I am quite sure if we shuffled around downtown in any major city and asked people what they think of when they hear the word “freedom,” the answers would be so totally diverse. Even when I consider what I would say my mind races in sporadic directions. Pictures flash across my brain of what a free world would look like: one that would have no Holocaust, no bondage in North Korea, no children trapped in abusive homes, no men fighting in wars and no packed, over-stuffed prisons. In many ways, I think of freedom as wrong being made right and dark places of bondage loosed with pure light.
As our country approaches its own celebration of freedom and the lives that have been sacrificed to make us an unshackled nation, it is wise to reflect on this concept as followers of Jesus. For us, it reaches far beyond what happened at Independence Hall on July 4, 1776. Without a doubt, we can all affirm that though we live in a free country, each of us still battles places where we feel anything but free. All throughout Scripture the thread of freedom pulls through each story, each character, each loss, each failure, each success, each trial and each letter. Paul said it well in his word to the Galatians, “It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set you free.” And Jesus Himself was so pointed with his comment about freedom when John records Him saying to the Pharisees, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you FREE, you will be FREE indeed.” This sounds like a promise to me, a sure truth we can count on.
No man is without sin; therefore no man is ultimately free no matter what free country he resides in. There is only one way to be freed from the turmoil and power of sin: through the Son. And this is TRUE freedom. This is what it means for the soul to be loosed from its heavy, rusty chains. What a strange thought: a soul, the non-physical part of us, pronounced unfettered. But this level of freedom is so undeniably true. History has spoiled us with stories upon stories of people whose circumstances have been the equivalent to prison and for some, the very reality of prison.
For a number of accounts we look to Scripture: Joseph in prison falsely accused of rape and still speaking of the goodness of his God; Queen Esther whose very life was threatened because of her Jewish heritage and yet willing to risk everything to save her people; Paul and Silas singing hymns while in prison after being persecuted.
But these reports are not limited to the Bible. As believers, we have been left a legacy of heroes. We have all been impacted by those who have gone before us; if we pay attention we will be shaped by their faith.
Amy Carmichael was a missionary to India in 1895. Her focus was to care for the little girls who had been taken as temple prostitutes, and her fight for them was a risk to her own life. In the middle of such threat, she simply whispered that she must, “Tuck herself into God.” It was in 1932 that Amy had a serious fall that lead to internal damage and horrific, chronic pain. After this she was bedridden for just shy of 20 years until she died at age 83. It was during this time Amy wrote many of her best books. Bedridden, and unable to move or do for oneself does not sound like freedom, but her words speak otherwise:
If you would live in victory.…you must refuse to be dominated by the seen and the felt.
Lover of souls, Thee have I heard,
Thee will I sing, for sing I must;
Thy good and comfortable word
Hath raised my spirit from the dust.
There is always something to be happy about if we look for it: “Two men looked through prison bars, The one saw mud, the other stars.”
O Love of God, do this for me: Maintain a constant victory.
But God is the God of the waves and the billows, and they are still His when they come over us; and again and again we have proved that the overwhelming thing does not overwhelm. Once more by His interposition deliverance came. We were cast down, but not destroyed.
Too often we think of freedom as limitlessness, no boundaries, no one telling us what to do or how to do it. We think of it as having no authority, yet when Jesus spoke of the Kingdom, He spoke of the good authority of God. This was a safe place, the only place undeniably safe.
All of scripture is the movement of God to bring His people back under His authority. Jesus spoke boldly about the unusual topic of the Kingdom of God, the rule of God. Mark records the first words of Jesus’ ministry, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, repent and believe!” Throughout the Gospels Jesus purposed to provoke questions to His audience, He compared the Kingdom to a mustard seed, to a treasure hidden in a field, and to yeast in bread. The Kingdom was near and yet still to come. Confusing as this is, He makes total sense.
Even when He was on trial and asked by Pilate if He was the King of the Jews, He responded by saying, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” One intriguing statement that has always had a hold on me is recorded in Luke 17, Jesus says; “…the Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” It’s kept safe inside, protected by the One who rules and reigns over all past, present and future. This is why we are guaranteed freedom. We will not be without sorrow, we will not be without pain, we will be upturned by loss and disappointment, but we will always be free. The Kingdom is within us, and this cannot be touched.
Dawn Poulterer is the High School Counselor and Bible Teacher for Covenant Day School. Dawn grew up in Philadelphia but has made Charlotte her home the last 14 years. Dawn went to Messiah College for her undergraduate and then received her Master’s in Counseling from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. You can follow Dawn’s personal blog at: http://dawnfromphilly.blogspot.com/.