‘I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom’, declared French writer Simone de Beauvoir. But what kind of freedom do people want? To find out where our dreams of freedom lie, I did a survey among my friends. Gallup it wasn’t, but the results were interesting!
I asked a single question: Which of the following things would you most like to be free from:
A mundane life?
The answers were revealing. Just about everyone opted for material freedoms – listing money worries, health worries and a mundane life. No one, it seemed, fancied freedom from fear, uncertainty or death!
Or rather, in passing these options by, they avoided admitting that these are what threaten us most.
We all strive for freedom in one way or another and, if we are lucky, we may succeed in some measure. We may do well in business or win the lottery. We may avoid serious illnesses. We may be spared traumatic grief and loss.
We may even construct our own freedom – simply by our state of mind and attitude to circumstances. Didn’t Voltaire say, ‘Man is free at the moment he wishes to be’?
Yet one thing is certain – no one can forge freedom from death, the one inescapable event to which we are all slaves. Wendy Cope’s poem Leavingsums up the universal human experience:
Next summer? The summer after?
With luck we’ve a few more years
Of sunshine and drinking and laughter
And airports and goodbyes and tears.
Death is waiting in the wings. It may delay its entrance but only for ‘a few more years’.
We can respond in various ways. The foolish man, supposing there is nothing after death, protests that we can only enjoy our lives as best we can until the inevitable end. ‘We’re no different from a butterfly or an oak tree!’ he cries. ‘One lives for days, the other for centuries. But everything must die eventually’.
The wise man, however, will wonder whywe are slaves to death. He will discover that it hasn’t always been this way – that there was once no death.
According to the Bible, the first human beings Adam and Eve were created by God to be immortal. They knew nothing of pain, suffering or death. Nor did they need freedom from want, toil or boredom – they enjoyed it in abundance.
Formed ‘in the image of God’ (Genesis 1:27), they knew God’s constant presence and enjoyed perfect communion with him. They did not have to work for their food and could have anything they wanted – on one condition. ‘Of every tree in the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’ (Genesis 2:17).
But they disobeyed God and forfeited their privileged state. For the first time they experienced guilt and ‘hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God’ (Genesis 3:8). They were told (Genesis 3: 17-19):
Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life …
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.
Just a myth? No; it rings all too true! ‘Sin entered the world, and death through sin’ (Romans 5:12).
Collecting our wages
The Bible makes it very clear: ‘The wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23). We are not free from death because we are not free from sin. And every other enslavement (money worries, health worries – the whole list) stems from this.
The foolish man has an objection. ‘I am not a slave to sin’, he protests; ‘I’ve never done anything really bad at all’. But the wise man asks himself some searching questions. ‘Do I enjoy perfect communion with God? Am I blameless in his sight? Do I even acknowledge him as God?’
Unless you can answer ‘yes’ to these questions (and no one can) you are a slave to sin. It is the same for everyone, ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). Furthermore, we are powerless to do anything about our sinful state. Adam and Eve lost the free will to choose good or evil, and it is the same for us.
Charlotte Bronte wrote, ‘I am a free human being with an independent will’ (Jane Eyre). Perhaps so, but while we are free to determine our own actions, we can only act in accordance with our sinful human nature- our choices will always exclude God.
But there is good news – we can be freed from sin, and thus obtain every other kind of freedom! Deliverance from sin was promised even in Eden, and fulfilled with the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ.
In the wake of Adam and Eve’s transgression, the Lord announces his plan of salvation, telling Satan: ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel’ (Genesis 3:15).
This was the first of many prophesies describing a coming Saviour – one who would be born into the human race and gain victory over sin and death.
Writing some 700 years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah prophesied the Saviour’s death on the cross and explained its meaning:
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon him,
And by his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on him
The iniquity of us all.
The gift of freedom
The Lord Jesus Christ took the punishment for the sins of all who believe in him, thus satisfying the justice of God on their behalf. In this way they are set free from sin and clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ.
This freedom is a gift. We can no more free ourselves from sin than a chained prisoner can loose his own bonds. The prisoner can, however, look for mercy to the one who holds the keys. In the same way, we can look to the mercy of God in repentance and trust.
Freedom from sin brings with it every other kind of freedom. Born again by the Spirit of God, those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are granted a new outlook on life and death.
They are free from fear, for the unknown has been made known. They will experience troubles like anyone else. But they have been freed from their effects, since they seek a better, heavenly country. The Lord is by their side whether they are well or sick, rich or poor.
Even if they lose everything, as did Job, the Christian can echo Job’s words: ‘I know that my Redeemer lives, and he shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God’ (Job 19:25-26).
Returning to my survey, one reply stood out as different from all the rest. It went like this: ‘I have freedom from all these things! Thank you for reminding me’. Only a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ could make such a claim and know that it is true. Can you claim this for yourself?
Jesus said of himself, ‘If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed’ (John 8:36).