What is Freedom? Are We Free?

There are some people in the United States of America who do not know the reason for the 4th of July celebration and from whom they gained independence. Many Americans are ignorant of their historical roots.

The Bible deals with three aspects of liberty and it would be wise to consider whether we truly have liberty and freedom in our own lives. It is possible to experience liberty even in the midst of lawlessness when our civil liberties are taken from us.

God has told His church that what was not done when there was opportunity in times of peace would have to be done under terrible conditions and even persecution.

The two founding documents of the United States are the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Notice in the following quotation that Ellen White lumps these two together because the Constitution is based upon the principles in the Declaration of Independence. If you attack one, you attack the other. She says, “In that grand old document which our forefathers set forth as their bill of rights—the Declaration of Independence—they declared: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ And the Constitution guarantees, in the most explicit terms, the inviolability of conscience: ‘No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.’ ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ ” The Great Controversy, 295.

We always think of the Bill of Rights as the amendments to the constitution, but here these rights are tied in with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Christians will have to exercise their freedom of conscience when challenged personally over what God’s law says and what saith the state, called the image to the beast. “It (freedom of conscience) is an inborn principle which nothing can eradicate. Congressional documents (U.S.A.), serial No. 200, document No. 271.” Ibid., 295.

Liberties will be eroded, but true liberty comes from God. The psalmist said, “I will walk at liberty for I seek Thy precepts” (Psalm 119:45). Here David is referring to God’s law. Those who seek to know truth and obey God’s law walk in liberty. Precepts here means commandments. In the book of Psalms, particularly Psalm 119, God’s law, His ten commandments, are referred to in many different phrases and words such as precepts, or testimonies, or a law, word, or commandments.

While a fugitive, being hunted by Saul like a wild animal, David could still walk at liberty in his own heart. He could have freedom, knowing he was right with God, even though his personal rights were being taken from him.

The apostle James said that true freedom, or liberty, comes from walking in obedience to God’s law. He said, “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continues therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (James 1:25 KJV). The apostle James calls the law a law of freedom.

Why would God’s law be seen as or described as a law of liberty? An examination of the ten commandments reveals that they were divided and written on two tables of stone, the first four on the first table of stone and the last six on the second table. God knew that the principles governing man’s relationship to Himself and to each other would have to be distinct and separate from one another, just as state and church are to be separate from one another.

The state has been given the responsibility of enforcing the last six commandments that deal with man’s responsibility to his fellow man, but religion has its part in the first table of the law, which deals with man’s relationship with God. The government has no right to infringe upon the first four commandments, which is why they were put on a separate table.

We also notice that within the commandments there are eight commandments of omission and two of commission. In eight commandments God reveals behaviors that are to be eliminated from each life. Freedom would be experienced if adultery, lying, stealing, and coveting other people’s things were eliminated. Many people think that keeping God’s law puts you in bondage, but that is just the opposite of what the Bible says.

An illustration was given of a pastor who asked a man who was smoking for a cigarette. The man had previously accused the minister of being in bondage to the law. On receiving it he put it into his mouth and asked for the lighter. When the lighter was about an inch away from his cigarette he said, “Nah!” He took the cigarette out of his mouth and gave back both the cigarette and lighter.

Then he said to the man, “Now, you do the same. I want you to put it down and never touch it again.”

“Oh, I can’t do that,” said the man.

“No!” said the pastor. “Who is really in bondage?”

You see, if anything has control of your life that does not give freedom and peace in your heart, then you are not at liberty. God’s law is a law of liberty. He says that if you omit the disruptive things from your life and then add the two commandments of commission, the Sabbath and give honor to your father and mother, then your days may be long on the land which the Lord gives you. You will experience complete freedom in your life. No matter what outward force may come against you, you will walk at liberty.

We have been told and can already see evidence that God’s law is going to be challenged in our own country and around the world, but we need not fear, for God is sovereign over all and still in charge.

James 2:10–12, literal translation says, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He that said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ said also, ‘Do not kill.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but if you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.” God’s law, the law of freedom, will one day judge us. Though you have complete freedom to do whatever you want to in this world, there are always consequences to doing what is contrary to God’s law.

The book The Man That Couldn’t Be Killed is a true story of a man who became a Seventh-day Adventist under Mao Se Tung, the late dictator in China. In his attempt to eradicate all religion, Mao Se Tung sent him to Siberia where the prisoners were forced to make the own prison. While it was being constructed, their accommodation was in caves. There was no need of barbed wire fences because any escape would mean certain death due to their isolation. Refusing to eat the pork that was served, he gave his portion to another prisoner. When the guards found out that he was refusing it, they held him down and shoved pork down his throat. Returning to his room, he stuck his finger in his mouth and gagged himself until the pork was regurgitated.

It would have been easy for him to eat it, as there was nothing else, but he could not do that because, though he was a prisoner, he was walking in God’s freedom. God wants to put us in perfect, total control of ourselves, where, if offered something that is appealing to our sinful human nature but contrary to God’s will, we will not accept it. We must be able to be trusted to be taken to heaven. Unless tried, how can God know who will give Him allegiance under every circumstance.

When we acknowledge our sins and defects of character and turn to Christ for the remedy, we will find that the law is not a law of bondage, but a law of freedom. God’s law is good. “Jesus answered them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin’ ” (John 8:34).

Friends, if you are enslaved to anything you eat, or drink, or to some activity you are engaged in, whether it be your cell phone, your Facebook account and you can’t get away from them, you are not free. Just try laying it aside for a week or two and see how you feel. National Public Radio did a study of everybody in their office, charging them not to look at Facebook for a week. There were some who could not last a couple of hours. In fact, two days is the most any went. Friends, do not be enslaved to anything in this world but experience complete freedom in Jesus.

Jesus said, “ ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed’ ” (John 8:34–36).

There is freedom in Christ. Does your temper enslave you? Do you find yourself impatient, or are you enslaved to evil thoughts? The devil wants to keep you enslaved to the habits you have formed over your life. Many people are enslaved to the bitterness of their own hearts. All they can talk about are the wrongs that somebody did to them in the past. Are you enslaved to those past experiences? Paul said, “Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13, 14).

The bitterness connected to being enslaved to the past will defile your own heart. Jesus said, “The Son will make you free” (John 8:36). All desire liberty, but few understand how to get it. In John 8:31 Jesus told the Jews that believed Him that they were enslaved with unbelief. They had hatred in their hearts and harbored jealous feelings. They were envious of Jesus’ ministry. Are these same things also in our lives?

God wants to give us liberty. Speaking about the year of Jubilee, it says in Leviticus 25:10, “And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family.”

The famous landmark in the United States with this text written on the very top is the Liberty Bell, which became a rallying cry for slaves. Liberty was being proclaimed throughout all the land and the slaves said, “Hey, we are not free, and this is what you are proclaiming from the word of God?” They also wanted freedom.

“True liberty and independence are found in the service of God. His service will place upon you no restriction that will not increase your happiness.” Fundamentals of Christian Education, 88. It is not going to create unhappiness in your life when you are restricted from eating or drinking something, or thinking something, or participating in some activity contrary to God’s will, but it will increase your happiness in the service of God.

“In complying with His requirements, you will find a peace, contentment, and enjoyment that you can never have in the path of wild license and sin.” Ibid. You can not have peace, contentment, and enjoyment when you give yourself up to your own carnal, sinful nature. “Then study well the nature of the liberty you desire. Is it the liberty of the sons of God, to be free in Christ Jesus? or do you call the selfish indulgence of base passions freedom? Such liberty carries with it the heaviest remorse; it is the cruelest bondage.” Ibid.

There are terrible consequences of doing whatever you want without restraint.

Another interesting dichotomy of liberty is found in Daniel 6. It was the envy and jealousy of the governors of Persia that caused them to find an occasion against Daniel to go and tell the king that this man was unfaithful. How much did they find with Daniel to substantiate their claim? Not even one thing. They had to find something Daniel did that would be contrary to the king’s law. So they made a law that no one could pray to any god except the king for 30 days. Daniel was not fazed; he did not change the way he prayed to his God.  Three times a day, as his custom was, he opened his windows toward Jerusalem, and there he prayed (see Daniel 6:10). Daniel experienced perfect freedom, even though there was a law in force to restrict it. He experienced liberty and was in perfect freedom with Christ.

Joseph in Egypt was a slave working for Potiphar. Resisting the advances of Potiphar’s wife resulted in his being thrown in jail. However, he was still free in his heart, even though he was incarcerated and his liberty had been taken away.

Another aspect of freedom is found in 2 Corinthians 3. This describes the difference between the Spirit of life and the spirit of the letter of the law. Notice in verse 17, it says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

In John 16 we are told a few things the Holy Spirit does in our lives that sets us free. He says, “Nevertheless I [Jesus] tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper, the Spirit, will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He is come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:7, 8). There is liberating theology within this one text.

When the Holy Spirit comes and convinces of sin and that sin is confessed, there is freedom and liberty. The Holy Spirit then convicts of righteousness, to do what is right, and of judgment. There are consequences for sin and there may be some fixing up to do. The new birth experience is a process of liberty; it is freedom.

There is another function of the Holy Spirit: “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will tell you things to come” (verse 13). The Spirit will guide you into truth. Truth is liberating. The opposite of truth is deception—error and lies. Truth will set you free from old deceptions. You cannot deceive God.

God said in Genesis 2:15 and 16 that if you eat of this tree you will die. In chapter 3 verses 1–3, the devil says the opposite of what God said in chapter 2. That was a lie. Eve deceived herself into believing that what the serpent said was actually true, that she would become like God, knowing good and evil. It is amazing that the devil can tell us just the opposite of what God’s word tells us, and we believe it as truth.

People deceive themselves all the time. If God says, “Don’t commit adultery,” somehow people have a text of Scripture to back up why it is acceptable. If God says, “Don’t lie,” they have a reason why they need to lie, some using Rahab as a reason why it is acceptable to lie in certain situations, when the Spirit of Prophecy says there is no situation under the heavens where we can lie. Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

If you know the truth and obey it, you will no longer be deceived. In The Great Controversy, 277, it says, “The spirit of liberty went with the Bible. Wherever the gospel was received, the minds of the people were awakened. They began to cast off the shackles that had held them bondslaves of ignorance, vice, and superstition.” These were shackles of ignorance. There were people in the time of Martin Luther who believed that if they paid for indulgences they would receive a little piece of paper saying their sins were forgiven. Martin Luther was outraged at this and preached what the Bible says—that you have to confess your sins to Jesus and have faith in Him and be forgiven. But they said, “No, I like my piece of paper better.” They were deceived; they were bond slaves of ignorance, vice and many other things. When the Spirit of Liberty went with the Bible, it set them free from all their superstitions. No longer would they believe that their departed little loved one was floating out on the fireflies at night in the summer wind. “They began to think and act as men. Monarchs saw it, and trembled for their despotism.” Ibid.

In The Review and Herald, December 14, 1911, we are told: “It was not the apostle’s work to overturn arbitrarily or suddenly the established order of society. To attempt this would be to prevent the success of the gospel.” This was referring to the slavery in the Roman Empire. Two thirds of the population were slaves and the other one third were the owners of the slaves. Paul’s work to overturn this arbitrarily would not have worked. “But he taught principles which struck at the very foundation of slavery, and which, if carried into effect, would surely undermine the whole system. ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty’ (2 Corinthians 3:17).” Ibid.

When the Holy Spirit is withdrawn from this earth, slavery and bondage will take its place. Ignorance, vice, and superstition will return with falsehood, deception and lies. We see this happening today, which tells us that the Spirit of God is being gradually withdrawn from this earth.

In Luke 4:18, Jesus, quoting from Isaiah 61, described His mission. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim deliverance (liberty) to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed … .” Christ’s main reason in coming to this world was to give us freedom, freedom from sin and deception. He came to bring truth. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).

“Through yielding to sin, man placed his will under the control of Satan. He became a helpless captive in the tempter’s power. God sent His Son into our world to break the power of Satan, and to emancipate the will of man.” Our High Calling, 104. To emancipate is to give freedom.

Dare to be a Daniel or a Joseph. They determined to do right even though they knew the consequences were dire. They would rather maintain their relationship with God through prayer and be thrown into a den of lions or into prison. That is being free in this world. God wants us to be able to stand fast in the liberty that Christ has given us to make us free. It is up to you and me whether we choose that freedom or not.

Just think what it would have been if there were not some men who were willing to sign that Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin said, “Well, if we don’t hang together, we’ll hang separately.” And there were some men who were willing to do that and put their names on the document, whether or not it would cost them their lives. That is what is at stake in our world. These brave men pledged everything and we must do the same if we are looking for an eternal inheritance.

All quotes NKJV unless otherwise noted.

Mike Bauler was ordained into the ministry in 2005 and serves as pastor of the Historic Message Church in Portland, Oregon. Prior to locating in Portland, Pastor Bauler served as a Bible worker for Steps to Life Ministries. His goal is to help give the gospel to the greater Portland area with an emphasis in helping his Bible students discover the truths in Bible prophecy, which are so often neglected today. His wife, Amanda, a family nurse practitioner, and their daughters assist him in his ministry.