by Jake Thompson 12/13/15
Everyone loves freedom. It just seems impossible, however, and many have lost faith in the concept. Feeling victimized by others, trapped in jobs, controlled in relationships, many actively seek escape. The roads are plentiful: drugs, sex, materialism, but people arrive discontented. Even worse, habits often take control of them. Independence from one thing means slavery to another. Is it possible people have misunderstood the concept? There is a vast difference between the biblical and secular definitions. According to the Oxford Dictionary, freedom is “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” In other words, it’s the ability to do whatever you want. But isn’t this the very train of thought that got us in a bind in the first place, that put us outside the garden and resulted in our loss of favor? Alternatively, the Bible talks about liberation from the sin that ends in death. Everything that can imprison us is part of sin. We need release. According to the Bible, Jesus ransomed us from its authority by His blood, reconciling us to God. Only Jesus gives us true freedom.
It is my goal to present the biblical explanation of who we are in relation to God, by making several points and bringing to light the futility of pursuing self-rule, while recognizing the happiness realized in being true to our created natures. What is man and how should we consider his standing with God?
Some Thoughts on Nature and Human Freedom
1. Humans Are at God’s Disposal
As seen in the animal world, creatures have designs and purposes. Horses don’t become fish nor stallions mares, but rather, a system of organized characteristics and patterns form a hardwired foundation commonly referred to as nature. Although, as the book of Hebrews reveals, what is actually happening is the Lord sustaining the universe by His Word (Heb 1:3). Human nature cannot transcend God. He transcends the entire creation. As much as they try, humans cannot be free from God.
2. God Sustains Us Physically and Spiritually
With this in mind, it becomes obvious that physical realities limit human beings. We need air from the earth’s atmosphere, and we need gravity to toughen our bodies because our bones strengthen through opposition. Humans are dependent creatures and part of creation. In many ways, we are no different than animals. If God supplies all our physical necessities, then we cannot exist bodily without Him.
Now, this brings up an interesting question: is man only physical? The Bible indicates otherwise. Genesis 2:7 provides a picture of the Lord forming man from the “dust,” but man does not come to life until the Lord breathes “life” into him. Notice that immaterial life comes directly from God. Life in the body ends when the immaterial leaves. Genesis 35:18 speaks of Rachel’s death as her “soul” departing. Therefore, it is safe to conclude, where the soul exists, the person exists—without the soul there is no life because God is the source.
3. Humans: Made in God’s Image.
The Bible also declares, man was made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). At a minimum, this means man was created to have dominion over the earth and its creatures (Gen 1:28-30), but there is more to it. God created man with accountability. The Bible confirms it, and this accountability is the problem. The entire human race fails to reflect the image of God adequately. The standard is perfection, and we fail to uphold it. Man has a sin problem, and this goes all the way back to what happened with the very first human beings.
4. The Condition of Humanity.
The first act of mercy recorded in the Bible occurs right after the first act of disobedience (Gen 3:22-24). God removed Adam and Eve from Eden to prevent their internal struggle from lasting forever. Before Adam sinned, his life was pleasant. The soil responded positively to him; his wife responded positively to him, and the Lord was in communion with them. Eden was Joy. However, because of disobedience, God cursed the ground, “. . . cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field” (Gen 3:17, 18). From then ‘till now the ground opposes the gardener, while the gardener needs the ground. The curse against Eve was similar. “. . . I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen 3:16). From then ‘till now the woman’s husband brings her joy, while the woman’s husband brings her sorrow. This is the imperfection of life in a fallen age.
5. Sin is Death
Adam’s disobedience allowed sin to enter the creation, and although this is a great mystery, it is true. The apostle Paul makes the point clearly. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world: and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all sinned” (Rom 5:12). Once sin was established, it sealed up the destiny of every human being on the planet. Everyone will die. Arriving at a definition of freedom requires dealing with death.
Let me present freedom from three angles: Adam’s original perspective, the secular interpretation, and the Christian view. To begin, what did all this mean to Adam?
1. Freedom to Adam
Adam’s life before the fall was without emptiness. We cannot really grasp a sinless existence, having no perfect reference, but we can identify perfection’s opposites. In our world, we see hate in gruesome color: merciless rape, child molestation, beheadings. We hear sorrow in widows’ and children’s voices. We feel anxious. In Eden, these things were not possible. There was no sin and therefore no fuel for evil. After all, violent acts have to grow to completion, beginning as seeds, watered and cultivated with envy. There is no need for emotional filters when purity feeds thoughts and actions. Adam’s heart was unpolluted. Now we only catch glimpses of true beauty. The impression fades before we can paint it, but there are traces of light. A child knows it in his mother’s arms. A father knows it in his daughter’s eyes. Adam’s heart was normally full; our hearts are normally empty.
Before the temptation to sin, Adam was free in that he had nothing from which to escape. Remember, the Oxford definition of freedom is dependent on escaping from something or someone. Liberation cannot exist without an oppressor. In other words, it is about becoming free, not being free. Becoming free is rooted in dissatisfaction, while being free is rooted in satisfaction. True freedom then would result in a person’s contentment. Before being tempted, Adam had nothing he would have desired to get away from; however, in some sense he was predestined to fail. Adam’s freedom, while complete, was limited.
2. Freedom Outside of Eden
Freedom since the fall is not possible because we are incomplete. Many if not all have to find this out the hard way, but the evidence is available. For instance, consider the number of “successful” actors and musicians strung out on drugs, and many will end up taking their own lives. The secular world is always briefly shocked. They experience a fleeting question of “why,” but are so busy pursuing their own “freedom.” that empathy gets lost. Freedom to those outside of Christ is a maze of closed doors. It is an unobtainable illusion.
3. Freedom in Christ
The mercies of God are infinite. All the way back in Genesis 3:15 we find the promise that God will defeat sin and death. “. . . I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Here God promises the serpent who had tempted the woman and is behind sin and death that a human (the Redeemer) will destroy him. Although the serpent gained a temporary advantage, he won’t remain victorious. The promised seed came through the virgin Mary. In amazement, she heard the angel Gabriel explain, “. . . thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest” (Luke 1:31, 32). The name Jesus means salvation. The seed of the woman is Jesus Christ the Savior.
The truth is that outside of Christ, human beings are slaves to sin, but God provides the only escape and turns the curse into a blessing. Jesus gave His life on the cross to free us from death and continues to save us as He gathers, “. . . the church of God which he hath purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). He collects us, calls us, and sets us free. He is the great Liberator.
The pressures of life make us feel confined and trapped. The effects of the fall can blind people to what it really means to be free. The serpent has invited us into a maze of evil habits in the name of autonomy, but it is fruitless. The Bible tells us that God created us in His image making us accountable to Him. He supplies every breath we take, and we are at His mercy. Our life, however, is not only physical but also spiritual. We return to him after we leave our bodies. Communion with Him should be natural, but there is opposition. When Adam and Eve rebelled, they allowed sin to penetrate the creation. This has confused us into believing that freedom is serving the self. In reality, freedom is being true to our created nature.
Before being tempted, Adam had no desire to live outside of the Lord’s Kingdom. He had nothing in his world he wanted to escape from. The problem was an enemy desired to capture this freedom. On the other hand, the secular perspective reflects the human mind corrupted by sin. Since the fall, man has desired to become his own god, but this is an impossibility. While man has the desire, he does not possess the capability to live outside of bondage. Freedom to secular man is misunderstood.
Finally, Christ purchased our freedom back from the power of sin making it possible to return to the kind of completeness Adam and Eve had before the temptation. In fact, the promised resurrection will result in an even better situation when our new bodies will be imperishable. Never again will we return to a life of imprisonment, a life of serving ourselves poison. One day the entire creation will be free, and all in Christ “delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God,” (Rom 8:21).