From William Wallace’s impassioned battle cry, to Nelson Mandela’s long march towards it; perhaps no other word in the English language encapsulates such a sense of hope, nor invokes such passionate protection. It has driven nations to war, caused men to endure such hardship and display such courage as we can only imagine. We enshrine it in law, place it on the mantelpiece of our national pride, guard it jealously and debate it endlessly.
But in the 21st century, what does it mean to be truly free? What does it look like today, for us millennials here in the UK, and around the world?
It’s said we are the lucky generation; the first one never to have known war – in the sense that our parents or grandparents might have known it, complete with conscription and the very real threat of physical invasion. It’s true – we are blessed to live in a country and a time where we celebrate such things as freedom of the press, freedom of thought, of speech, of religion and information. And with ideological wars still going on today, when people in many countries are unable to express themselves freely, or are persecuted because of their gender, sexuality or religion, it is monumentally important to value and protect our freedom as fiercely as we ever have done.
But what does freedom mean to us as Christians? Being truly free in the biblical sense can seem almost the exact opposite sometimes of what the world tells us freedom is. Freedom is often muddled up with the ability to do whatever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want. Want to have sex with as many people as possible before you settle down – yeah, sure, go ahead. We’re liberated people now. Don’t want to follow one faith? No problem, just pick-and-mix the bits you like. As long as it feels good and doesn’t hurt anyone, who cares?
But the problem is, the stuff that starts out feeling good, is often the same stuff that does indeed end up hurting us, and those around us. Because the big lie that life without Jesus tells us, hides a very real truth: sometimes freedom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
It’s a truth that God has been trying to teach us since the beginning of time, but that we human beings are seemingly deaf to hear; freedom isn’t about the things we can get away with or about childish rebellions against anyone that might suggest we can’t do something. True freedom is a God-given, grace-filled gift that enables us to be who we were created to be. That’s why the Bible tells us that it was for freedom that Christ set us free. His death paid the price for our bad choices and their consequences, and cleared the way for us to be children of God once more, to have a relationship with a heavenly Father who loves us more than we’ll ever know.
Being in that relationship means we make choices, much like we do in any other relationship. Choices to do things that make the person we love happy, that honour them, which build and strengthen the relationship. And we do this because we love them, because being in that relationship brings us happiness, joy, fulfilment. And with God, we know the choices he asks us to make ultimately protect us from harm and fill our lives with all the good stuff that he has for us. Sometimes those choices are easy, and sometimes they are more difficult. Making wise choices isn’t a sexy discussion topic, but it is an important one that we as millennial Christians ignore at our peril.
We’ve always had freedom. God gave it to us, and we should celebrate it. But it should do what God intended it to do – it should liberate us, fill us with joy and peace and hope.
When we grasp that, when we live every day in the glorious light of the vast and gracious love of Jesus Christ, then we are truly free.