When we think of idolatry we often imagine it to be an easy sin to detect and stay clear of. Thoughts of carved images and statues from the Old Testament come to our minds and certainly no good Christian succumbs to such things. But, there is another side of idolatry that is more subtle. It’s the type of idolatry that takes something good and makes it more important than God. This idolatry doesn’t involve formal worship or a confession of faith, yet it is just as dangerous. Martin Luther once said, “That upon which you set your heart and put your trust, is in reality your God.” Our “Not Your God” series takes a look at several modern day idols that can wrestle away your heart faster than you may think.
Not Your God – Freedom
We start off this series with a tricky topic. We have to be careful when defining freedom because the Bible does talk about it as one of the primary reasons that Jesus came to earth. Galatians 5:1 says, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (NASB).” If it seems wrong to think that freedom in Christ is idolatrous that’s okay because it isn’t.
The type of freedom we guard against is different. It comes from a different source than faith and it centers on a different existence than faith. This is the freedom of citizenship among nations of this world. Now, you might be thinking to yourself that freedom in this sense is not a bad thing either. It may not be as important to a Christian as the freedom of faith, but it is still a virtuous thing. If you think this you are correct. Anyone who has grown up in Western culture has been taught to value freedom. Citizens of the United States have fought for this freedom and continue to. And it is a noble thing to stand for.
The problem we face is when our pursuit of this nationalistic freedom overshadows the freedom that Christ won for us on the cross – because they are different. Freedom in this world is a temporary blessing that can be taken away. It serves a purpose for here and now but not for eternity. All rights have an expiration date as all things of this world do. The unique thing about faith in Christ is that while it liberates us from sin, death, and condemnation of the law, (eternal blessings) it does not give us the right to do whatever we chose. In fact, faith actually binds us to our Master even more than before we believed because it engenders a desire to serve God. God’s path of righteousness is much narrower than the world’s path of self-proclaimed rights. Paul described the freedom of the gospel in this way, Romans 6:18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness (NIV). You see, no matter who you are and what you believe, you are serving something or someone.
Think of the difference in this way:
Earthly freedom leads me to think I have the right to do whatever I choose,
which leads to an existence without boundaries,
which leads to sorrow and captivity under sin.
Faith freedom leads me to believe that obeying God is the best path for my life,
which leads to an existence within the confines of God’s Word,
which leads to greater blessings for my life and greater glory given to God.
Freedom becomes idolatrous when a person uses it to convince themselves that they are completely independent from any servitude in the world, which is also a great irony because the illusion of total, personal independence is one of the most enslaving philosophies ever. When Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me… (Matthew 12:30 ESV) He dispelled any notion of absolute autonomy. We are always serving something or someone. We live at a time when freedom is offered as an excuse to pursue any self-edifying pleasure. That belief takes something which is noble and forces it to serve as a cover for sinful purposes. This is the freedom that becomes more important than God.
Arguments abound today about free speech and freedom of expression but no one considers the consequences of this so-called freedom. America is becoming more and more polarized on what is acceptable when it comes to expressing or protesting this freedom we have. What our nation has forgotten is that if our highest pursuits and goals are only in temporary things, if there is no higher spiritual mooring for our lives, then we will simply fight and struggle in the same muck and mire that all civilizations before us have plodded through. We can call it the pursuit of freedom if we want – that sounds nice. We can claim to be a greater, more sophisticated civilization – that will calm our insecurities for a time. We can say that we have the right to do what we want – we may from earthly leaders but not from God. Whatever excuses we offer, we will continue to nitpick and fight against our differences if we don’t have anything greater or more important to appeal to than our personal freedom. That’s because we’ll be serving an idol, even if we try to convince ourselves it is something noble.
Remember what Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin (John 8:34 NASB).” We are fallen creatures. We can see the worth in something like nationalistic, earthly freedom but if we take it and use it as a cover for sin or a balm for all problems it will be a mirage of true hope. Peter, himself, warned: Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves (1 Peter 2:16 NIV). There is only one path to true peace and liberty. This path is not freedom apart from God, however, but freedom given from God and received by faith in Jesus. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:31-32 NKJV).”
Freedom in this world is not your god. Don’t let it’s trappings and pursuits over-shadow what the real, true, flesh and blood God did when He came to earth for you. It is for that freedom that Christ set you free.