The Road to Freedom: Western Culture 9
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery… You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Gal 5:1, 13,14
There is a commercial by an outdoor adventure company where a boy asks his father “What are we doing this weekend?”. The scene then moves to a four-wheel drive vehicle in the great outdoors and depicts boats, water sports and trekking. The scene then moves back to the father who answers his son’s question with “Just the usual”.
The open road is a widely held symbol of freedom and this is used in car advertisements to directly infer that their particular car will give people the freedom they desire. Largely gone are the days of promoting the merits of the car replaced by the promotion of a lifestyle. Because human flourishing is now largely seen in materialistic terms it is a simple step to define a material object as the basis for fulfilling the desire for freedom. Of course, we know these are all lies as they are indicating something that they cannot deliver but the feeling created by the advertisement draws you in. Many people buy an SUV and never use it for the adventurous freedom they desire and so it is primarily an expression of who they want to be.
This consumer version of freedom represents an escape from the demands of life and our responsibilities, but it has an element of slavery. To achieve such a lifestyle requires that you have sufficient income to purchase and sustain this identity (so you cannot quit your unfulfilling job). Having invested money and identity in this approach we feel under compulsion to use the goods we have purchased. When we are unable to use them, we will feel more like a slave because our sense of freedom is unfulfilled. If someone or something blocks your desire to pursue your desires, then you will feel trapped by them or you will distance yourself to remove any emotional restraints. The idol of consumer freedom is very demanding!
The Scriptures present a different view of freedom. Galatians declares it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. We are free from condemnation and free to live as God intended empowered by the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. There is a willing urge to live within the (considerably large) boundaries that God says are necessary to live a fully prosperous life. This is one reason the Scriptures depict that we are slaves. We have given ourselves over to willingly follow Christ and so are slaves to God. Because of our freedom in Christ we choose to submit ourselves to the God of creation. This is not primarily a suppression of our true self, but it allows us to be truly who we are. Jesus said we will always have a master and so we will always be a slave to something. When we are slaves to an idol, we are seeking from it our identity, a sense of who we are and our place in the cosmos, we are seeking a guide to living, relationships, values and ethics. Making a consumer quantity of freedom around outdoor adventure or a car cannot deliver true freedom.
It is common to encounter the view that following Christ will suppress freedom and so would be considered unattractive. In communicating the Gospel and in discipling others there is a need to counter the consumer view of freedom and to depict the freedom that Christ brings.