“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. But 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.
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.
Today is Independence Day, 2014. In the United States we take this day 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.
What does all this have to do with July 4th? 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.
Three 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)
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)
…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)
The Rev. Matthew Kozlowski manages, edits, and writes for Building Faith. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia with his wife Danielle and two young daughters. Throughout his career he has been a teacher, camp counselor, school chaplain, camp chaplain, Sunday school teacher, parish priest, and Alpha course coordinator.
Did you enjoy this article? Consider subscribing to Building Faith and get every new post by email. It’s free and always will be. Subscribe to Building Faith.