What is freedom and how do you get it? We all think we know what freedom is, but few people feel like they have it completely. Besides there are degrees of freedom. We are free to plan and determine our own lives, but not to break the law. Sometimes governments impose undue limits on our freedoms, and threaten their citizens. In other places governments control their citizens, even to the point of what they can say or think.

Freedom, political and social freedom, often comes at a high price. Freedom has to be fought for, as overreaching leaders are overthrown by unwilling people. Syria is a modern example of a country seeking relief from an oppressive government. America is a historical example of a nation that set out to overthrow their oppressors, in the name of establishing freedom from excessive and unyielding government. However free people are or are not, it seems that very few people have personal freedom, the freedom of the heart that witnesses to a sense of purpose and satisfaction in life, that brings the joy that they are self-determining as far as the outcome of the lives are concerned. Many if not most feel bound by circumstances, physical limitations, economic boundaries, fear, weakness, lack of access to resources, etc. They feel that there is no hope that they should ever find real joy and satisfaction in life, and they have resigned themselves to mere survival. Even in America!

But what does the Bible mean by freedom? Jesus spoke of freedom; he said that we would know the truth and the truth would set us free (John 8:32). And what is that freedom, what does it consist of? Jesus went on to explain what he meant by freedom, by saying that everyone that sins is a slave to sin, and a slave is not a member of the family (John 8:34-35). What he meant was that those who are bound by sin, are slaves to something that excludes them from the family and kingdom of God, where liberty is to be found. There is genuine hope, Jesus said for those who believe in the Son, because he will set them free, and they will be truly free (John 8:36). What Jesus meant obviously is that they would be free from the power of sin that robs them of a place in the family of God, where God reigns and his blessings flow. Paul said to the Galatians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free, so don’t go back into bondage” (Gal. 5:1) . In effect don’t go back to sin, don’t become a prisoner of basic elements of life in this world, elements that have to do with the domination of sin. For the Gentiles Paul means sin enslaves those who do not know God, and brings destruction on their lives. For the Jews Paul meant that the law only brings condemnation for sin, but cannot free them from its power. In either case Paul had in mind freedom from being ruled by life that is ruled by the purely natural and carnal elements of this world. Paul wanted people to be liberated into the realm where God ruled, where there was victory and freedom from the destruction and power of sin, and where the blessings and joy of God abound. In short, Paul was advocating for life in the Spirit. In Galatians 5, he argues that the power of the Holy Spirit, if he dwells in the believer’s life has the potential to bring about everything that originally God desired for humanity when he created them, to bring to fulfilment all of God’s original purposes, among which was a rich and fulfilled life lived in fellowship with him. In the present, that means victory over sin through the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16-18). This certainly includes righteousness, or inward integrity matched by an outward conduct that honors the holiness of God (Gal. 5:19-26). Paul’s point is that freedom is freedom from condemnation of sin and the condemnation to go on sinning.

Both Jesus and Paul use the same Greek word translated freedom, ἐλευθερία. One way to understand freedom, is as the absence of domination and control (Thomas, R. L. (1998). New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek dictionaries : Updated edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc.). To be self determining is to be free (Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans). It particularly applies to those who are not slaves, people who were owned by others, and whose lives, therefore, were not their own , but belonged to the control, domination and desire of their masters (Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.). New York: United Bible Societies). What Paul clearly has in mind here is the absence of the control of sin, represented by the law that brings condemnation down on sin (2 Cor. 3:6). But this freedom is more than the absence of the control of sin, it is the a freedom that directly relates to the presence of the Spirit. The Spirit brings life. The law brings condemnation because of sin, but the Spirit brings life. The freedom that paul has im mind is a freedom that in connected to life, liberation from the condemnation that falls on sin, and that is driven and secured by the presence of the Holy Spirit, who ensures that sin no longer rules in the lives of those who believe.

It was the promise of absolute freedom that created the problem of bondage in the first place. Humanity became slaves to sin at the beginning when Satan promised a curious Eve, that if she ate of the fruit of the tree, she would become like God, a totally free agent, able to do whatever she wished (Ge. 3:4). The idea appealed to her so she ate. What actually happened was that she became a slave to sin, rather than a being a servant of God (cf. John 8:36). Slavery to sin has been the harsh reality that has led to the almost total collapse of the world and of society. The pain and suffering of our world can be traced either directly or indirectly to humanities unwillingness to submit to the rule of God, in favor of a perceived freedom, that is nothing more than bondage to wickedness, selfishness, envy and greed. The freedom to pursue what we want, any way we want, without negative consequences, simply does not exist and that is why God laid the original instructions down in the garden, and required Adam and Eve to accept his authority. He knew that genuine freedom lay in getting your priorities in order, submission first to God and a concern for others that is greater than a concern for ourselves.

Verse 16 says that whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. He means by this that when someone turns from sin to God, that the obscurity that hides God is removed, so that he can be known (Garland, D. E. (1999). Vol. 29: 2 Corinthians. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers). Now he goes on to say that the Lord, who reveals himself is the Spirit, so that the knowledge of God is found in the personal experience of his presence through the Holy Spirit (17). This knowledge of God is not intellectual, it is experiential, it is real, and it is based on genuine fellowship, interaction with God through the Holy Spirit. Where there is interaction with God, where the Spirit is, there is freedom, liberty! Sin has been conquered. The threat of death has been conquered. Bondage to fear of disease and the elements of this world have been conquered. Paul describes this a transformation of our lives and nature from what was bound to this world, into what God can join in fellowship with for all eternity. And the transformation begins at the point of turning, and the freedom comes at the point of turning, so that we are changed from glory to glory by our continual interactions with the Spirit (18). It is a moment of transformation, followed by a lifetime of transformation that shatters the bondage of sin that robbed us of fellowship with God, and everything he desires for us as his people.

The whole backdrop for Paul’s argument can be found in Exodus 34. Moses had demanded to see the glory of the Lord, which God revealed to him after a fashion (Ex. 34:1-6). After his long stay on the mountain with God, Moses came down to the came, without realizing his face was irradiated with the glory of God. The people were afraid of this and retreated from him, so Moses veiled his face while he was with the people, but unveiled it in God’s presence. The glory in Moses face was the direct result of his fellowship with God, his interaction and experience of God’s presence! Paul uses the veil over Moses face as a metaphor for the ignorance and the lack of experience of God’s glory or fellowship enjoyed by Israel. This glory had to do with their being his people, who were especially chosen for fellowship and intimacy with God, so that his glory could be seen in them by every other nation (attracting them to the salvation God offered (cf. Isa. 42:6; 49:6)). Ultimately all of this can be traced to the original purpose of God expressed to Adam, that he take dominion of the world and image God (Gen. 1:27-29). Adam’s imaging God depended on his continued fellowship with God! Israel’s constant repudiation of holiness and their moral failure kept them from entering fully into this fellowship with God. There is a sense, Paul says that they repudiated the glory of God and the intimacy that it implied. The veil was not just over Moses face, but over their minds as well, and as a result they were salves to repeated sin and moral failure all of history. There minds were darkened by sin and by Satan; as Paul observes, so is the rest of humanity (2 Cor. 4:4)! What Paul was offering to the Corinthians was an alternative, a life of fellowship with God, in which the unveiled glory of God might increase and increase in their lives, as they lived in fellowship with him through the Spirit.

For this reason we conclude that the freedom Paul has in mind, in his epistles, is a freedom from moral and spiritual defeat, and the whole host of negative consequences that flow out of that. It is a freedom maintained and presided over by the Spirit who dwells in us and keeps us properly connected to God! In Romans 7 Paul cries out “Who will deliver me from this body of death…” by which he meant the compulsion to sin, and bondage to carnality constantly overpowering righteousness in his life (Rom. 7:24). Paul’s view of freedom is quite narrow, and it has to do with being free from the elements in our nature and this world that prevent us from knowing God and being saved by him from his judgment. Freedom is not absolute, but it is satisfying and fulfilling to all who discover Christ!


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