A recent Time magazine article profiled Jonathan Franzen and his new novel, Freedom.
“It seemed to me,” Franzen says, “that if we were going to be elevating freedom to the defining principle of what we’re about as a culture and a nation, we ought to take a careful look at what freedom in practice brings.” The weird thing about the freedom of Freedom is that what it doesn’t bring is
happiness. For Franzen’s characters, too much freedom is an empty, dangerously entropic thing… No one is freer than a person with no moral beliefs. “One of the ways of surrendering freedom is to actually have convictions,” Franzen says. “And a way of further surrendering freedom is to spend quite a bit of time acting on those convictions.”
These are provocative and jarring statements for those of who are rapidly devoted to our independence. As a nation we often centralize the virtue of freedom. After all, it is our freedom that is central to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I can anticipate the objection from my Christian friends: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). No matter that such a verse is often taken out of context. Remember that Paul urges everyone to use their Christian freedom as a means to sacrificial service (Galatians 5:13).
Freedom for most Americans means freedom from — from responsibility (e.g., marriage, family, employer, rules, etc.), from tyranny, from authority. As American Christians most of us have uncritically imbibed this idea that freedom in the Christian life is freedom from sin, freedom guilt, and freedom for fear. All of these things are true. As Christians we are free from many things. However, to define freedom as merely from is incomplete. We are free for.
You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness… But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life (Romans 6: 18, 22).
How can freedom lead to slavery? Freedom from sin leads to willing submission to God. “I have been bought with a price” and, therefore, am willing to serve God. I am free to serve God and to serve others. Jesus willingly sacrificed his heavenly status and comfortable position for my redemption (Philippians 2). Am I willing to sacrifice my freedom for him? Am I willing to sacrifice my freedom for others?
Self-sacrificial love that values the gospel above all personal fulfillment and comfort is the greatest testimony of the self-sacrificial love of Jesus.