In our passage in Galatians today (chapter 4) we read of our identity in Christ as sons of the “free woman.” What IS freedom, truly?
Full freedom is what you have when no lack of opportunity, no lack of ability, and no lack of desire prevents you from doing what will make you happiest in a thousand years. In order to be free in the fullest sense you have to have opportunity, ability, and desire to do what will make you happy in a thousand years. Another way to say it would be that there are four kinds of freedom, or better, four stages of freedom on the way to the full freedom all of us long for: the freedom of opportunity to do what we can, the freedom of ability to do what we desire, and the freedom of desire to do what will bring us unending joy.
Let’s take sky-jumping, for example. Suppose you are on your way to the airport to go up for your first real jump, but your car hits a pothole on Hiawatha, you have a blowout, and run into a telephone pole. You are no longer free to jump whether you have the ability or not, because the opportunity passes while you wait for the tow truck. You lack the freedom of opportunity.
Or suppose you do make it to the airport, but you have no ability at all—you have never studied sky-jumping and never learned the first thing about how a parachute works. The opportunity is there, but you don’t have the freedom of ability—you are in bondage to your own lack of know-how.
But suppose that you make it to the airport, you’ve been to school and been trained and have all the abilities needed, and you take off for your first jump. But as soon as you look down, all your desire vanishes and in its place comes a tremendous fear. The opportunity is there, the ability and know-how are there, but you don’t have the freedom of desire. The interesting thing about the freedom of desire is that you might be able to go ahead and jump without it, but it won’t be a free act. For example, you might feel so humiliated in front of your instructor (or girlfriend) that the desire not to be humiliated overcomes the desire not to jump. So you jump. But the emotional experience is not what we call freedom. You are acting under very uncomfortable external constraints. You are like Herod when his step-daughter asked for the head of John the Baptist. He didn’t want to kill John, but he wanted even less to be shamed before his guests. So he acted, but not with the freedom of desire. You have the freedom of desire when you do what you love to do.
That’s the way a lot of professing Christians try to keep the commandments of Christ. They don’t really delight to do them, but they feel some uncomfortable constraints like social pressures or fear of hell or desire to impress someone. So they go through outward motions of obedience, but the desire of their hearts is fixed somewhere else. They do not enjoy the freedom of desire which Christ gives when he is being formed in the heart (Galatians 4:19).
But there is one last requirement for full freedom. Suppose you get to the airport with no obstacle; you have all the know-how necessary; you look out the door at the tiny clusters of silos and barns and farmhouses and just can’t wait to jump. You have freedom of opportunity, freedom of ability, and freedom of desire. So you jump. And as you free fall, unbeknown to you, your parachute malfunctions and will not open. Are you free? In three senses, yes. But in that critical fourth sense, no. What you are doing so happily, so freely, is going to kill you. Whether you know it or not, you are in bondage to destruction. It would be a mockery to exult in the freedom of an exhilarating free fall if you knew it was leading to destruction. In order to be fully free, it is not enough to have opportunity, ability, and desire to act. The acts you desire and perform have to lead to life, indeed, eternal life not destruction.
This is why it is naïve for a Christian young person to envy the so-called freedom of those who pitch themselves out the window of sin and exult for a season in the exhilaration of free fall sex or free fall greed, or free fall drugs or free fall luxury. They will pass away like a vapor, but those who do the will of the Lord will abide for ever (1 John 2:17). True freedom is not just the opportunity and ability to do what you desire to do. It is the opportunity, ability, and desire to do what will make you happy in a thousand years.
Therefore, true Christians are the freest people in the world. And Paul is fighting with all his might in Galatians to expose the teaching of the Judaizers for what it really is: slavery. For Paul, the experience of freedom is not icing on the cake of Christianity. Freedom in Christ is Christianity. It is a matter of eternity. That’s the first point of the allegory. So let’s see if we can understand it and strengthen our stand in freedom.