Today in our Western society largely founded upon a value for freedom, many people speak of freedom as though it were merely the lack of restraints or obstacles. But any thinking person ought to see that some restraints are good and some are bad, so mere removal cannot be true freedom. Abolishing slavery or canceling an oppressive law are steps toward freedom, but so are establishing just laws and leaders. Real freedom does not consist in the lack of restraints but in the individual’s power to choose, and to choose what is good.
The progressive revelation in Scripture of how God is equipping and forming His people to walk in freedom clearly supports this. The difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is not that the first restrained our behavior and the second did not. Both introduced a law that restrained, but the first was an external law and the second was internal. The Old Covenant restrained us externally because, before Christ, we lacked the spiritual power to choose goodness, being separated from God by sin. But now that we have been reconciled to God, made alive in Christ, and given His Spirit of power, love, and self-control, we have that capability. Now that this power to choose (self-control) has been restored to us, we find that its nature is two-sided. Saying yes to one thing means saying no to everything else. Choosing what is good necessarily means resisting what is not good for us. Thus, every free choice defines a boundary, a limitation, and a constraint.
The rendering of Galatians 5:13-15 in The Message clearly expresses the truth that freedom was designed for love:
It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?
The glory of freedom, then, derives solely from the glory of love, which means that we cannot have freedom by seeking it as an end in itself. It is only by learning to love that we learn to be free and come to know the glory of freedom.
The glorious message of the cross is that there is no person so broken, bound, or bankrupt that God cannot restore to freedom and empower to love. The remarkable story of the man of the Gadarenes reveals that even a person possessed by thousands of demons still possesses his God-given free choice to hand himself over to God. And the Bible shows that as soon as the man did so, Jesus began to restore his personhood to him, clothing his body, and speaking to him as a free man, finally entrusting him with the great honor and responsibility of bearing witness to Him. This is what God does for us. God made us for love and freedom – made us for Himself – and when we make the smallest choice to trust Him with our lives, He beings to bring to life all the places that have been damaged through abuse or neglect, restoring our dignity and desire and teaching us to walk as free men and women, bound by nothing but love.