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Clarity about Freedom

Staff Member
The famed historian William Lecky once commented that Jesus’ three short years of ministry did “more to regenerate and to soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers, and all the exhortations of moralists.”[1] Arguably, Jesus is history’s most influential person, and He expressly binds freedom to the limits of truth: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

Jesus’ wording expresses something that we must not miss. He puts knowing the truth first. Then the truth will set us free. Freedom to pursue the truth comes only when we recognize that there is an objective truth out there for us to freely pursue. According to Jesus, truth and freedom are always linked. Any attempt to separate them diminishes our ability to enjoy either of them. Enjoying truth and freedom requires three important steps.

First, we must recognize that there are objective truths which do not depend on the opinions or preferences we so highly exalt today. Second, we must recognize that freedom is a two-dimensional concept. Os Guinness really makes this point in his book A Free People’s Suicide. On the one hand, we should have freedom from interference, constraint, and the like. On the other hand, we should have freedom for acting in the interests of the highest ideals. These two aspects of freedom go hand in hand. We need freedom from unnecessary restraints and interference so that we can exercise freedom for acting in the interests of noble pursuits. In other words, positive freedom is the ability to do not just what we want, but what we should. That’s why Jesus binds truth and freedom together. The Culture of Confusion only understands or wants freedom from, a mistake the church cannot afford to duplicate. Such a shallow view of freedom doesn’t inspire us to serve one another or act in each other’s best interests (Gal. 5:13–15).

Third, we must look to God. A clear understanding of freedom allows us to act with the sacredness of other human beings in mind. Now, we can only be sacred beings if our value comes from God, the source who transcends human opinion. As Guinness says, the only restraint that does not contradict freedom is self-restraint, which for many of us is difficult.

That’s why we have to depend on God. “But the fruit of the Spirit is . . . self-control. . . . Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22–25). Not only is God the unchanging source of freedom, but His Spirit is the font of grace from which we can draw the freedom-preserving wisdom and self-restraint that are needed in order for positive and negative freedom to work together, for the good of all.

  • Jesus makes the astonishing statement that if He sets us free, then we will be free indeed (John 8:36). In other words, rather than claim to have the truth that sets us free, Jesus claims to be the truth that sets us free. How have you experienced this in your own life?
  • What is your personal view of freedom? Does it incorporate freedom for the greater good as well as freedom from restraint?
  • If nature is blind, pitiless, and indifferent, as atheist Richard Dawkins claims, then how is the right to liberty not simply an illusion?
  • How does the Culture of Confusion undermine even secular humanist values like free inquiry, free expression, and freedom of the press?
  • What is it about the Resurrection that makes Jesus trustworthy and authenticates His claim to be the truth that sets us free?

  • Bible Passages
  • John 8:32–36
  • Galatians 5:13–15, 22–26
  • Matthew 15:19
  • John 2:18–19
[1] William E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals: From Augustus to Charlemagne, vol. 2, 3rd ed. (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1921), 8–9.

Devotional by Abdu Murray

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