Freedom is one of those amazing words that draws us in. Everyone wants to be free. We want the freedom to go where we want to go, do what we want to do and think what we want to think. It is hard to even imagine the circumstances that would lead us to choose slavery over freedom. Think of how many times in your lifetime you’ve heard or said, “It’s a free country.” Most of the times it is used as a way to say to someone else that you think what they are doing is crazy but it’s a free country and if you want to act crazy it’s your right. Sometimes we use it to say that others may not like what we are doing, but it’s a free country and we will do what we think is the right thing.
One of the most interesting notions on freedom is found in the New Testament. In the short letter of James, in chapter one and beginning in verse 22 we have the following teaching. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.”
What’s so remarkable about this Scripture? Well, it ties two things together that we often feel are opposites. It puts together the words “Law” and “Freedom”. Often it seems that people believe that if there is real freedom it means there can be no laws that have to be followed. What if in my desire for the freedom to soar in the skies I was somehow able to suspend the law of gravity? Would that really offer the freedom we desire? Or does the law of gravity put the parameters around freedom that makes it work?
It is intriguing that we tend to see law as binding as long as it is a law we don’t wish to obey. Imagine someone driving down the interstate highway. The speed limit is 70 miles per hour. But they really want to do 80 miles per hour. They decide that the law is unreasonable and far too restricting so they defy the law and drive at 80. As a matter of fact 80 is still too restrictive so they drive 90 miles per hour. Suddenly a highway patrolman turns on the blue lights and begins the chase to slow you down. You pull off to the side of the interstate and wait for the patrolman to come to your car. He asked for your license and you give them to him. Then he asked that insane question, “Sir, do you know what the speed limit is on this highway?” “Yes, sir, I do.” “Do you know how fast your were traveling?” “Yes sir, I know I was going faster than that, but I don’t think that law is fair. It restricts my freedom and I believe I have the right to travel as fast as I need to.” Now suppose that the patrolman tells you to get out of the car. As you get out he says, “You know I agree with you that these laws are too restrictive and that we ought to have the freedom to do what we believe is right at any given time. So, I am going to take advantage of my freedom and take your car and leave you here on the side of the road and you can travel just as fast as you like.” What would you say?
My bet is that most of us would begin to shout, “Hey that isn’t legal. You can’t just take a man’s car because he broke the speed limit. Just write me a ticket the way the law demands and quit talking this foolishness.” Suppose the patrolman then responds. “But I thought you wanted freedom. Don’t you think that if you have the freedom to do what you think is best that I have the same freedom?” What would you respond then?
Freedom only works where there is a standard or law that people willingly submit to. I’m amazed every time I hear either a terrorist or their attorney stand up before a court and demand that their client have their legal rights when they have willingly rejected the very law and standards that they now wish to use to defend themselves.
Freedom is based on obeying the law. Certainly in the human world we can have unjust laws that turn to destroy the freedom that they claim to uphold. But there must be a respect for law for all people for there to be freedom for anyone.
Spiritually, if we want freedom in our relationship with God it is found by looking intently into the law of liberty or the law that produces freedom and continuing in that law. Looking in a mirror is useless if we don’t do anything to improve our appearance when we look. Looking into the word of God only has value when we submit to it and follow it’s lead.