“Biblical freedom has a theological component which sets it apart. In the Bible, people are made free for a specific purpose: to serve God.”
Freedom as a Biblical Theme
What is the central theme of the entire Bible? What is the key narrative that stretches throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament? A number of words might come to mind: love, grace, transformation.
Consider the following: Freedom from slavery. In fact, one can make a compelling argument that freedom from slavery is the primary theme and message of the Bible.
We are citizens of the Kingdom of God. True freedom in Jesus has nothing to do with politics or earthly worldviews. This can be tough to keep in mind but it is critical.
In the book of Exodus, the Hebrew people are delivered from slavery in Egypt. This extraordinary moment of freedom is foreshadowed in Genesis and then recapitulated throughout the rest of the Hebrew scriptures.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus stands in the synagogue and inaugurates his own ministry by reading from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus says that he has been sent “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.”
In the letters of Saint Paul, and especially in Romans, freedom from sin and death stands out as the key announcement.
Independence Day and America
In the United States we take July 4th every year to celebrate the birth of a nation, and more broadly, the gifts of freedom and liberty that Americans hold dear. It would be a bit too easy to simply say that American freedom is a direct reflection of the freedom described in the Bible. That’s because Biblical freedom has a theological component which sets it apart. In the Bible, people are made free for a specific purpose: to serve God.
Going back to Exodus, Moses leads the people into the desert SO THAT they may worship the LORD. Indeed, the ensuing narrative offers a strong caution against the abuse of freedom, as the Hebrews build the golden calf. That is not what God had in mind.
St. Paul expresses the same point. We are free from sin SO THAT we may be in Christ. Sometimes Paul even says that we are free in order that we might be slaves to Christ. When the Bible says we are free, it means that we are free to serve God and God’s vision.
It seems to me, that when America gets it right, we tap into the Biblical view of freedom. We see our political and social freedoms as responsibilities. Freedoms are not for us to abuse, nor does freedom exist so that we can do whatever we want. Instead, freedom provides opportunity to serve. Freedom is for a purpose.
Bible verses about Freedom
- Isaiah 61:1 (this is the verse Jesus reads in the synagogue)
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. (NIV)
- 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 (CSB) But whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Master is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.
- Galatians 2:3-5 (CSB) But not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in the Messiah Jesus in order to enslave us. But we did not give up and submit to these people for even a moment, so that the truth of the gospel would be preserved for you.
- Galatians 5:1 For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.
- Galatians 5:13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. (NIV)
- James 1:24-26 (CSB) For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of person he was. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who works—this person will be blessed in what he does.
- 1 Peter 2:15-17 Christian (CSB) For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves.Honor everyone. Love the brothers and sisters. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
- 2 Peter 2:19 (CSB) They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption, since people are enslaved to whatever defeats them.
- Revelation 1:5-6 …and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (NRSV)