This quote from George Bernard Shaw caught my attention:
and I was surprised how much it seemed to mean once I started unpacking it…
In the Old Testament part of the Bible, we see the story of the people of Israel being drawn into slavery in Egypt. For around 400 years there they remained until the events of the Exodus happened and Moses led them from slavery into freedom. But in Exodus 16:3 we read the people saying:
“If only the LORD had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted.”
There seems to be something of freedom that worried them and of slavery that appealed to them. In slavery they had no responsibility. Of course, they were also treated abysmally but even then some seemed, at least in their moaning, to be willing to trade freedom for slavery, instead of getting on and resolving their new-found liberty.
Equally in ancient times, folk were enslaved to their gods. They made sacrifices to them to ‘appease’ them. Why? In part because they could blame their ‘gods’ for bad weather or every unfortunate incident they had to live with. Personal responsibility diminishes when we have reduced liberty and are subjected to bondage to something. If we engage with a modern ‘god’ – one example being consumerism – our lives can still be held to ransom in all sorts of ways, such as the ‘need’ to obtain ‘stuff’ and be ‘better’ than others. We may not have carved idols as gods anymore, but we so easily substitute them with many things that bring our servitude and restrict our freedom – politics, power, ambition, consumerism… once more we have other things and people to blame instead of ourselves: “I’m not happy because I don’t have… I’m not paid enough… I’m not…”
Its maybe not surprising, when we can have such world views, that liberty might be dreaded by some.
Our human condition just doesn’t always seem comfortable with real liberty. Bizarrely we seem to be drawn to bondage with ideals or material things onto which we can place the responsibility we should hold, instead of acknowledging that we should take it up for ourselves. ‘Enslaved’ people can find earthly freedom difficult to imagine and therefore may often fear to go there.
We are all have free will to act as we please, but instead of having an overseeing demanding ancient god who will punish us when we mess up, the God of the Bible, the Father of Jesus, is full of love and grace. ( you can read my blog on why God does not cause suffering here) With Jesus’ death on the cross as a substitute for the wrong we do, God releases us from that earthly bondage of sin and instead now offers us free forgiveness, real freedom – and the relationship He has with His son Jesus. God offers us Fatherhood.
With a Christian full life, freedom still comes with responsibility, GBS isn’t incorrect in the first half of his quote – but the very big difference is that it is not one that should be dreaded. This ‘responsibility’ can be found in love for the one who loves us. In the same way that we would generally try to please our earthly parents, over time it becomes the same with our heavenly Father – we will long to please Him – to love Him, or as John writes in 1 John 5:3-4
“In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.”.
Obedience and love are intertwined spirals of behaviour that connect at many points. If we love our parents and trust their judgement to always be right, we show our love back to them in obedience. Not because of fear, rather its because we love them. Imagine what that could be like if we had a totally perfect parent.
This new type of responsibility in freedom also sits within Philippians 2:12, where we read Paul saying to the Church in Philippi (there is a recent talk on this verse here):
“Continue to work out your salvation”.
We know from the rest of the Bible that we don’t have to do anything to become part of God’s family now and for the future. It’s not about what we do, rather it’s about what’s been done for us. Jesus resolved all of this through his death and resurrection. So this instruction from Paul isn’t saying we need to work ‘at’ our salvation, rather now that we have it, we need to work it ‘out’.
This liberty under God that means this responsibility is one of family. As we work ‘out’ our salvation and grow as a disciple, each day we will be getting nearer to the family likeness in our character. Its a life based on gratitude and love that will over time bring obedience to the perfect Father who gives us full life and liberty through free will. Its a life in which we can come to reflect Jesus more and more.
This free life is not a God v Humanity arrangement as with the ancient gods, or a competition artificially created between us by modern gods like consumerism, rather a full life of real liberty has a perfect Father who loves us as children in a family relationship. In much the same way that we, as earthly parents, give greater freedom to our children as they get older, but still love them when the mess up or need help, our Father in heaven is no different except in one way. For him we remain children, even as earthly adults, because we will continue to get things wrong. Our behaviour won’t change God’s love for us nor that he will stop helping or supporting us, our behaviour simply reveals how much we do or don’t yet love Him.
The phrase, “Liberty means responsibility”, is true for everyone who wants freedom… but there is no need to dread it.
Our Father in Heaven longs for all of us on this earth to say ‘thank you’ for his love that was so great he was willing for his one and only son, Jesus, to offer himself through death so that we could have a way to be in his family again. As we begin to want to explore his Fatherhood, with Jesus his son as our brother, we can be helped by joining the rest of his family somewhere in a church community nearby to be encouraged and enabled by the Holy Spirit. It is through this faith in Jesus that we’re adopted into the Father’s family. Its not what we do, its all about what’s been done freely for us. If you have never experienced this family of freedom before, do come and join us one Sunday, or if you’re not local to us, ask God to show you a local church community to visit soon.