to the authorities God has put over me.

Thankfully, we have the best teacher of all to teach us the lifestyle of faithful submission to God: Jesus himself.

The last night He was with his disciples, He very literally and tangibly took on the appearance of a servant. It was a very uncomfortable moment for some of them when He took off his outer garment, got down to His loin cloth, looking like a servant, getting down, washing his disciples’ feet. It was awkward. Of course, Peter is the one that speaks up, and he says, “No. This is wrong.” Jesus says, “No. This is not wrong. This is what it looks like to be a servant of God.”

And then we have Philippians 2:5-8:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

What right do I have to claim complete control in my life, if He who is God faithfully submitted Himself to God for our salvation?

Jesus very directly invites us to learn faithful submission from Him.

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Most scholars agree that the language of “rest for souls” is an allusion to a text in Jeremiah (Jer. 6:17), a book which uses yoke imagery more than any other book of the Bible. In Jeremiah, the yoke is used as an image of being under the slavery of a foreign dictator. The yoke envisioned was an iron yoke, a heavy yoke. It’s exhausting to wear.

Yokes often have two slots, for putting oxen together.

So, it’s interesting. When Jesus says, “Come to me and take my yoke,” He is saying, “I’ve already got it on. I’ve got a spot for you. Walk with Me. I’ll teach you. I’m gentle. I’ll be near you.” Don’t miss that this is putting oneself into subjection to God, but it’s good. It’s actually a true freedom. It’s freedom to live the way we were designed to live.

It’s freedom to become the kind of people we have deep down longed to be.
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