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No single word resonates with Americans and millions of others quite like freedom. A television commercial announces that buying a certain automobile or flying with a certain airline will make you "free." People celebrate their country's independence with songs of "freedom" on their lips and ringing in their ears. Politicians, businesspeople, advertisers, salesmen, military leaders and recruiters—all know how to use "freedom" to attract attention and draw interest. Few words are so common while carrying so much weight.
The word is also found throughout Scripture and Christian tradition. Everyone raised in Sunday school knows "the truth will set you free" (John 8:32) and "[i]t is for freedom that Christ has set us free" (Gal. 5:1). Freedom is not just an American or humanitarian theme; it's also a gospel theme.
Unfortunately, two very different ideas of freedom get confused in many people's minds. The biblical idea of freedom is different from, but easily confused with, the cultural value of the same name. And neither one is the same as "free will." It can be confusing to the average Christian who wants to know what "real freedom" is. Is it having choices? Is it lack of coercion and constraint? Is it being able to do whatever you want? In what sense does Christ set us free, and how is that different from what Madison Avenue and Hollywood promise?
At the very heart of the Christian gospel is the strange truth that real freedom is found only in giving up everything secular culture touts as freedom. The gospel, it turns out, requires a distinction between the enjoyment of true freedom and the mere possession of "free will." Not that free will or independence from tyranny is a bad thing; they're just not true freedom. True freedom, the gospel tells us, is trusting obedience, the obedience of faith. That's not exactly the image one finds portrayed in popular ...