Have it Your Way
If you want to understand the way our country views freedom, go to Burger King. For around forty years, Burger King’s official motto was “Have it Your Way.” Sure, you could technically order something right off the menu, but because Burger King wanted you to feel like like royalty (paper crown and all), they encouraged everyone to make whatever kind of crazy customizations their heart’s desired. You are the king (or queen), so you decide. Pickles in your ice cream? French fries on your burger? Coming right up!
I can’t know this for sure (at least, not without a heavily modified Delorean), but I bet Thomas Jefferson and the rest of our founding fathers would have loved Burger King. After all, they’re the ones who called “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” God-given, unalienable rights. And what is liberty or the pursuit of happiness if not the ability to order well-done fries with mayo and chicken nuggets on top (as gross as that may be)?
We don’t really have to guess what Jefferson meant by “liberty” (or freedom) when he wrote those words in the Declaration of Independence. In other writings, he defined it this way: “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.”
Many of us view freedom from this perspective: the ability to wear the crown and decide what to do for ourselves, without any obstruction or coercion from others (“unobstructed action according to our will”). Freedom, so it goes, is the absence of a master.
Not My Will But Yours Be Done
But as disciples of Jesus Christ, we need to understand that the Bible gives us a fundamentally different way of thinking about freedom. And more to the point—Biblical freedom is largely incompatible with the American version that’s enshrined in our founding documents. After all, we can already sense the tension when we consider that Jefferson’s version of freedom teaches us to live “according to our will,” but Jesus prays in the garden “not my will but yours be done.”
Here’s the main point: Biblical freedom isn’t about the absence of a master, it’s about following the one and only master who truly cares for us.
The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus comes to give us life to the full (John 10:10). While others lay a heavy burden on their followers, Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). At the same time, Jesus is the Shepherd that we (his sheep) are to follow, and there is a burden that we bear as his followers. It’s that we follow a Good Shepherd with a light burden. So it’s not the absence of a master that determines a person’s freedom, it’s the kind of master they choose to follow.
After all, the assumption in the Bible is that everyone will have a master of some kind, so the possibility that we get to be our own master (as alluring as that sounds) just isn’t part of the Biblical equation.
What Does the Bible Say About Our Masters?
In John 8:34, Jesus says “very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” In passages like Romans 6 and Galatians 4, Paul develops the idea that everyone is a slave to something, whether it’s a slavery to sin (which leads to death) or a slavery to God (which leads to righteousness). Absent from the Bible’s theology of freedom is any sort of option where the Christian is free to put the crown on their own head and be their own master. Sorry Burger King, but Christians can’t always “have it their way.”
So if everyone has a master, how can anyone be free? It doesn’t make sense if you bring the American view of freedom into the Christian faith, but it makes perfect sense of you let the Bible’s definition of faith reshape your thinking. Consider these words from 1 Peter 2:16, “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.”
Disciples of Jesus are called to live as free people while simultaneously living as God’s slaves. How can you be free and a slave at the same time? Is that not a contradiction? Only when you consider freedom as the absence of a master. But in the Biblical framework, this passage makes perfect sense, because no one is free until they become a slave to God.
Jesus has set us free from slavery to sin, so that we can be free to willingly submit ourselves as slaves to God. When we become slaves to God, we experience the freedom that comes from following a master who laid down his life to give us eternal life. No other master has our best interest in mind, no other master formed us in the womb, no other master laid down his life for us. And the only way to become a slave to God is by being rescued from our slavery to sin by Jesus himself. As Jesus says in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
And this all means we need to rethink our view of freedom. Freedom is not the absence of a master, it’s choosing the right one: Jesus.
John Adams once said, “You will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make a good use of it.” The same can be said about the heavy price Jesus paid to purchase our freedom. Our freedom has been bought at the high price of God’s one and only son, who willingly died on the cross to set us from from our slavery to sin, so that we might be free to follow Christ as our Lord and Savior.
Let’s not throw away that freedom by trying to put the crown on our own head.