Real Freedom, Real Bondage

Take just about any belief, ideology or practice which the secular world clings to or doggedly affirms, reverse it, and you are likely to have the Christian version of events. Not always, but often. If the world says that 2 + 2 = 4, well then we can go along with them of course.

But when the unbelieving world says that there is nothing wrong with turning pleasure or fame or success into gods, then of course Christians will argue for the exact opposite. It is this way on so many issues. For example, the world says we should strive for total freedom, and by that they mean we should have no restraints and be able to do whatever we like.

The Bible also talks about the importance of freedom, but it is always freedom under God, under law, under restraint. It is an ordered freedom, a freedom with clear boundaries and restrictions. It may be a paradox but it is perfectly true: we only experience real liberty when we fully submit ourselves to God and his law.

As R.C. Sproul put it, “If ever there is a genuine paradox to be found in Holy Writ, it is at the point of freedom and bondage. The paradox is this: When one seeks to rebel from God, he gains only bondage. When he becomes a slave to God, he becomes free. Liberty is found in obedience.” And again, “The only freedom that man ever has is when he becomes a slave to Jesus Christ.”

Or as James Montgomery Boice remarked, “The only real freedom you are ever going to know, either in this life or in the life to come, is the freedom of serving Jesus Christ. And this means a life of righteousness. Anything else is really slavery, regardless of what the world may promise you through its lies and false teaching.”

I have been pondering these truths because of my recent daily Scripture reading. Two texts from the epistles of Peter especially stood out in this regard. The first is 1 Peter 2:16: “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.”

The second text is 2 Peter 2:17-19: “These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for ‘people are slaves to whatever has mastered them’.”

These two passages certainly highlight the seeming paradox that if we want genuine freedom, it only can come in loving submission to Christ. And if we want real bondage, simply pretend we are free to do whatever we want, and pursue any desire we might have.

John Calvin, commenting on the first passage, says that the Christian life “is a free servitude, and a serving freedom”. And Martin Luther nicely explains this paradox: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”

Thomas Schreiner elaborates, “Believers do not enjoy unrestricted freedom. Their freedom is exercised under God’s authority. In fact, genuine freedom is experienced only by those who are God’s slaves. One is either a slave of sin or a slave of God (cf. Rom 6:15-23). True liberty, according to the New Testament, means that there is freedom to do what is right. Hence, only those who are slaves of God are genuinely free.”

In the second text, we have the “theme of promising much and delivering little” as Peter Davids puts it. The false teachers were promising freedom, but all they could deliver was bondage. But the truth is, “glad bondage to the law of Christ,” as Michael Green writes, “leads in fact to an emancipation more complete than the errorists could ever have imagined. Peter has already shown, in 1:3-4, that true liberty … comes through knowing Jesus Christ.

“So here he shows that precept and love, charity and chastity, law and gospel are not combatants but correlatives. It is ever the way of licence to champion gospel over law, and of dead orthodoxy to champion precept over love. Healthy Christian living comes when God’s commands are seen as kerbstones on His highway of love, the hedge encompassing his garden of grace.”

“Naturally this is not unknown in the church today,” says Davids, “where the emphasis on grace is often so interpreted as to teach, ‘Free from the law, O happy condition; now I can go and live like perdition.’ Normally it is not put in those words, but rather what is implied is that if you have ‘asked Jesus into your heart’ (in itself not a biblical phrase) it no longer matters how you live, although lifestyle may affect the reward that you get in heaven. This is a teaching with which our author would have had no patience.”

Douglas Moo concurs: “‘Cheap grace’ is endemic among contemporary evangelicals. We constantly hear that God loves us, that Christ’s blood covers our sins, that ‘if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins’ (1 John 1:9) – precious promises, not to be toned down for a minute. The problem is that we don’t often enough hear that God is holy and terrible in his majesty, that he is just and cannot abide sin, that ‘we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ’ (2 Cor 5:10).”

Quite right. The freedom we have in Christ is not meant to be an excuse for sin and licence. The false teachers, in step with the world, promise liberty but instead drag their followers down into slavery. Christ on the other hand offers us genuine freedom, but it comes only in saying no to ourselves and our passions and saying yes to him as joyous servants.

That is where real freedom resides. The world cannot give us such freedom. Only Christ can.

[1020 words]

28 Replies to “Real Freedom, Real Bondage”

  1. Great post Bill. Reminds me of what G.K. Chesterton writes in his book, Orthodoxy: “We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased.”

    Annette Nestor

  2. Even for an atheist there can be no true freedom without responsibility. Once that freedom is abused there will be consequences so you are no longer ‘free’.
    Patricia Rogers

  3. You haven’t even proved God exists yet, so why should we take ANY OF THIS seriously?

    Mavis Marion Hartnell

  4. If I don’t exist then WHO IS WRITING?

    Mavis Marion Hartnell

  5. Thanks Mavis

    If God doesn’t exist then WHO ARE YOU RAILING AGAINST?

    Indeed, for all we know you could be the Flying Spaghetti Monster that Dawkins is always talking about. Given the overwhelming evidence that we have for the existence of God, the burden of proof is on you to prove he does not exist. So let’s hear it.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  6. Aldous Huxley in his Ends and Means long ago rightly pointed out that there are voluntary as well as philosophical motives both for choosing to believe in God and for choosing to believe in a meaningless universe.

    If there is a Supreme Lawgiver, we no longer have the alleged freedom to make and change the rules of life with impunity. If there is no Cosmic Lawgiver and Liberator, a meaningless universe where we are trapped by the absurdity of logic, where whatever rules we write for ourselves cannot deliver us from slavery to our own destructive appetites is all we are left with.

    Darwinian determinism surely leads not to freedom, but to the world of B.F. Skinner … a world “beyond freedom and dignity”… a world where ethics and reason themselves are incongruities… products of a process at whose base is nothing but a “blind, pitiless indifference”. Without a Redeemer, liberty is a baseless myth in a meaningless world.

    John Wigg

  7. We are commanded by God to give an answer to unbelievers (1 Pet. 3:15) and to reason (Isaiah 1:18).

    Answers that are in agreement with God’s word, given to unbelievers, even if they are rejected, are still true answers. The unbeliever will be held accountable on judgment day for rejecting those truths.

    “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

    Mavis is only using the free will God gave her, whether she believes it, or not. “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen.” (Romans 1:25)

    Monica Craver

  8. OK so I’m open-minded and all ears. Please can you tell me just one piece of overwhelming evidence for God’s existence?
    Mavis Marion Hartnell

  9. Thanks Mavis

    OK so I’m open-minded and all ears. Please can you tell me just one piece of overwhelming evidence for God’s non-existence?

    Remember, I asked you first. The burden of proof is on you. I am still waiting for your knockout evidence proving that God does not exist. You do have all this proof, don’t you? Or are you just bluffing?

    But the only really vital question at this point is this: are you really open? Do you really want to know? Or is your mind already made up and you just like playing little debate games? And this is a vitally important issue. If you have a closed mind and refuse to believe, then of course no amount of evidence would ever convince you. So ask yourself a few hard questions first, OK?

    If you are not asking rhetorical questions , there is all sorts of stuff I can offer you. Just for starters, the argument from the existence of good and evil is one important bit of evidence. Taken together with other arguments for God’s existence, it makes for a compelling cumulative case. See this short video here eg.: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ApVYpBwXWLk

    And you must of course be aware of just what you are really asking for. There are obviously different types of proof and different types of evidence, depending on what you are discussing. So you better sort that out here beforehand as well. But I discuss this elsewhere, eg.:
    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/03/23/evidence-proof-and-belief-part-one/
    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/03/23/evidence-proof-and-belief-part-two/

    Again, the real issue is your openness to follow the evidence wherever it may lead. Plenty of atheists have done just that, and have been humble enough to renounce their atheism as a result. Are you?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  10. Excellent article. The paradox that freedom comes only through slavery to God and that slavery comes through secular freedoms is one of my favourite topics.
    Graeme Cumming

  11. Danny, yeah, my parents still go to church.

    Bill, the burden of proof is never on the disbeliever because it isn’t possible to prove that ANYTHING does not exist. Please can you provide knockout evidence the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn’t exist?

    Let’s put it this way. The universe is nearly 14 billion years old. Our planet, in one galaxy out of hundreds of billions, is 4.5 billion years old. Humans evolved from ape ancestors only a few tens of millions of years ago, and Homo sapiens has appeared only in the last few hundred thousand years.

    Doesn’t make us seem very special, does it? Somehow it’s a bit of a reach, even if the universe was created by some guy we call “God”, that he/she/it is even aware of our existence.

    Even if there was a God, it doesn’t mean Christianity is true. Two thousand years is the blink of an eye in geological time. Why was God waiting so long to come down and “save” us and tell us all how to behave?

    I’m willing to be convinced, but it’s a hard sell.

    Mavis Marion Hartnell

  12. Thanks Mavis

    But given that it seems that you have not even bothered to look up the stuff I linked to, I really do not see any willingness on your part to follow the evidence wherever it may lead. All I see are the same old lame excuses regularly trotted out by hardened atheists who have no intention of even reconsidering their entrenched position. Their minds are made up, and they get their jollies out of arguing and tickling their intellectual palettes. Is that you too?

    And what does time have to do with anything? If God exists, he is by definition eternal, so thousands of years or millions of years mean nothing in the bigger scheme of things. The great truths of Christianity are that we are created by God, made in his image, loved by God, and he even died in our place to deal with our sin and rebellion. That makes us very significant indeed. But it is your worldview which makes man nothing, so the atrocities of atheist rulers last century make perfect sense. They too saw no significance in man, so they slaughtered men in the millions. I know which worldview I prefer.

    But you still need to be honest with yourself. Why are you here? Are you here in a genuine search for truth, or because you like having little debates? You can fool others and even yourself on this question, but you won’t fool God. He only rewards diligent seekers asking honest question, not those playing mind games.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  13. “OK so I’m open-minded and all ears. Please can you tell me just one piece of overwhelming evidence for God’s existence?”

    Mavis. Perhaps in answer to your question I may suggest two sound reasons for God’s existence.

    1. The unexplained (to the atheist’s mind) mystery of the origin of matter, and specifically organised matter.
    Put simply, nobody has ever been able to produce something out of nothing at all. It is a scientific impossibility. Where then did matter, and more specifically, this beautiful earth with all its organised ecosystems come from? God.

    2. We are intelligent beings. Intelligent beings cannot have been formed by a crude, blind,insensible being.
    Intelligence therefore comes from another Intelligence.
    God.
    Still vast mysteries here, but thats a start.
    Graham Wood (UK)

  14. Hi Mavis Hartnell, thanks for your post, you ask for evidence on the existence of God. May I prayerfully suggest you ask Him yourself! “Father God, if you are real, can you manifest yourself to me through Jesus Christ your son? If, He exists and His promises and claims are true, can you show me? I have difficulty believing in what I’ve heard about you; I’m willing to follow you if you reveal yourself to me!” Mavis you are in my prayers, may Jehovah God bless you.
    Kevin McDonald

  15. Believing in God and following Jesus can be a complicated matter but here’s a simple-ish answer to Mavis’ request. Human beings in our time are unwilling to see evidence for a God who designs or creates. Yet when we look at any artifact, whether it’s the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a Tin Pan Alley song, a popular book or a teaspoon we assume that these things were created and designed by someone. However we’re prepared to observe living things, such as the human eye, birds in flight, the DNA molecule, or the brain, which are far more complex and then accept that they are are a result of random chance. I think the problem is not so much a lack of evidence for a masterful Designer as our deep dislike of the idea that there’s “Somebody bigger than you or I” who made them all.
    Terry Darmody

  16. Life is like a board game, if you play by the rules, nobody gets hurt.
    But rules imply that somebody created the board game.
    Unfortunately at ‘the fall’, Lucifer tricked people into believing that they could be free from the rules and make up their own, without any consequences.

    So now after many twists and turns throughout history, many people believe that the board game made itself, that it has no maker. That the current rules to the board game are made up by people who think they know best. They want to feel freedom from the rules, to play the game their way, without any consequences.
    But what if a player deprives another of their life. Is that fair? We hear the loud reply, “we can ALL agree to some rules”. Some other players, it seems, would disagree with that…..

    Yes Bill, I totally agree, the rules of the Creator make people free. If you follow Christ whole heartedly, one hardly even notices the rules, except when others break them. Just as in a simple board game. But when our end comes, we are called to account for how we played the ‘game of life’, for our Creator has a reward for those who played well to the end.

    Mark Lambert

  17. Can I ask Mavis what part of Romans 1:20 does she not understand? Let’s put it in context:
    Romans 1:18-25 —
    “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen.” (Amen means “so be it”)

    Non-believers stoned their prophets throughout history and even chased our Lord Jesus Christ out of their towns — Jesus Christ said:
    (Read:Luke 6:19-31) ie.vs.28 “Abraham replied,‘They (non-believers) have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.”
    30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he (the rich man) said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
    31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

    This is solid proof God/Jesus Christ exists.

    So where is your proof God doesn’t exist, Mavis? Do you still wish to be the “rich man” — or a “Lazarus”?

    Monica Craver

  18. Mavis
    It’s obvious you’re angry but at who, and why do you bother if you’re comfortable in your belief? So why don’t you be honest with us, why are you angry? My Mother is angry and no amount of counselling – psychologist- or fortune tellers can tell her what’s wrong. She has been like this for 30 years well maybe more but it became obvious when my father left her. My sisters and I have spent many years appeasing her and listening to endless complaints.
    My mum doesn’t like the idea of God being a Man.
    Daniel Kempton

  19. Hi Mavis,

    Information always comes about from an intelligent source. Just look at Mount Rushmore. It is obvious that thought and design went into creating the faces of the American presidents on the side of the mountain. Nobody with any intelligence would suggest that those faces came about by erosion or any other unguided natural process.

    Why then would we imagine that the most complicated form of information we know of, being our DNA, could come about by accident? Especially when not one known genetic mutation has ever brought about an increase in genetic information?

    I implore you to take a look at some articles in creation.com and http://www.answersingenesis.org if you are a genuine seeker of truth. You will find that many of the assumptions you are currently holding onto in relation to the age of the earth are dismissed scientifically when one follows the evidence where it leads, rather than trying to cram the available data into a darwinian model that is full of holes.

    Mario Del Giudice

  20. Hi Danny, yeah, I’m not angry. Why do you say that? I jsut told you some science facts. BTW Terry, evolution is not driven by random chance but its opposite, you should read up about it it’s really fascinating. Bill, I’ve looked at all the stuff you gave me, what can I say – I’m just not convinced. Graham – lots of animals have intelligence as well as humans, maybe not as much, but clearly a lot.

    I’m going to keep reading my bible, and go to church on Christmas morning with my mum, though that’s more out of tradition. I’m one of those people who goes once a year! Maybe I’ll hear something interesting.
    Mavis Marion Hartnell

  21. Thanks Mavis

    It doesn’t sound like you are really searching for truth on this issue at the moment, so little can be said right now. I hope things don’t have to get too desperate for you before you begin an honest search however, or that you wait until it is too late.

    And the point of course is not just to “hear something interesting”. It is to discover truth, and follow it at all costs. It is to allow your life be changed by it. Even Socrates got that one right when he said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  22. My proof that God exists is something that is affirmed as the story of my life unfolds, like a work in progress. Jesus said “I am the way the Truth and the Life” and the daily challenges life throws at me and the way I deal with them, adhering to God’s law, is consistent proof of that truth.

    In New Testament Galations we can read “but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit let us walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

    For me the need for the Spirit, and inner peace, is as vital as the air that we breathe. You can’t see or touch the Spirit. It is more like something you perceive as you live in the way that Jesus Christ spoke of.

    Rachel Smith, UK

  23. Thanks Rachel

    Yes one of the great bits of evidence for the reality of the truth claims of Jesus Christ are the countless millions of transformed lives, including my own. I should be dead now, as so many of my earlier friends are. But God performed a miraculous rescue operation in my life, and I am now a living testament to his reality and saving grace. I too was once a hardened unbeliever who thought I had everything all figured out. How wrong I was. Fortunately God broke through my arrogance, pride, rebellion and childishness and rescued me big time. I have never looked back since.

    And now we finally get back to the topic of the above article after a bit of a detour! People think they can be free without God, but they are really just slaves to sin and self – and are too blinded to know it. Indeed, the only really free person in the Bible was the prodigal son – he had the whole pigsty to himself. But gladly he finally came to his senses after he hit rock bottom. I hope and pray that others don’t have to hit rock bottom before they finally see how foolish and vain they have been to shake their fist at the one who created them and actually came and died for them.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  24. Thanks for your comment Bill and your tireless inspirational fightback against the militant secularists.

    Sometimes I think the only way people can find out about the paradox of freedom is to just let them go ahead and do what they want to do and learn the hard way. But the prospect of anguish and despair on a massive scale when it’s all too late is too daunting. Believers may be mocked and vilified but we have to be strong like a rock in a storm-tossed sea!

    Rachel Smith, UK

  25. We are ALL searching for the truth.

    God bless you all. 🙂

    Mavis Marion Hartnell

  26. Thanks Mavis

    Um, well, no actually. Sadly most people are not seeking for the truth at all. Indeed, they are quite happy living a lie, and enjoy being deceived. Even Socrates was killed for being a trouble maker – for seeking after the truth wherever it may lead. And Jesus told us this quite clearly:

    “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (John 3:19-21)

    Paul said the same: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.” (Romans 1:18-22)

    We are sinners focused on self – not on seeking the truth. Indeed, that is exactly why Jesus was crucified. People hated him because he spoke the truth and they were not interested in truth. So I would not be quite so cavalier about these matters here. Most people do not want God, do not want truth, and do not want to change their selfish, sinful lifestyles. Thus they have great capacity for self-deception, and for believing lies.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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