Melbourne, Australia

Freedom is a concept that the vast majority of people believe in. There has been a lot of talk about freedom in the last couple of years as lockdowns have taken their toll on human flourishing. Many people have voiced their hurt and displeasure at their freedoms being taken away. Talk of individual rights has been at the forefront of people’s concerns.

Freedom though is not primarily about rights. It is also about responsibilities. True freedom is impossible without corresponding responsibilities.

Man on mountain

PICTURE: Dulcey Lima/Unsplash 

In Australia, like in the US, we pride ourselves on the idea of individual freedom. The American Declaration of Independence declares the right of all to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Individual freedom, though, is not about the freedom to do whatever you like; it is about the freedom to do what is right.

I believe Jesus got it right when He said we are slaves to sin. To be fully human is to live as we were made to live, with love, compassion and mercy for others. The ability and power to love our neighbour as we are loved by God is the essence of being human. When we take that freedom and choose to believe that freedom lies in doing whatever we like, we make ourselves God, and the results of this throughout the world are plain to see.

"I believe Jesus got it right when He said we are slaves to sin. To be fully human is to live as we were made to live, with love, compassion and mercy for others. The ability and power to love our neighbour as we are loved by God is the essence of being human. When we take that freedom and choose to believe that freedom lies in doing whatever we like, we make ourselves God, and the results of this throughout the world are plain to see."

Years ago, Australian pastor Mark Sayers wrote an essay called The Unadulterated Pleasure of Limits. In it, he described the fact that flourishing as humans means living within reasonable limits. When we go outside those limits believing that will give us freedom, we, in fact, become more enslaved as we become more frustrated with ourselves and life not working as we want it to. 

True freedom is about humility, the humility to live life on life’s terms, not to demand that life always go our way. We are not entitled to have everything go the way we want. Any good parent will teach their children this. Some people talk a lot about young people having a sense of entitlement in our culture. That is often said by older people like me who may have forgotten that we were young once. Let’s not single out young people for having a sense that they are entitled to whatever they want. My generation (Generation X) is just as guilty.

In my own country of Australia, the culture is just as individualistic as that of the US. We just don’t talk about it so much; it is more implied. You just need to watch a television ad about buying the latest new car. It will generally have a young male driving the car out on the open road, smiling, away from his responsibilities. The implied message is that if you buy this car, you will have the freedom that you crave. This is the message of all advertising: buy our product and you will be free. It is the message of a consumerist society. Advertising creates a perpetual sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction in us; it makes us constantly unhappy and then sells us the message that we will have this happiness when we buy their product. And it works. We buy the product and the companies make their money.

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The problem is what this does to society as a whole. According to the financial institution, Credit Suisse, Australia is consistently officially in the top three richest countries in the world per capita. At the same time, we have some of the highest rates of depression and loneliness in the world. Eight people kill themselves every week in my country, and one woman is killed every week due to domestic violence. The vast majority of them are killed by an intimate partner.



All of this begs the question of what freedom is. As a Christian, I believe the words of Jesus when he said that when we follow him, we will know the truth and it will set us free. He then said that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. I have found in my life that when I live by the Spirit, I find the freedom that my heart desires; I am able to love others as I want to. But I need outside help to do it. Self-sufficiency is insufficient. I simply don’t have the ability to live the way I ought on my own strength.

That which applies to an individual life also applies to society. Western society has had a great commitment to freedom but, looking at it from a distance, I believe it has been terribly twisted to the point that what is called freedom often actually produces the opposite. That is the problem when you focus on individual ‘rights’ instead of the common good. It is the fruit of an individualistic society. A society living in fear is not free. 

True freedom allows people to live without fear, to achieve their full potential as people made in the image of God. Human flourishing is about loving our neighbour. It is putting people before power. Such sentiments were voiced 2,000 years ago by the one Man who displayed the courage to live this out in the whole of his life. If the Son sets you free you will be free indeed. Truer words have never been spoken. The future for our society depends on us having the courage to live them out.

Freedom is often not what it is portrayed by society to be. True freedom only comes through surrender to Christ in accepting how completely loved we are and living that love in a world which desperately needs it.