My last three posts were about being “red-pill” christians, no longer satisfied with the dream state of having all the trappings of life as usual, business as usual, but instead awake to the reality of being so much more – taking Jesus at his word and following or pursuing his teachings to their logical conclusion.
Central to the matrix theme that the “red-pill” posts were based on and central to the message of Jesus is the whole concept of freedom. The idea, the concept of freedom, is one that people have lived and died in pursuit of for millennia. It is a concept that, even to this day, is not a reality for many people around the world.
Jesus lived and walked this earth at a fascinating time in history. Israel was under the oppression of the Roman empire and it is the Jews that first heard his strange teaching about the kingdom of God and about freedom. What we find as we read the stories in the bible about his teaching and the reaction to it is that not only was his message grossly misunderstood by both his followers and haters, his message was a lot more nuanced and timeless than they must have originally thought.
In particular, a refrain that we hear over and over again from Jesus’ immediate disciples is the understanding that the concept of freedom that he was proposing was a freedom from Roman oppression. It is easy to understand why they thought that this was what he was proposing. The Roman rule was the most obvious form of oppression in their day – second only to the oppression of their own religious system and so the concept of freedom must have automatically been attached to the desire for freedom from the political oppressors of the time.
In John 8: 21 – 41, Jesus has an interesting back and forth with his listeners on this very subject – freedom. In this passage, Jesus is both egging them on and trying to stretch their thinking to see that the concept of freedom that he is talking about is not one of physical chains, nor is it one of birthright. He is trying to level the playing ground to help his listeners understand that there is a different and more important form of slavery and of freedom. This form of slavery VS freedom has to do with the condition of one’s heart.
Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.
Many would say that freedom is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. So when people speak of freedom, what they are really saying is that they want to be able to do whatever they want, whenever they want, to or with whomever they want. I’m pretty sure that if you press them on the issue, they would back away from it, but it is the sad truth.
And here is the unfortunate thing. Doing whatever you want whenever you want more often than not has nothing to do with making oneself or the world, for that matter, a better place. Rather it has to do with following every selfish whim that might pop into one’s head. This, unfortunately, is not true freedom. Instead it is a form of slavery in which you are bound to your basic instincts. I believe that this is what Jesus is talking about in the broadest sense when he says that everyone who sins is a slave to sin.
And so he proposes a different definition of freedom:
If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
This is a counter-intuitive definition of freedom. It is a definition that makes freedom NOT a right, but rather a gift. One that has nothing to do with acting, speaking or thinking as one wants, but rather acting, speaking and thinking as the one who set you free would have.
This is a simple and powerful proposition; that we are not free when we simply serve ourselves. Rather, we are free when we serve Jesus. Understandably, this is a tough and counter-intuitive message for our self centered nature as human beings and yet it is the truth. Freedom really has to do with mastery. Who is your master? If you are your own master, you are not really free. If your oppressor (physical, mental or spiritual oppressor) is your master, you are not really free either. However, if Jesus is your master, THEN you are really free.
While freedom can be narrowly reduced to the parameters of personal choice or external forces, there is a deeper persuasion that we all must come to. The one that Jesus proposes, and the one that Paul reflects on many years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul pens a fascinating thesis about the nature of freedom in his letter to the church in Rome that he had planted and I am only going to read tiny portion of it from Romans 8:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
You see, freedom is contextual and not simply an idealistic principle. There is freedom from physical oppression, freedom from mental or spiritual oppression, freedom to participate in or abstain from social and political discourse, and, most importantly, freedom from the cycle of sin and self destruction.
If you look around at the society in which we live, it is easy to see that we are not really free. We have reduced the definition of freedom to a few basic constructs and yet many of us carry around invisible chains of slavery to more insidious masters. While we may have the appearance of freedom because of what you can see on the outside, our slave masters oppress us inwardly, in secret and in hiding. Breaking free of these oppressors requires more than self discipline, external intervention and willpower. It requires the courage and wisdom to realize that on our own, we are unable to free ourselves from our hidden oppressors. Our freedom is costly and the only one who has paid the price for our ultimate salvation from the oppression of sin is Christ and the really cool thing is that HE offers us this freedom, this salvation from our nefarious masters freely.
So just like the illustration of the matrix that I used in the previous posts in which I talked about being red-pill people, we have to realize that the difference between being asleep or awake, AND the difference between being a slave or being free. The difference is very simple because it has everything to do with the mind and heart and who has mastery over them.
Who or what has mastery over your heart and mind? Who or what holds the keys to your freedom?