If we think we are free, we are mistaken. There is no such thing if by freedom we mean an independent autonomy from any natural conditions for life and/or independent autonomy from the intentions and plans of other kinds of things that might wish us, or force us, to do something we don’t want to.
An example of a natural condition is our birth. From the beginning our ‘freedom’ is already constrained by physical existence (our bodies), inherited genetic predispositions, gender and race, intrinsic athletic or intellectual abilities, or lack thereof, and the limitations placed on us by the natural world like gravity.
Added to these natural constraints are seemingly endless numbers of interfering people who always seem to be in our way (think traffic jams, competition for jobs), institutions demanding we conduct our personal affairs a certain way (like banks, government agencies), rules of law (traffic, criminal, civil), familial boundaries and demands, and even entities (supernatural) that exist to destroy whatever is left of our humanity. Interestingly, should we decide to resist some of these boundaries in the name of exercising freedom, the penalty is even more restraint by physical incarceration or increased spiritual bondage.
Thinking there is such a thing as autonomous human freedom is not only a mistake, it is a lie. Indeed, the lie is that we are entitled and expected to do what we want, when we want, how we want, and with whomever we want. And its consequences are dire.
For instance, witness the frenzied pursuit of self-help gurus, the obsessive concern over children’s self-esteem, the desire for self-awareness, self-actualization, self-discovery, embracing self-aggrandizement as acceptable behavior and the millions of people taking terabytes of selfies. These are symptoms of our society being consumed by the soul-eating disease of narcissism that strangles its victims by the increasingly restrictive, exceedingly narrow, tiny, depressing confines of ‘me’ism.
The truth is this: there are only two masters’ and you and I are not one of them. Hence, the only freedom we have by God’s grace is to choose which master we serve. To think otherwise reveals the bondage to the lie under which we suffer and the enormous hubris that compels us to believe such thinking is somehow reasonable, even normal.
So, what’s the point of all this? We are already bound to a diabolical master (i.e. the Enemy or Adversary) all the while thinking we are independent and free. That is our perpetual and permanent condition from birth. The second birth, should we choose that path, places us under the dominion of the second Master who sets us free from the first but then, free only to serve Him. But serving Him is a true freedom; the former only an illusion. And this true freedom is paradoxical. While we tend to think freedom has to do with the absence of constraints, real freedom is to be in bondage to Christ and, at the same time, to others by becoming servants, or according to what ‘servant’ means, becoming slaves. The kingdom of heaven is in every way imaginable the opposite of the kingdom of hell. Serving the diabolical master seems like true freedom but is only an ever-increasing bondage while serving Jesus is an ever-increasing freedom by being bound to Him and to others in service and sacrifice.
However, although these ideas are well known amongst Christians, many still seem to think that God is there to serve them, all very carefully couched in spiritual sounding platitudes and Bible texts. So, even while the Christian knows about the perils of “me-ism”, it is nevertheless perpetuated and constitutes a highly successful strategy of the Enemy leading to self-destruction and dehumanizing God’s image-bearers while, at the same time, making God merely an extension of the self. And Christians and the churches they attend are self-destructing everywhere by misappropriating true freedom in Christ exemplified by sacrificial service into self-serving “me-isms”
The reality and extent of our freedom is determined by which master we serve. One seeks our destruction while the Other seeks to restore us to the dignity and purpose for which we were created. If you are not a child of God under the reign of His Son you are hopelessly bound to your meager self, the Enemy of your soul, and to sin. If you are His child, then you are bound to the Master as a slave while at the same time bound to serve others. This slavery is freedom, freedom from “me”ism, from spiritual forces that seek both your temporal and eternal destruction, from the domination of sin. It is the freedom to actually exist as you were meant to exist as an image-bearer of God.