In the Office: The Freedom of Obedience

The epistle lesson from today’s Daily Office makes one of those statements that seems to fly in the face of the spirit of our age:

“This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.”
(1 John 5:2-4)

Let’s face it; even those of us who consider ourselves to be children of God don’t always do a very good job of keeping God’s commands. And in the culture at large, there are many who object to the very idea that our freedom to do what we want should be in any way restricted by an ancient moral code. And yet, what if true freedom can only be found in walking down the path of obedience?

I am currently reading Tim Keller’s book, Making Sense of God. And in a chapter that addresses this exact issue, Keller offers these observations:

Modern freedom is the freedom of self-assertion. I am free if I may do whatever I want. But defining freedom this way—as the absence of constraint on choices—is unworkable because it is an impossibility. Think of how freedom actually works.

Imagine a man in his sixties who likes to eat whatever he wants to eat. He also loves to spend time with his grandchildren. Both of these activities are an important part of what makes his daily life meaningful and satisfying. Then at his annual physical a doctor says to him, “Unless you severely restrict what you eat from now on, your heart problems will worsen and you will have a heart attack. You must completely stop eating all of your favorite foods.”

The modern definition of freedom is the ability to do whatever we want. However, how does that definition work when your wants are in conflict with each other? He certainly does not want to be bedridden or to die, in which case his freedom to be with his grandchildren and see them grow up is curtailed. But, of course, he also wants to eat his favorite foods, eating being a major source of comfort and good feeling. This is the complexity of real life. He can accept either the limits on his eating or the limits on his health. It is impossible that he will have freedom in both areas.

The question is not, then: How can this man live in complete freedom? The proper question is: Which freedom is the more important, the more truly liberating?

Keller goes on to point out that the most liberating freedom of all comes in a freely chosen obedience to God’s commands, because these commands are not an arbitrary list of rules, but they reflect, instead, the life-giving design of the One who knows us and loves us best. As he puts it: “When you begin to obey, you are ‘living into’ your own design rather than working against it.”

About which of His commands has God been speaking to you lately? Which are easy to embrace, and which are you tempted to reject; and how might the acceptance of your God-given limits lead to even greater freedom?

May God give us grace today to trust that all of His ways are good; and to discover that when we take His yoke upon ourselves and learn from Him, He will give us rest.

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