The Bonds of Freedom
Nowhere does this counterintuitive theme become clearer than in the New Testament. Jesus said to his disciples: "[T]hose who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 16:25, NRSV). Again, to his disciples: "[W]hoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave" (Matt. 20:26-27, NIV). True, the apostle Paul spoke often and warmly of our liberty, in Christ, from the law as an external constraint or compulsion. Trusting in Christ is, according to him, the only basis for our right relationship with God. On the other hand, throughout his epistles he counsels giving up rights and freedoms for the sake of spreading the gospel and protecting others' consciences (Rom. 14 and 1 Cor. 8). Paul found real freedom in giving up his rights: "For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them" (1 Cor. 9:19, NRSV).
This gospel theme of true freedom through obedience and servanthood is so pervasive in the Bible that it cannot be missed. And yet, because of our culture's overriding emphasis on autonomy, we miss it all the time.
The Question of 'Free Will'
So what kind of obedience brings real freedom? First, and again contrary to popular opinion, it's not imposed obedience. It's not about obeying God's will because we fear the consequences of disobedience. Gospel obedience is always voluntary. The moment obedience to Christ becomes drudgery or a reluctant, cringing conformity, it is no longer gospel obedience. Only when obedience is joyful, when it stems from gratitude, does it result in true freedom, in the freedom of being who and what we are meant to be. The freedom, in other words, of a train heading along the right track.
Second, obedience that brings real freedom is motivated by self-sacrificial love. Yoder prophetically describes this sort of servanthood as "revolutionary subordination," in which every believer seeks the good of others with no hint of asserting one's own rights. In a community where everyone lives that way out of gratitude to Jesus Christ, empowered by his Spirit, true freedom abounds.
How does all this relate to the concept of free will? Does "freedom" mean nothing more than "free will"?
Obviously not. If, by "freedom," we mean gospel freedom—as in servanthood, becoming and being what God intends us to be, obedience to Christ and growing into his image—then it's clear we're talking about something deeper than mere possession of "free will."
This is something about which Arminians (believers in free will as the power of contrary choice) and Calvinists (believers in bondage of the will and God's absolute, all-determining sovereignty) can agree. As an Arminian, I have often been accused by fellow Christians of holding a shallow view of freedom. Not true. Even evangelical Arminians, "Arminians of the heart" (as opposed to "Arminians of the head"), believe true freedom transcends free will. Free will is simply a God-given capacity for choosing the true freedom offered by God's grace, or else rejecting it through our own self-centered obstinacy.