Reflections: Freedom vs Security
In the end more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free.” — Edward Gibbon (1737-1794)
It is tempting, is it not, to hear the words of Gibbon more than 200 years after his death and quickly apply them to our own country. And by “our own country” I mean the United States since it is here that I have lived, live, and will likely die.
Certainly there is ample rationale for thinking so. It was in my lifetime (Jan 20, 1961) that John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address, “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Certainly we have drifted far from the ideals of JFK, a drift at times propelled by the idealism, irresponsibility and recklessness of my own generation in the ’60s and ’70s.
But for those of us who call ourselves Christians and indeed live and look like Christ followers, who seek the kingdom even now, there is a parallel application of Gibbon’s observation, one which we ignore to our own harm. Within the Christian subculture in general and too many local churches specifically, we have opted for security at the expense of our freedom and, inexorably, our responsibility. The security of which I speak is a psychological one, a balm that soothes and pacifies an otherwise troubled conscience that prefers not to bear the weight of personal responsibility for Christians in this life.
This manifestation of our sin nature is such that theological arguments are constructed to allow us to evade our responsibility. The theological arguments, at the real risk of being simplistic – not to mention unfair to those that espouse them — maintain that God’s sovereignty is such that no act is outside His control or will. Certainly He is not the author of sin but neither is He surprised by it, the reasoning goes: even the most evil events are in keeping with His will for mankind. So even our shortcomings and sins of omission are not and cannot be contrary to what He has determined.
Such a notion or belief effectively absolves us from moral responsibility, we hope, so that our relationship with Him remains secure; even more, our fellowship with God is not disturbed because of our inability to be all that He calls us to be: Christlike. What we do and say, what we don’t do or say, is merely the outworking of a sovereign God who has not given freedom to us as individuals.
But while such an idea can be argued theologically, it is not biblical.
“Free will” is a term often used by believers in a manner which is contrary to what the Bible tells us. If we are going to keep the term, we need to define it carefully. Free will, as I understand it, is the ability to choose according to our nature: if not a Christian, then we choose according to our sinful nature; we can do no other. But if we are Christians, then we have a true, morally culpable choice: will we follow the desires of our sin nature – the flesh – or will we yield to the desires of our new nature, one which is continually being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ?
Scripture reveals that God regards us as morally responsible people; to be responsible necessitates the freedom to choose. That ability to choose is true freedom; that ability to choose makes us responsible before God for our choices. Otherwise the bema seat — where we will be judged not for our eternal destiny but for our “deeds in the body” — is meaningless and a mockery. If we are not responsible then being rewarded or suffering loss becomes a capricious act of God.
Christians are morally responsible people who also possess the ability to choose — and choose freely — what or whom we will serve and obey. Like it or not, we are fully responsible for the choices we make because we are free moral agents, not mindless individuals merely carrying out His predetermined will.