“If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” – Jesus (Matthew 19:17)
The biblical understanding of freedom is drastically opposed to the world’s. According to the world, you’re free whenever you can make any decision that you want. When your options are limitless and your decisions are not bound by anything other than your desires, then you are “free.” Laws and regulations are hinderances to our freedom because they deprive us of options. And religion, with all of it’s “thou shalt not’s”, is being seen with much more hostility and disdain than it used to be because it is seen as an infringement upon our freedom.
But according to Scripture, true freedom is not found in being able to do whatever you want to do. In fact, the Bible refers to that as the very bondage that Jesus came to set us free from (2 Corinthians 5:15). Our natural desires do not lead us toward flourishing and satisfaction, they produce in us frustration and sorrow because this world is not designed to curb our appetites, only God can do that. The problem is that, apart from Christ, we are enslaved to these passions that produce futility and exhaustion (John 8:34). We are unable to choose what is good for us and we are unable to find enduring satisfaction.
But when we come to Christ, these chains are broken and we are set free to live for something greater than ourselves. And the way that this is worked out in our lives seems strange to our culture. When we come to Christ and are set free, our freedom comes in the form of law. Romans 8:1 describes the glorious reality for those who come to Christ, that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” But verse 2 explains that how the way this condemnation is removed is that “the law of the Spirit has set you free in Christ from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). There is an exchanging of laws that takes place. When we come to Christ, we are trading in the law of sin and death that resides inside of us (Romans 7:23), and trading it in for what James calls “the perfect law, the law of liberty” (James 1:25).
The law of liberty. The law of freedom. It seems ironic to think that rules, regulations, and barriers can actually make us more free, but that’s easily understood when we reorient our understanding of freedom to understand that true freedom is found in doing only the things that are guaranteed to bring you the most joy; all the options that bring you sorrow are off-limits. When you have limitless options before you, it’s hard to see past all of the cheap, frivolous pursuits that don’t payout the joy that they promise. But when you can identify what is guaranteed to bring you joy–to bring you life–and actually choose that, then you are free. The law of Christ is not like the law of sin and death with all of it’s “thou shalt not’s.” The law of Christ sets you free: “thou shall.”
This is what New Testament morality is designed to do for us. It is given to us by our Creator who knows better than we do what makes us tick, what makes us flourish, and what makes us happy. Obedience is not a killjoy, it’s the only way to experience true joy.