The God Question Part One: Doesn’t Christianity Restrict Our Freedom?
Dave Fields, October 14, 2018
I. The Problem
The commonly shared value of our late-modern Western culture says that each person should be free to decide what is right and wrong for him or herself so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. Freedom, in this view, is freedom from restriction. No limits.
II. The Problems with the Problem
- We do not, in practical terms, believe in absolute freedom. We always come back to “who says?” The Christian view is that God says.
“How many obols [a currency] did you pay as a fair price for the image of God? For how many staters [a currency] have you sold the nature specially formed by God? ‘God said, “Let us make humans in our image and likeness….Who can buy or sell a [person]…when he is made in the image of God?”
– Gregory of Nyssa, 4th Century Pastor
Jesus’ claim: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10b. Jesus claims, not to reduce our lives, but to bring out their richness and fullness, and somehow, we find that when we let him be our Loving Leader.
Freedom isn’t having “no restrictions” but having the right restrictions; it’s not doing what we most want to do, but knowing which of the things we most want to do is lined up with what we were designed for. – Tim Keller
- Real Relationships Require Limits
- Negative Freedom is Not Ultimately Freeing
“Freedom from” – from restriction, or limitations – is entirely negative. But there is also a positive direction to freedom: “freedom to” – freedom to do or become something in particular.
“It is hard to see that one can really speak of freedom here at all, any more than a particle of dust dancing in the sunlight is free.” – Terry Eagleton
“Freedom cannot be the highest or the only value. We must use our freedom of choice to do something – but our culture is morally afraid of saying what that should be or where that should land. Why? Because we fear that if we tell people, “You ought to be doing this,” that will curtail people’s freedom. So we just drift.” – Tim Keller
III. Christianity Gives A Realistic, Positive Vision of Freedom
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh [in self-centeredness; life apart from God’s design and ways]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:13-14
IV. Our Hidden Slavery
“…There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we have is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough…
Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you…Worship power and you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid: a fraud, always on the verge of being found out….“The insidious thing about these forms of worship is…they’re unconscious. They are default settings.”” – David Foster Wallace, secular novelist
V. The True Liberator
“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30
Life Group Discussion:
- How would you define freedom? Take a few moments to offer your definition of freedom with the group.
What were some of the common themes in your definitions?
What were there distinct elements (how did your definitions differ)?
- The common narrative of our late-modern, Western culture says that each person should be free to decide what is right and wrong for him or herself. What do you think of that idea – do you basically agree, disagree, or something in between? How come?
- Dave pointed to the writing in 1939, Aldous Huxley described his motivation for not believing in God, for his philosophy that says there the world is meaningless because it has no Author. He says, “For myself…the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument for liberation…political and…sexual.” (Ends and Means, quoted in Keller, 47).
a. What is the basis of Huxley’s desire to be “free of God”?
b. Is this same motivation common in our day? Why or why not? In what ways do you see it?
- Tim Keller offers this understanding of freedom: Freedom isn’t having “no restrictions” but having the right restrictions; it’s not doing what we most want to do, but knowing which of the things we most want to do is lined up with what we were designed for. Does that definition make sense to you? Is it helpful? Why or why not?
- Jesus claims to have the authority to tell us what our life is for, and how to live it.
If there is a God, a “Designer” of life, then we live in true freedom by honoring the design God made us for. In this view, the “rules” that God gives are not there in order to kill our joy, but to bring it to its fullness. In John 10:10 Jesus says: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Jesus claims that in him is life – real life. Read the following verses: John 8:31-32; Matthew 10:39; Matt 11:28-30.
Jesus claims to offer us the life we were created for.
Is that appealing to you or not? How come? Stated differently: if you could know what life was for, and how to live it in accordance with your design, would you want to?
- Read Ephesians 2:8-9. According to this verse, how are people “saved” – meaning, forgiven, put in right-relationship with God, and restored to their task of loving God and loving others?
- In many traditional religions, people are accepted if they obey God and keep the rules. Christianity is very different. Christians do not obey God in order to be accepted, but instead, trust that Jesus has done everything necessary to save us. We obey God then, not to be accepted by him but because through Jesus we already are accepted. Obedience is the only reasonable response.
a. Why does being saved by “grace” – meaning, a free gift from God that is not earned our based on obeying rules – exclude “boasting”?
b. How should that reality of being saved by grace keep Christian people from feeling and acting in ways that are superior to others?
8. Knowing our identity is one of the most important elements of living a full life. What are some of the ways that you or your peers seek to build or develop an identity? Make a list below:
Identities: How they can be “lost” or taken
Next, examine each of these identities and name some of the ways that these identities can be taken away or be lost.
9. Read Galatians 4:4-6. Based on this text, what is the new, true identity that we gain when we place our trust in Christ? How can it be lost or taken?
(Note: In the Greek text Paul uses the word “son” here, and many translations continue only to use “son” rather than add “sons and daughters”. The reason translators, even of gender-inclusive translations like the NIV 2011 is that in the Greco-Roman world that Paul writes in, only a “son”, a male-heir, could receive the family inheritance. Thus, the translators of the NIV use the word “son” instead of “son or daughter”, and offer this note: “The Greek word for adoption to son-ship is a legal term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Roman culture. “Son”, then, should not be understood in a gender exclusive way; females are also inheritors of God’s adoptive “son-ship”).
10. How might knowing that your identity and worth come to you as a gift from God, rather than something we have to create for ourselves or earn based on how others see you – how could that be ultimately freeing to you?