Saturday, February 8, 2014

Misunderstandings about Freedom

Often we think that Jesus brought to humanity complete freedom from sins (or Sin) by his work or death. However, we know by experience that such a reality is yet to come. Our world still has a mixture of light and darkness. People still struggle with everyday life issues. No Christians are free from sins. From the outset, it must be said that freedom is not the result of Jesus’ death or of believing in him; rather, it is the result of Christian participation in his death or in the truth of God. This kind of understanding is manifest at least in Paul’s teaching and John’s Gospel. According to Paul, freedom is possible only when people put to death the deeds of the body -- all kinds of evil thought and action. Notice here the agents of freedom are very people although they need help. Paul seems to say like this: “You can be free as long as you put to death evil thoughts or desires.” Otherwise, he is not naive enough to say that Jesus’ death made complete human freedom or salvation. Rather, his advice is “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). For this kind of reading in Paul’s letters, see A Theological Introduction to Paul’s Letters: Exploring a Threefold Theology of Paul.

Similarly, according to John’s Gospel, freedom is possible only when people participate in the truth of God. Notice here the truth is God’s. Otherwise, it is not given once and for all. Freedom is also a future tense. See what Jesus says, “If you remain faithful to my teaching, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31–32). Freedom needs our involvement in God’s work and Jesus’ faithful teaching; see below for more about this. [For more about freedom in John’s Gospel, see Truth, Testimony, and Transformation: A New Reading of the “I am” Sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel.]

1. Remain to Jesus’ teaching
Jesus’ teaching is about God’s word (Logos) or God’s truth for all. Jesus fought for freedom because there was no freedom in the world. He testified to the truth of God that all are worthy to live fully in the world and before God. God is truth not simply because God is almighty but because God cares for all people so that they may live with light. People need to abide by Jesus’ teaching about God’s work.

2. Become true disciples of Jesus
True disciples are not those who believe something or merely follow Jesus but those who remain faithful to his teaching. “Remaining” is an ongoing process of the faithful journey with Jesus. Discipleship is not complete until the end of one’s life.

3. Know the truth (of God)
Knowing is a future tense (“you will know the truth”). This knowledge is the result of your remaining faithful to Jesus’ teaching. As long as you abide by his teaching and live as his disciples, you will know the truth. This knowledge is not gained once and for all. Rather, it is an experiential and engaging knowledge. Also, this knowledge is holistic; there is no separation between knowing and acting. As a result, the truth will make you free! Notice here the subject of freedom is the truth of God and that the tense is future. This means as long as we know and participate in the truth of God, we shall be free.

If you remain faithful to my teaching, you are truly my disciples; and
you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free
(John 8:31–32)

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except
through me
(John 14:6)

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into
the world, so I have sent them into the world
(John 17:17–18)

I was born and came into the world for this reason: to testify to the
truth. Whoever accepts the truth listens to my voice (John 18:37).