Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. —2 Peter 1:4
Our family was far from a perfect place to grow up but, I trust, a good one. There wasn’t as much freedom for our kids in our home as in some of their friends’ homes. We leaned into the protective side of the permissive—protective scale, to be sure, trying to help our kids establish a commonsense approach to living in a corrupt world, especially in those arenas where too much “worldliness” could put them at risk of corruption, Peter’s term for what we would call dark spiral of addiction.
I was 26 years old when our first child was born and, by then, I’d already been in the ministry 26 years. I remember as a kid, my father counseling individuals and families who were in crisis, right there in our living room. I remember falling asleep unable to not hear the tear-filled stories of broken families being poured out on the other side of our house. All of us have known families in crisis, but for most of us, the interventions that helped them find direction took place in the wee hours of someone else’s house, not yours. So, long before our own three children were even a gleam in our eyes, I had a pretty good sense of what can happen out there when people find themselves in the vortex of the world’s corruption, having surrendered territory to the enemy through drugs, alcohol and sexual addictions.
All that to say, we placed some pretty significant guardrails up in those areas of behavior that included the potential for destructive addictions. And, when I say that, I’m not saying we put those guardrails up for our kids (although that’s also true). I’m not even saying we built those guardrails for ourselves. Sheryl and I put those guardrails on ourselves, but for our family (and, secondly, for the other people whom God had supernaturally and strategically placed in our lives).
As our kids got older, some of those guardrails were called into question by some of their Christian friends, who encouraged our children to reject some of our “rules” in the name of “Christian freedom.” At first, it ticked me off, but it did give us the chance to discuss what “Christian freedom” really means.
I absolutely believe in “Christian freedom, that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” that we are to “stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) I just don’t believe it means what some Christians think it means.
None of us want to live into bondage to rules that “lack value.” (Colossians 2:23) We’ve all met believers who might be. But, on the other end of the spectrum, we must not use our freedom to simply "indulge the flesh,” (5:13) because the flesh is prone to corruption.
Christian freedom isn’t the freedom to do whatever a Christian wants to do, but the freedom to not do anything that might compromise their full potential as a spouse or parent or, for that matter, an influencer in any context.
Years ago, I heard the example of train—it’s “free” to go, as long as it stays on its tracks. A train that jumps the tracks is finally "free" of the rails, but not free in the most important sense of the word—its movement isn't purposeful.
So, our freedom in Christ is not what many 21st Century Americans think of when we say the word “freedom.” The freedom that our culture most often celebrates is more like the freedom that Adam celebrated when he chose to eat the fruit from the wrong tree, a choice that evidently didn’t lead to the freedom he sought, but only to feeling shame, hiding, working way too hard and eventually dying. But he (wrongly) concluded, “I want to be free to choose whatever fruit I want.”
Not if you care about staying alive, you don’t!
It’s like a parent saying, “I’m free to live my life any way I want.”
Not if you care about how your kids will turn out, you’re not.
Or a spouse saying, “I should be allowed to do whatever I want to do.”
Not if you understand what the biblical teaching on mutual submission means, you shouldn’t.
Or if a small group leader says, I’m free in Christ to simply reject the “fundamentalist” rules of my upbringing.
Not if you truly care about the people you shepherd in your small group, you aren’t. You simply cannot dismiss the idea of behavioral guardrails that easily.
When it comes to Christian freedom, the question we should worry about answering is not: What am I free to do and what am I not free to do? Because of grace, there is nothing a believer is not free to do. The question we must ask is: What am I free to do and what am I free to not do? The realignment of one word in that sentence changes the tone of the entire conversation, simply because, even though “I have the right to do anything, not everything is beneficial. Even though I have the right to do anything, not everything is constructive.” (1 Corinthians 10:23)