“Then if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.” John 8:36
Free – Freedom is an important word in a man’s vocabulary. We have talked about it a lot. We recognized that the Greek idea of freedom is centered in the relationship between the individual and the State. For the Greeks, freedom is the capacity to choose my own actions with the minimum restraint necessary to maintain civil order. While I can’t do anything I want to since that would lead to anarchy, I should be constrained only by what is absolutely essential and nothing more. Freedom in Greek thought is self-will. To be free is to have liberty to determine my own destiny.
Of course, Yeshua isn’t thinking (or speaking) Greek. The Hebrew concept of freedom is centered in a relationship with God. As such, it is focused on God’s design, intention and will – not my desires or expectations. To experience freedom is to experience the safety of belonging to the Lord as the object of His concern. In other words, freedom means to be owned by Him. To be free is to be submitted to His purposes for me. In this sense, the only free man is the slave for he is the only person who can take no care for his own life. Care is the master’s responsibility. The slave’s only obligation is to do the will of the master. Therefore, the Hebrew idea of freedom is exactly the opposite of the Greek view since the Greek view is built around the idea that I take charge of myself. In the Hebrew view, I am the object of God’s concern. In the Greek view, I am the object of my own concern.
Heschel offers another insight into the Hebrew view of freedom which is especially important for those who are surrounded by the Greek idea of self-willed liberty. Heschel notices that freedom in the Bible is set in relation to sin. Yeshua reflects this insight in His statement about serving either God or mammon. No man can have two masters, but every man has one. No man is “free” of all masters for the biblical view is that I am already held captive by my own self-serving willfulness even if I am “free” of external restraints. The noble savage is still a slave to himself. Since this is the case for all men, the only way Yeshua can truly set us free is if He has the capacity to allow us to surpass ourselves. In other words, we must be able to transcend the “tyranny of the self-centered ego.” No man is free until he is no longer held captive by his own desires.
But here’s the rub. No man is able to free himself from his own desires because his desire to free himself simply tightens the chains that hold him. He is self-defeated. To be free, a man must be released from himself by another. Thus, Yeshua says, “If the Son sets you free,” not “if you find freedom in the Son.” There is a crucial difference here. Yeshua does not give you the means by which you free yourself. That is not possible. You cannot free yourself for you are a prisoner of your own desires. Yeshua must act to free you from yourself. And in this sense, true freedom comes when, through His grace, you surpass yourself. To be free, you must be more than you are.
Sounds great, right? Sounds a little theoretical too. So, what does this mean for me today? It implies that freedom is not a state of being. It is an event in life. I experience freedom when I discover that Yeshua enables me to be more than myself. In other words, I am free in the action of putting aside myself and expressing righteousness toward another. Freedom is not about me! It is about loving my neighbor. It is about going beyond the tyranny of myself and acting benevolently toward another at cost to myself. In other words, from the biblical perspective, freedom is what I experience when I express agape love. I am free in the event, the action, of surpassing myself for another. Freedom is ultimately relational. It can only be found in giving myself up for the sake of someone else.
That’s why God is free! And that’s why, when the Son sets you free, you can really be free.
Topical Index: freedom, tyranny, Greek view, eleutheros, self, John 8:36