Freedom Is Doing Whatever I Want, Right?
They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” John 8:33
When I was a kid, if I’d had my way, I’d probably have just sat on the couch, eating junk food and watching TV all day. Fortunately, I had parents who, for my own good, limited my indulgences. As I grew up, my parent’s influence over me has receded, while my appetites have evolved. As a kid, I remember thinking that true freedom would be doing whatever I wanted when I grew up. Upon growing up and doing whatever I wanted though, I found that following my appetite led me not to freedom, but rather to slavery.
It required considerable pain and misery to see this though, and by the time I realized it, I was already addicted. Even in my addiction, it took a long time to accept my condition. I don’t have a problem. I’m just living out my freedom to do as I please. I can’t be an addict because I’m a Christian. I can quit anytime I want. Like most people, when confronted by reality, I initially chose denial.
The Pharisees did much the same in today’s passage. In the story, Jesus told them that they must live by his commands if they wanted to find freedom. In denial of their own spiritual condition, they were offended. We’re not enslaved to anyone. We don’t have a problem. You have a problem (my paraphrase).
The Pharisees thought their faith in God shielded them from being enslaved, but they didn’t truly follow God. They followed their own rules, finding self-righteous affirmation in believing they were better than everyone else. Addicted to legalism and performance, they were enslaved but remained blind to their condition. As it was too painful to admit the truth, they chose ignorance.
Ignorance isn’t bliss though. In following our own nature above all, we become enslaved, causing ourselves tremendous misery. As long as we refuse to recognize this, we’ll always blame something or someone else for our pain. In doing so, we’ll never be able to change our condition and are destined to remain miserable.
True freedom isn’t found in living however we want. True freedom, paradoxically, is only found in daily abandoning our self-destructive appetites to follow God. This is the beautiful truth that will set us free.