There are a number of definitions of freedom, so before looking at this subject we must make sure we understand about what we are talking.
From www.dictionary.com we learn that freedom is a noun, defined as
- the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint: He won his freedom after a retrial.
- exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc.
- the power to determine action without restraint.
- political or national independence.
- personal liberty, as opposed to bondage or slavery: a slave who bought his freedom.
True freedom from anything begins in the mind. Remember what Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28. In other words, a person may even be killed but no one can take away his freedom of soul, which comes from within.
First let’s look at freedom from the broad perspective and work our way to how freedom applies to each one of us individually.
God’s government promotes freedom. It can be seen from the very beginning of our world. God could have forced Adam and Eve to obey Him, but He did not; He gave them freedom of choice. God’s servants serve Him because they want to, not because they are forced.
“The earth was dark through misapprehension of God. That the gloomy shadows might be lightened, that the world might be brought back to God, Satan’s deceptive power was to be broken. This could not be done by force. The exercise of force is contrary to the principles of God’s government; He desires only the service of love; and love cannot be commanded; it cannot be won by force or authority. Only by love is love awakened. To know God is to love Him; His character must be manifested in contrast to the character of Satan.” The Desire of Ages, 22.
“The government of God is not, as Satan would make it appear, founded upon a blind submission, an unreasoning control. It appeals to the intellect and the conscience. ‘Come now, and let us reason together’ is the Creator’s invitation to the beings He has made. Isaiah 1:18. God does not force the will of His creatures. He cannot accept an homage that is not willingly and intelligently given. A mere forced submission would prevent all real development of mind or character; it would make man a mere automaton. Such is not the purpose of the Creator. He desires that man, the crowning work of His creative power, shall reach the highest possible development. He sets before us the height of blessing to which He desires to bring us through His grace. He invites us to give ourselves to Him, that He may work His will in us. It remains for us to choose whether we will be set free from the bondage of sin, to share the glorious liberty of the sons of God.” Steps to Christ, 43, 44.
“In striking contrast to the wrong and oppression so universally practised were the mission and work of Christ. Earthly kingdoms are established and upheld by physical force, but this was not to be the foundation of the Messiah’s kingdom. In the establishment of His government no carnal weapons were to be used, no coercion practised; no attempt would be made to force the consciences of men. These are the principles used by the prince of darkness for the government of his kingdom. His agents are actively at work, seeking in their human independence to enact laws which are in direct contrast to Christ’s mercy and loving-kindness.” The Review and Herald, August 18, 1896.
Righteousness promotes freedom—Proverbs 14:34. The prosperous countries of the world have all, at some recent time, followed religious principles. The United States of America was founded on the principle of freedom, which has made it a great nation. In contrast is the country that tried to stamp out religion, and the disaster that followed was the French Revolution.
“It was the desire for liberty of conscience that inspired the Pilgrims to brave the perils of the long journey across the sea, to endure the hardships and dangers of the wilderness, and with God’s blessing to lay, on the shores of America, the foundation of a mighty nation. Yet honest and God-fearing as they were, the Pilgrims did not yet comprehend the great principle of religious toleration. The freedom which they sacrificed so much to secure for themselves, they were not equally ready to grant to others.” The Great Controversy (1888), 292.
These early reformers, though they had rejected the creed of Rome, were still not free from the spirit of intolerance, ruling that only church-members should have a voice in civil government. This led to a State church being formed and the inevitable result was persecution to non-conformists.
It was not until Roger Williams came to the New World eleven years after the first colony was established that true liberty of conscience was promoted. He declared it to be the duty of the magistrate to restrain crime, but never to control the conscience. He regarded it as an open violation of their natural rights, to drag to public worship the irreligious and the unwilling. He said that no one should be forced to worship, or to maintain a worship, against his own consent.
For his stand on liberty of conscience, Roger Williams was sentenced to banishment from the colonies, and finally, to avoid arrest, he was forced to flee, amid the cold and storms of winter, into the unbroken forest.
“ ‘For fourteen weeks,’ he says, ‘I was sorely tossed in a bitter season, not knowing what bread or bed did mean.’ ‘But the ravens fed me in the wilderness;’ and a hollow tree often served him for a shelter. Thus he continued his painful flight through the snow and the trackless forest, until he found refuge with an Indian tribe whose confidence and affection he had won while endeavoring to teach them the truths of the gospel.
“Making his way at last, after months of change and wandering, to the shores of Narragansett Bay, he there laid the foundation of the first State of modern times that in the fullest sense recognized the right of religious freedom. The fundamental principle of Roger Williams’ colony, was ‘that every man should have the right to worship God according to the light of his conscience.’ His little State, Rhode Island, became the asylum of the oppressed, and it increased and prospered until its foundation principles—civil and religious liberty—became the corner-stones of the American Republic.
“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 of public trust under the United States.’ ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’
“The framers of the Constitution recognized the eternal principle that man’s relation to his God is above human legislation, and his right of conscience inalienable. Reasoning was not necessary to establish this truth; we are conscious of it in our own bosom. It is this consciousness, which, in defiance of human laws, has sustained so many martyrs in tortures and flames. They felt that their duty to God was superior to human enactments, and that man could exercise no authority over their consciences. It is an inborn principle, which nothing can eradicate.
“As the tidings spread through the countries of Europe, of a land where every man might enjoy the fruit of his own labor, and obey the convictions of his conscience, thousands flocked to the shores of the New World. Colonies rapidly multiplied.” Ibid., 294, 295.
“The Bible was held as the foundation of faith, the source of wisdom, and the charter of liberty. Its principles were diligently taught in the home, in the school, and in the church, and its fruits were manifest in thrift, intelligence, purity, and temperance. One might be for years a dweller in the Puritan settlements, and not ‘see a drunkard, nor hear an oath, nor meet a beggar.’ It was demonstrated that the principles of the Bible are the surest safeguards of national greatness. The feeble and isolated colonies grew to a confederation of powerful States, and the world marked with wonder the peace and prosperity of ‘a church without a pope, and a State without a king.’ …
“The great principle so nobly advocated by Robinson and Roger Williams, that truth is progressive, that Christians should stand ready to accept all the light which may shine from God’s Holy Word, was lost sight of by their descendants. The Protestant churches of America—and those of Europe as well—so highly favored in receiving the blessings of the Reformation, failed to press forward in the path of reform.” Ibid., 296, 297.
Example of Daniel – by following God’s principles Daniel gained the freedom to worship God but not without trial. “Those who honor Me I will honor.” I Samuel 2:30.
In looking at freedom in the church example of what it is not, would be the Pharisees. They thought they were free but in reality they were not. “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” Luke 11:42. A Pharisee is a self-righteous, sanctimonious, hypocrite who makes outward observance to laws that cannot save him. The person who in a Pharisee’s eye is a very great sinner can be living a life of service to God, overcoming his/her sins and go to Heaven while the Pharisee is lost making the commandment of God of no effect by their tradition. Jesus told them that the publicans and sinners would go into the Kingdom of God before them. The irony was, while they were in bondage to the Romans and sin, they thought they were Abraham’s seed and free. Is it possible to think that you are free and yet be in bondage?
“Christ ever rebuked the Pharisees for their self-righteousness. They extolled themselves. They came forth from their religious services, not humbled with a sense of their own weakness, not feeling gratitude for the great privileges that God had given them. They were exalted to heaven in point of opportunity, in having the Scriptures, in knowing the true God, but their hearts were not filled with thankfulness to God for his great goodness toward them. They came forth filled with spiritual pride, and their theme was self—‘myself, my feelings, my knowledge, my ways.’ Their own attainments became the standard by which they measured others. Putting on the robes of self-dignity, they mounted the judgment seat to criticise and to condemn. But no human being has been authorized of God to do this work. It is the very essence of Phariseeism.” The Signs of the Times, December 17, 1894.
Notice that thinking you are better than everyone else and pointing out all the faults of others compared to you is the essence of Phariseeism.
“The soil of the hearts of the Pharisees is a hopeless and profitless soil, where the seeds of heavenly truth cannot take root. Oh, how self-deluding is this feeling of superiority that all Pharisees cherish!” Ibid.
It will not help us to talk of people in the Bible unless we can make practical application to our lives. Modern day Pharisees are a very big problem today. The modern Pharisees are those who tell others that they are going to hell if they do not believe and follow what the Pharisee thinks is a major point of doctrine. People will tell you, if you eat that, you are going to hell. They make God out to be a cruel and hard taskmaster ready to strike with lightening if you do something “wrong.” Tests are often made of what God has never made a test. It would be more profitable to dwell on the real salvational issues, allowing God to change hearts and those little things that need change will be changed. We have not been called to be judge, condemning our fellow man. For clarification, this does not refer to some major point of doctrine or the eating of unclean food but about minor issues that people make into mountains. Jesus said, “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” Matthew 23:24.
“Suppose a brother held a view that differed from yours, and he should come to you, proposing that you sit down with him and make an investigation of that point in the Scriptures; should you rise up, filled with prejudice, and condemn his ideas, while refusing to give him a candid hearing? The only right way would be to sit down as Christians, and investigate the position presented, in the light of God’s word, which reveals truth and unmasks error. To ridicule his ideas would not weaken his position in the least if it were false, or strengthen your position if it were true. If the pillars of our faith will not stand the test of investigation, it is time that we knew it. There must be no spirit of Phariseeism cherished among us.” Gospel Workers, 127.
“As soon as you gain a clear view of the power and goodness of Christ, your murmuring will cease. You will not pick at the faults of others. It is Phariseeism that leads men to exalt themselves by depreciating their brethren.” The Review and Herald, June 11, 1889.
There are a lot of people in the church who believe that if you do not see everything the way they see it you are wrong, and if you would just study you would see that they are right. Then something is thrown in to give it authority because they said God said it. The problem with that is, people are looking too much at others instead of looking in the mirror to see what needs to be changed in themselves. It is always a great marvel that those who are the most critical of others often have blatant faults themselves that are glaring to others. The spirit of Phariseeism is to look for faults in others as compared with themselves.
“You belong to God, soul, body, and spirit. Your mind belongs to God, and your talents belong to Him also. No one has a right to control another’s mind and judge for another, prescribing what is his duty. There are certain rights that belong to every individual in doing God’s service. No man has any more liberty to take these rights from us than to take life itself. God has given us freedom to think, and it is our privilege to follow our impressions of duty. We are only human beings, and one human being has no jurisdiction over the conscience of another human being. … Each one of us has an individuality and identity that cannot be surrendered to any other human being. We are individually the workmanship of God.” Mind, Character and Personality, vol. 2, 708, 709.
It is the spirit of Phariseeism in the church that does not allow a person freedom, the freedom to think and study a subject and come to a conclusion but forbids others that right. This is not referring to any major points of doctrine such as the Sabbath, but little things that people make into big issues.
“Few have correct views of marriage. … Ignoring the personal rights of women, the husband becomes unkind and authoritative. The individuality of the wife is submerged in that of the husband. … He quotes texts of scripture to show that he is the head, and that he must be obeyed in all things, claiming that his wife must have no will separate from his. He acts the tyrant. But the same Bible that prescribes the duty of the wife prescribes also the duty of the husband. He is to be kind and affectionate, to love his wife as a part of himself, and to cherish her as Christ does His church.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 18, 312.
“In trying to force others to carry out your ideas in every particular, you often do greater harm than if you were to yield these points. This is true even when your ideas are right in themselves, but in many things they are not correct; they are overstrained as the result of the peculiarities of your organization; therefore you drive the wrong thing in a strong, unreasonable manner.
“You have peculiar views in regard to managing your family. You exercise an independent, arbitrary power which permits no liberty of will around you. You think yourself sufficient to be head in your family and feel that your head is sufficient to move every member, as a machine is moved in the hands of the workmen. You dictate and assume authority. This displeases Heaven and grieves the pitying angels. You have conducted yourself in your family as though you alone were capable of self-government. It has offended you that your wife should venture to oppose your opinion or question your decisions.” The Adventist Home, 225, 226.
“To direct the child’s development without hindering it by undue control should be the study of both parent and teacher. Too much management is as bad as too little. The effort to ‘break the will’ of a child is a terrible mistake. Minds are constituted differently; while force may secure outward submission, the result with many children is a more determined rebellion of the heart. Even should the parent or teacher succeed in gaining the control he seeks, the outcome may be no less harmful to the child. The discipline of a human being who has reached the years of intelligence should differ from the training of a dumb animal. The beast is taught only submission to its master. For the beast, the master is mind, judgment, and will. This method, sometimes employed in the training of children, makes them little more than automatons. Mind, will, conscience, are under the control of another. It is not God’s purpose that any mind should be thus dominated. Those who weaken or destroy individuality assume a responsibility that can result only in evil. While under authority, the children may appear like well-drilled soldiers; but when the control ceases, the character will be found to lack strength and steadfastness. Having never learned to govern himself, the youth recognizes no restraint except the requirement of parents or teacher. This removed, he knows not how to use his liberty, and often gives himself up to indulgence that proves his ruin.” Education, 288.
Another danger is to follow Eli’s example where there was no restraint at all. If a child in the family has committed a wrong, the child needs to be held accountable. Some people want to blame every adult around them for the problems of their children when really the child needs to be held accountable for their actions no matter what anyone else did or did not do.
- This is the most important freedom because it affects families, churches, and nations.
- Freedom involves responsibility – How does freedom involve responsibility?
- Authority does not give the right to treat subordinates disrespectfully.
- A ruler may have liberty to do an action but he does not always have the moral right to do it.
- The blessing of freedom places you under obligation to pass on that blessing to others.
- Freedom involving responsibility is a Bible principle. A man was forgiven a great debt, but himself refused to forgive a lesser debt. (See Matthew 18:23–33.)
- Freedom does not give us the liberty to do anything that we please. Galatians 5:13, I Peter 2:16–19.
- Those in positions of leadership are not to lord it over others. I Peter 5:2, 3.
“God will not vindicate any device whereby man shall in the slightest degree rule or oppress his fellow-men. The only hope for fallen man is to look to Jesus, and receive Him as the only Saviour. As soon as a man begins to make any iron rule for other men, as soon as he begins to harness up and drive men according to his own mind, he dishonors God, and imperils his own soul, and the souls of his brethren. Sinful man can find hope and righteousness only in God; and no human being is righteous any longer than he has faith in God, and maintains a vital connection with Him. A flower of the field must have its roots in the soil; it must have air, dew, showers, and sunshine. It will flourish only as it receives these advantages, and all are from God. So with men. We receive from God that which ministers to the life of the soul. We are warned not to trust in man, not to make flesh our arm.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 366, 367.
“All our workers must have room to exercise their own judgment and discretion. God has given men talents which He means that they should use. He has given them minds and He means that they should become thinkers, and do their own thinking and planning rather than depend upon others to think and plan for them.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 9, 162.
Why does keeping God’s Law promote freedom? James 1:25 – if everyone kept God’s law you would not have to have all the papers that we have to have because everyone would keep their word. You would not have to lock your house. You would not have to worry about someone taking anything that belongs to you. You would not have to worry about anyone killing another person. Does that liberty mean you can do anything that you please? No, it makes you responsible to look out for your fellow human beings.
Where God’s spirit is there is liberty. II Corinthians 3:17. It is really a crazy thing that people want to put God in a box (not give Him liberty either). They will say God has to do it this way. Whoever said God has to do something a certain way? God is at liberty to decide what He wants to do.
The greatest freedom of all is that which we receive from Jesus—to be freed from our sins. Luke 4:18; Galatians 5:1; John 8:36.
We must remember that with freedom comes responsibility. We have a responsibility to forgive others because Jesus has forgiven us for more than anyone in this world could have sinned against us. We cannot be holding a grudge against anyone, no matter what they have or have not done to us, because Jesus has forgiven us for our sins. If we are holding a grudge against anyone for any reason, we need to ask Jesus to set us free. If you are not free, please ask Jesus and “Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:36.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
A network engineer, Jana Grosboll lives in Derby, Kansas.