The call for freedom begins long before our eyes catch a first glimpse of life outside of the womb. As preborn babies we punch and kick as if to say, “Let me out of here!” As tiny infants we cry and squirm when mom buckles us in the car seat. As toddlers we say, “I do it daddy,” while we struggle to break our tiny hand free. As school age children we wine and complain that all the other parents let their children play computer games late into the night, all of the other parents let their children stay overnight at their friend’s house when the parents aren’t home, and all the other children’s parents let them eat chocolate and drink pop at bedtime on a school night, and on and on. But when we reach the ripe old age of being a teenager, many of us have perfected the art of fighting for our freedom. Why? Because we think our parents are insufferably strict and old fashioned. They don’t think that we are capable of making our own decisions. And furthermore, we think that our parents have forgotten what it is like to be young. And then as young adults, just when we think that we’ve broken free from parental captivity, we find that there are a host of other people and things that want to exert control over our lives. There’s the unreasonable boss who thinks we should show up for work every day if we want a paycheck. And there’s the policeman that doesn’t agree with our opinion that the speed limit should be 55 mph on this particular street, even though the sign says it’s a 35 mph zone.
Many of us have the mindset that true freedom will be achieved when we are masters of our own destiny, when we are free to do anything we want, when we want, and how we want… and of course we want our freedom to be without negative repercussions! This makes me think of a story that Jesus told in the Bible about a prodigal son who talked his father into giving him an early inheritance. Wanting to be master of his own destiny, the prodigal son went far away from home where he could be as wild and free as he wanted to be. In time, when the son had burned every cent of his inheritance, the reality of hunger and homelessness hit. Along with his empty stomach came the realization that even his father’s servants had a surplus of food to eat, and yet here he was starving. With his head hung low the son made the long journey home (Luke 15:11-20.) I guess his quest for freedom wasn’t everything that he thought it would be.
The desire for freedom is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a great thing. The pursuit of freedom is a frequent theme in the Bible. I am firmly convinced that the desire for freedom is given to us by our Creator God, a desire meant to find its ultimate fulfillment in Him. The freedom that God offers has absolutely nothing to do with our present circumstances, whatever they may be. God’s freedom is available to all no matter where or how we live, who we do or do not know, whether we are dirt poor or filthy rich… even to the guilty prisoner sitting on death row.
Some would try to convince you that we are born free, but God’s Word tells a different story. Without going into a big theological explanation, you and I were born in captivity to sin. Our basic modus operandi is to do what we want, when we want, and how we want, with little or no thought about what God wants for our lives. Our sin consists of the original sin that we inherited from Adam, and the sin that comes from our own sinful nature (Romans 5:12-14; Romans 8:5-8.) If not submitted to God, our sinful nature exerts control over our thoughts, choices and actions. But everything changes when we enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ. When we accept by faith that Jesus paid the penalty for our sin, God sets us free from the obligation to pay the penalty for ourselves. But also, we are set free from the control that sin has over us. It was when I first entered into a life of faith that I tasted this kind of freedom for myself (Romans 6:19-23.) I remember how wonderful it felt to feel completely free of guilt and shame for the first time since I was a little girl. My life was new and my spirit was soaring free, high above my circumstances. The doors of possibility opened up for me, I was free to become the woman that God created me to be.
Why then do believers still sin if we are set free from the control that sin has over us? In short, because we are free to do so. God is not a puppeteer and we are not His puppets. I don’t know a single person who lives a perfect and sinless life. I surely don’t. Sin is deceptive and alluring. It’s so easy to slide into the habit of making wrong choices. A little white lie here, a minor compromise there, and before you know it sin has sent a root down into the soil of our lives. Just like the high rate of recidivism among released prisoners, we step right back into the chains that we were set free from, and once again we find ourselves under the control of sin. Scripture has a poignant way of saying this, “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud (2 Peter 2:22.)” Not a very pretty picture is it?! We are given the help of God’s Holy Spirit to overcome our weakness, but we are still free to turn away from His help and make our own choices.
In 2 Peter 2:19, Peter said when something controls us we are slaves to it. As I look at my life through the lens of Peter’s statement, I see that I have indeed been enslaved on more than one occasion. Some months back I became reconciled with the fact that something in my life was holding me back. I didn’t feel totally free to be the woman that God has made me to be. Deep inside I knew why, but up until that point I wasn’t really ready to enter into a battle to regain my freedom. An old issue had crept its way back into my life. For many of my adult years I have had an ongoing battle with weight. But the weight itself was not the real problem. The weight was only a symptom of the real issue. Yes it is unhealthy to be overweight, and yes I am not crazy about the way that I look or feel when I am overweight, but the real issue is what was happening inside of my mind, heart and spirit. The internal battle began long before I started to put on extra pounds. I learned at a young age that food provided me with an unconditional comfort that I was missing in life. I learned to turn to food when I was sad, when I was lonely, when I was scared, when I was bored, when I was angry, and yes, even when I was happy. Food became my friend, or so I thought.
Nobody really knew about my problem until a debilitating knee injury in college took away my ability to be the active self that I had formerly been. When I was active it wasn’t a problem for me to eat two Whoppers at Burger King. But when I couldn’t do the things that I used to do, the pounds started to sneak up on me and I could no longer hide the reality that I had a love relationship with food. Biblically speaking, food took on a role that God should have had in my life. God is meant to be the One that I turn to as my source of comfort and help, not food. And here I was once again turning to food for my comfort.
This is an area of weakness that originated very early in my life, I believe as a result of emotional pain. I turned to food very much like a drug addict turns to drugs, or an alcoholic turns to alcohol. I don’t know where you find yourself today. Your area(s) of weakness may be different than mine, but for sure we all have areas of our lives that are more vulnerable to slipping into what Peter would call slavery. To list but a few of the things that hold people captive, I think of crippling fears, toxic relationships, negative thoughts, sadness, prolonged grief, victim mentality, anger, jealousy, perfectionism, and a need to be in control. You can probably add many more things to this list, but I am sure that I have given you enough to think about.
Be encouraged if this picks at and reveals an area of your life that you need to submit to God. The first step, which is probably the biggest, is facing the truth. God can do a great work when we are willing to be truthful with Him, and with ourselves. Your freedom is worth every ounce of pain and effort that it takes to unearth and deal with anything that has taken you captive, or is threatening to take you captive. As far as my personal battle, I am participating in a very high accountability weight loss program. I have shed some weight, but more importantly I have shed the chains of captivity. Even so, I know full well that if I do not lean hard into my relationship with Jesus, I am at risk of returning to this false form of comfort.
There is an old Sandy Patti song, You Set Me Free, that expresses the joy of being set free by God. I still remember sitting in the Meijer parking lot and crying the first time that I heard this song. This song tells my story. Even if the music is not your style, I would encourage you to listen to the words in the following You Tube video (I have found that the video is not visible if you are using Google Chrome, but it is visible if you use Internet Explorer and Firefox.) Words like, “You set me free to run through fields of laughter… You set me free from my before and afters, from a debt I know I’ll never pay… You give me wings to fly.” These words capture God’s story of freedom, forgiveness, restoration, and wholeness… the story that we step into when God sets us free to be the men and women that He has created us to be.
Freedom is calling… fly free my friend!