Seriously, Happy Creation Day everybody. Hope you’ve been enjoying the festivities.
The other day I started talking about freedom: Beginning with ourselves will never get us to a sustainable or satisfying account of freedom.
When we say: “I am who I am / I will be who I will be”, it is both blasphemous (Exodus 3:6) and the very expression of our bondage. We become trapped by an identity that can allow no foreign claims. We simply become identified as one with a capacity to choose. And yet in maintaining that capacity as an absolute sovereignty we are defined in abstraction from the relationships that form and direct us as choosers. I’m a slave to my desires. Ephesians 2:1-3. In the very act of gratifying the cravings of my flesh, right then I am enslaved.
We can’t begin our thinking about freedom with ourselves.
So where should we begin it?
Well it’s very popular to begin with man choosing in the garden.
Yet if we begin in Eden, what account of freedom results? We effectively define freedom as the ability to choose or not to choose certain paths. The ability to act otherwise is seen as the very ‘freedom’ which the LORD grants humanity. And so of course the decision to eat the forbidden fruit becomes an expression of free will (defined as a power of self-direction). On this account Adam exercised freedom in disobeying the LORD even though it was a freedom with a cosmically heavy price tag. And so in this very popular telling of the freedom story, “Freedom” (which is now almost by definition the ability to disobey!) is some unquestioned Good that is traded off against the consequences of its exercise – “Heck, the fall was bad, but that’s the price of freedom!”
What kind of “freedom” is this?
Well let’s ask – how does it compare to divine freedom? Is the freedom of the Father, Son or Holy Spirit a freedom that would be expressed in choosing evil? Well the Scriptures continually tell us that the Almighty, who can do whatever He pleases (e.g. Psalm 115:3), cannot sin, lie, deny Himself. He who is free does not define His freedom as the ability to do evil. For the divine Persons to choose any course of action contrary to their Personhood would be an expression of slavery not freedom. For the Trinity, freedom is not the ability to do wrong, nor is it enhanced by such opportunities.
This holds also for humanity in the new creation.
In the New Jerusalem the forbidden fruit is gone, the tree of life alone takes centre stage. (Rev 22:1-3). Not only will humanity never fall, there won’t even be the option for us to do so. That’s a wonderful thought (unless you’re eye-ball deep in the humanist version of freedom!). But more than this, the bible calls this new creation state of affairs freedom. Galatians 4:26 says the Jerusalem above is free. The saints in glory now and the redeemed earth then will be characterized by mind-blowing freedom (cf Romans 8:19-21). So for glorified humanity, freedom is not the ability to do wrong, nor is freedom enhanced by such opportunities. Freedom flourishes even (and especially!) when there is no option but to continually serve the Father in the Son and by the Spirit.
So then, we’re going to have to get a different definition of freedom. Where from? Well perhaps our initial instinct wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe we do need to begin with man choosing in the garden.
Gethsemane is the garden. And Jesus is the Man. He will show us what true freedom looks like.
Think first of who He is – the Son.
This speaks of many things – let’s highlight three:
- Christ’s Sonship means He is loved. He is the eternal Son of His Father’s love (Colossians 1:13). He is the Object of the overflowing love of the Father – the Original recipient and goal of all the Father’s omnipotent grace.
- Christ’s Sonship means He is obedient. As Son, Jesus always does His Father’s will (John 5:17ff).
- Christ’s Sonship means He is free. Sonship is consistently contrasted with slavery by Jesus and Paul (e.g. John 8:31-36; Galatians 4). He is the Liberator who is Himself the True Free Man.
These three aspects of His Person are perfectly coordinated in Jesus. We can never play off grace, obedience and freedom. In our thinking we may consider them to be opposed but when we trace these things back to their centre in Jesus we see that they perfectly inform and explain one another.
And so how does this Man in this garden show us true freedom?
Let’s consider Mark 14:36:
“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
First He acknowledges His filial relationship with God – ‘Abba, Father’. All the shades of sonship we’ve just discussed should be in the forefront of our minds.
Next He acknowledges ‘everything is possible for You.’ The Son doesn’t go to the cross because the Father is ‘all out of options.’ No-one is holding a gun to the Father’s head – not the Son, not some necessary logic of redemption, nothing. What happens happens in the Father’s will – a will unbound by any forces beyond Him. The Father is indeed free from compulsion (though this is not our final definition of freedom).
But finally, when Jesus says ‘Take this cup from me, yet not what I will but what you will’ He confesses a different will to that of the Father. In all of history, in all of theology this is unparalleled. It is stunning, shocking, scandalizing… I could go on. The Son, even if only for a moment, is considering an option other than obedience to His Father’s will. Even though He is the obedient Son, even though He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8) and the Son of Man who must die (Mark 8:31), He contemplates another way. It seems like no-one is holding a gun to the Son’s head either. He must die, because He will die. And He will die voluntarily. In a reversal of Eden, the last Adam submits His will to the Father’s and in this submission expresses true freedom.
It is not rebellion that demonstrates freedom but obedience. This is the great difference between popular notions of freedom and Christ’s. Choosing does not make us free – choosing submission (paradoxically!) does. When we view things in the Son we see that obedience and freedom, rebellion and slavery are inextricably linked. The only free choice is the one for obedience.
Ans so where Adam chose self-rule and brought slavery, Christ chose submission and brought redemption. It’s at Gethsemane that we see true freedom for there we see the true Son, truly loved by His Abba, Father and truly obedient to His will. “Everything is possible” is not the definition of freedom. It’s the use of these possibilities that demonstrates true freedom. And this use is only a liberated use when it is obedient.
From this we get a different defintion of freedom. It’s not about options, it’s about responsible use of the will in expression of your grace-given, relational identity. The capacity for disobedience is not a criterion for freedom and choosing to disobey can only be slavery. Instead true freedom is found in Christ and by the power of the Spirit, living out your blood-bought sonship (daughtership) in obedience to the Father’s will. To choose anything else is the bondage of the will.