Nowadays, perhaps more than ever, freedom is a reoccurring, popular refrain. As fierce advocates of sexual freedom, some contend that whatever is done between the sheets and even whomever one wants to marry is nobody’s business. We want dogs and deer to roam free, unencumbered by leashes or hunting season.
We want our children to be free to be themselves or find themselves, whichever is most applicable. We adore the freedom of speech, the freedom to bear arms, and religious freedom, although not necessarily in that order. At one time or another, we all are fighting to attain freedom or to preserve it in abundance.
Being a nation that prides itself on being “the land of the free,” this may seem par for the course of the American experience, and unfortunately many Christians have blindly come along for the ride. More than anyone perhaps, having been bought with Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice, Christians should know that freedom isn’t free. Thankfully, in the new covenant we live under grace rather than legalism’s crushing rules and regulations. Cultural, gender, socioeconomic, and class distinctions no longer define us. We are freely equal before the Lord. In Luke 12:48 we are told that “…to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”
So, while freedom is a wonderful gift that we should express perpetual gratitude to God for, it does not exist in a vacuum. For us, freedom should bring a commitment to die to ourselves in order to truly live how God intended. No greater area is this to be evident than in our singleness or matrimony as wives and husbands.
If I may be so candid, as a pastor especially, I am routinely alarmed and disheartened by how Christian singles and married couples abuse the freedom that they so often clamor for. In some sense singles are the easiest target here. In addressing the unmarried population, Paul’s advice was, “…it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am.” (1 Corinthians 7:8) Indeed whether for a season or a lifetime, in the Christian operating manual, singleness equals celibacy. However, that mandate is rarely accepted or adhered to nowadays. Halfheartedly following God is more appealing, so like the poet Sidney Lanier wrote, “We live in an age of half faith and half doubt; standing at the temple doors, head in, heart out.”
Singles have a freedom all their own, one that affords more time to devote to God and to invest in other interests in special ways. This freedom is for naught, however, if it isn’t used wisely, which inevitably will require sacrifice. Just as Jesus gave himself as a sacrifice for sin, so are we to freely give ourselves as living epistles, in words and deeds, testifying to the Spirit’s transformative power.
If you are single then you are also free. I know, believe me. I was once right there with you. No one to answer to. No one to take care of. No one to argue with over whose favorite television show should be watched first or who ought to wash the dishes. But contrary to prevailing folklore, even in your singleness you are not an island. You are not supposed to live like the Prodigal Son, sexually, emotionally, vocationally, or otherwise sowing your wild oats in the name of immaturely conceived freedom. You are not your own. You may not answer to another man or woman about the intricate responsibilities of your life, but you do answer to God.
It should be no surprise, then, that I have a similar rebuke for married Christians like myself. Although our lot is different, we, too, so easily get lost in the sauce of selfishness, captivated by the sinful desire to, essentially, live as though we are not married. Having been married for seven years now, I have no qualms sharing that my wife and I are as imperfect as imperfect can be. We fuss and fight and sometimes go long spells not seeing see eye-to-eye. We are fellow beggars in need of Jesus’ daily bread like any other couple. I am grateful, however, that we are committed to walking, talking, and living like we are a husband and wife committed to making a difference for the Lord and for each other. Say what you will, but although I am God’s property, I also belong to my wife. And the same applies to her.
Of course, I don’t mean that in some crude, exploitative manner that implies we are expected to fulfill every flippant desire of the other. But we are joined together as one under God. There is no getting around that. We read a lot about what structure a good marriage might follow in Ephesians 5, particularly verse twentyone’s declaration: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
There is freedom all over this for sure, but it isn’t free or easy by any stretch of the imagination. Nevertheless, it is what you sign-up for in holy matrimony. You actually relinquish a great deal of freedom in becoming a wife or husband because you are now rightfully subject to another. You should not come and go as you please. You should not have secrets or separate finances that will try to con you with independence. You should have no lover other than the one to whom you said, “I do.” And that goes for virtual/electronic, emotional, or physical shenanigans as well. You are married now. Maybe the divorce rate is so high amongst Christians because just like the world we go about making marriage something it was never intended to be, a corporate merger of two sinners both hell-bent on winning by any means necessary.
I don’t mean to be impolite, but if you want to do what you want when you want with whom you want no matter your spouse’s feelings, then it likely isn’t best for you to marry. Again, freedom isn’t free.
One life’s most provocative components, freedom, is routinely misunderstood and Christians haven’t done the best job of articulating the alternative lifestyle of God’s people that the biblical narrative represents. The state of New Hampshire’s official motto is, “Live Free or Die.” Doesn’t that sound cool, like something that Denzel Washington would say in an action drama? Well, be that as it be, it is also a historical statement that highlights how important freedom is. As much as we crave freedom we are quick to act a fool when it arrives, which is quite unfortunate. Whether single or married, we have an obligation to properly manage the freedom that Jesus bled and died, and was resurrected for us “while we were yet sinners.” (Romans 5:8)
Pastor James Ellis III