A few weeks ago, I introduced the idea that Holy-Spirit-led leadership fosters high levels of freedom and safety in an environment. I want to explain how I use these terms, because I know they mean different things to different people. I’ll tackle freedom in this blog, and safety in the next.
What is Freedom?
These days, a lot of people seem to think that freedom means license to do whatever they choose—and even to avoid any negative consequences for their choices. It also seems to be a common belief that freedom is something we humans create for ourselves—that it is bestowed on us by society, won and defended by the military, or achieved through laws and politics.
The Bible gives us a very different picture of what freedom is, where it comes from, and what it is for. My understanding of biblical freedom is this: Freedom is a gift from God that was bestowed on us at creation, damaged through sin, and restored to us by the Holy Spirit through Christ. It is the power to consistently choose to love God, others, and ourselves without fear, like Jesus does.
Let me unpack two basic principles that support this understanding.
1#: Love is the Purpose for Freedom
Genesis 1:26 tells us that God created us in His image. God, who is love, made us in the image of love—in other words, loving like Him is supposed to be our “normal.” And love is, and must always be, a free choice. C.S. Lewis covered this in Mere Christianity:
Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having… The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.
God created us for no other reason than to freely love and build loving connection with Him and one another, and He gave us freedom because it is the necessary condition for that to happen. Love is the whole purpose for our freedom, and the more we learn to keep our love on, the freer we become. As Paul writes in Galatians:
It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then? (Galatians 5:13-15 MSG)
So how do we know that freedom is growing in an environment? We feel the love. We see people serving one another, delighting in one another, calling out greatness in one another, believing in one another, and laying their lives down for one another—just like Jesus.
#2: Fear Is the Enemy of Freedom
As I said in the prior blog, anxiety overrides our ability to be free. When we are operating in fear, we are out of control, and we are trying to get control—both of which are the opposite of freedom. True freedom is driven by self-control, which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. As Paul said, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:17). That’s probably the most succinct definition of freedom in the Bible: power, love, and self-control.
Paul also wrote, “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Romans 8:15 NKJV). There’s an important connection to make here. Paul is contrasting the spirit of fear and bondage with the spirit of sonship. The implication is that the spirit of fear is also the orphan spirit. When we are operating in the spirit of fear, we are thinking like orphans. We are dominated and controlled by lack and mistrust, which puts us in a prison of self-serving and self-protection.
We can never live free as long as we are thinking like orphans. There’s absolutely no way we can love like Jesus in this state—everything about it is opposed to how He operates. When we receive and begin to operate in the spirit of adoption, however, we are set free to live as sons and daughters who are fully secure in their connection with the Father, and are able to love like Him without fear. True freedom belongs to those who walk in this restored identity and relationship.
So how do we know that freedom is growing in environment? People are coming to know the Father. As a result, fear-driven, orphan thinking and behavior are being exposed and confronted, and people are learning to think, speak, and act like true sons and daughters who carry their Father’s heart wherever they go.
How can you grow in freedom today?
P.S. If you are looking for more resources around what we are talking about here, I go more in depth into this topic in my Foundations of Honor series and the Leadership track of the Life Academy.