Set free to live life to the full
Freedom has been the cherished dream of countless generations in countless countries of the world. From the cry of ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ of the French Revolution to the sacrifice of thousands in two world wars to preserve national freedom, right down to present day oppressed minorities of the world, people want to be free.
Personal freedom is seen as the entitlement of all. We want to be free to choose which school our children attend, free to choose where we live and the lifestyle we adopt. Women want to be free from stereotyped roles and expectations that are part of our culture. Teenagers want to be free from restrictions their parents impose upon them. Since the 1960s the desire of many has been captured by the words of the late Freddie Mercury: ‘I want to break free!’
Free to do what we want?
But just how free are we in this liberated age in which we live? The truth, of course, is: not as much as we would like to be! We cannot avoid the external restrictions that are placed upon us simply by virtue of our living in a community. If we see freedom as having the liberty to do whatever we want, then it becomes incredibly selfish and starts to damage those around us. We realise that we have to accept certain limitations placed on our own lives for the good of those among whom we live.
We are not only conscious of external factors which limit our freedom, we are often painfully aware of internal limitations as well. For one thing, we cannot exceed our own personal potential. However much we might dream of being like Rooney, Giggs or Torres on the football pitch, few of us are capable of their achievements! Or, when it comes to looks, no matter how much we might wish we had the shape and appearance of some of the catwalk queens when it’s time for choosing a summer outfit, we know the reality we live with is very different from theirs. We must live to a large extent within the confines of what we are.
There is a more sinister side to our sense of being un-free: it is the fact that we find ourselves held captive to certain kinds of behaviour which destroy us. In its most extreme form we see it in addiction to drink, drugs and gambling and the like. But in reality it goes much deeper.
In the Bible Jesus talks about our deepest problem in life as being the fact that everyone is ‘a slave to sin’ (John 8:34). We are all imprisoned by a life and lifestyle – secretly or publicly – that leaves us with a guilty conscience. The end-point of that imprisonment is what the Bible describes as being ‘held in slavery by the fear of death’ (Heb. 2:15). Death casts its chilling shadow over all that we are and all that we accomplish.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Jesus says, ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ (John 8:32). When we face the truth about ourselves as God sees us, then we can be truly liberated. Jesus puts a finer point on it when he goes on to say, ‘If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’ (v.36).
He Himself promises, on the basis of who He is and what He has done through His life, death and resurrection, to liberate those who trust in Him from the guilt and power of sin. He promises the freedom ‘to have life, and have it to the full’ (John 10:10). It’s really sad that many religions of the world and even many forms of Christianity have turned faith into just another kind of slavery – tied down by rules, regulations and ritual. The life that Jesus promises in His gospel is altogether different.
It is quite literally from a different world. Jesus tells a religious leader, called Nicodemus, that he needs to be ‘born again’ (John 3:3). It is nothing less than the gift of a new life from God Himself – a life in fellowship with Him through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. In that new relationship there is the promise of joy and fulfilment in life that is no longer determined merely by external factors. Even in the face of death itself we can have peace and comfort through Him.
We can only begin to live life to the full when we’ve found life in restored fellowship with God. Then and only then can we be set free from the guilt, powerlessness and emptiness that otherwise dog our existence.
Mark Johnston is the minister of Grove Chapel, London.