preacher and writer in Chicago


Menus are terrifying. To be sure they are little more than lists of available options—yet often in culinary languages difficult for me to understand; laced with unfamiliar insider foodie vocabulary. However the words are the least of my discomforts at a new restaurant. When perusing a new menu the sheer reality of choice is overwhelming. In fact the experience is binding. Item after item, paragraph after paragraph, page after page … I feel trapped by ignorance and inexperience. (Yes, an indicting first world problem. A problem nevertheless.) Regularly when confronted with this debilitating experience I ask the waiter or waitress to make sense of what I am seeing and make a suggestion or two. Without variation, he or she asks me a few questions about my taste, about who I am and what I like. They get to know me a bit. And then they offer their educated expertise. In other words, based on getting to know me they eliminate most of the options … and thus I am freed to enjoy.


Most consider freedom to be a lot like a menu. We often assume true freedom is the opportunity to choose from a list of options based on our personal volition and desires. To be sure our wallets may limit many menu options, nevertheless we often assume the more choices we have the more free we become. The heart of our collective construct of liberty is just that—desires must be allowed to direct actions. The more this principle becomes a reality, we think the more freedom. What’s more, anything which limits choice or stifles desires are instantly determined thieves of liberty. But haven’t we all at some point felt the burden of a menu? Hasn’t everyone experienced the crippling effects of having too many options? Haven’t we all been overwhelmed by a lack of direction? Isn’t it true that even when every avenue and choice is available to us we can still feel trapped?


Upon deeper consideration (if I may be so bold) I think many feel the disingenuous reality of our presumed definition of freedom. Not unlike the feeling I get (and perhaps you do too) around large menus at new restaurants. In fact I believe true freedom is not just different than our collective presumption, freedom is the just the opposite. You see, when our desires drive our activity we ultimately become bound by them, we become enslaved to our desires. But think about just that for a moment—surrendering to our desires. Our feelings and emotions are fickle … deceptive … inconsistent … erratic … mysterious … and often difficult to discern. This is especially true when the burden of abundance is introduce without sufficient understand. Like a new menu. Desires are of little merit when there is no knowledge, understanding, or truth. Do you see? Freedom is not found when we have the opportunity to choose whatever our desires momentarily indicate. Rather true freedom comes when we have the wisdom and power to choose rightly—regardless of the number of options. In other words, freedom is not a matter of choice but identity.


Last week many Americans rightly recalled the words and life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His legacy of justice and reconciliation have marked our nation in a way few parallel. To be sure many ideas and moments and stories come to mind when considering Dr. King’s imprint on history but few (if any) concepts rise about the idea of freedom. However Dr. King’s legacy of freedom is often framed as a desire for African-Americans to be granted all the same choices and options and opportunities as others, especially white Americans. I have discovered this to be only partially true. The menu of freedoms he and others have nobly demanded for all throughout the course of history is more precisely an outworking of a deeper construct of freed. You see, ultimately Dr. King was not asking for African-Americans to have the same options as everyone else. Rather his deep demand for freedom was for all people to be seen fully and completely and unquestionably as people. The clarion call for liberty was anchored in their humanity, not in a desire for certain new activities. In other words Dr. King understood freedom to be based principally upon who we are not what we should be allowed to do. It is identity, not choice which is the ultimate foundation of liberty. And so he quoted the Declaration of Independence at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 … “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’” Dr. King was not asking for a bigger menu of choices, he was announcing the necessity for humanity to be acknowledge within all people. 


Therefore we see within our own nation’s heritage freedom is not about doing what you want. Freedom is better than that. True freedom is knowing who you are and living within the confines of that identity. This historic understand finds deeper meaning still as such words of liberty and bondage are spilled across the pages and paragraphs of the New Testament Scriptures. But despite what we may come to assume in our western and even evangelical consciousness, the writers of the New Testament do not merely speak about being freedom from the bondage of sin to enjoy the liberty of self-dertermination—which is often the way we reframe the Christian narrative (at least within the silence of our own hearts and minds). Instead a much more bold plot line of liberty and bondage is describe and celebrated. 


Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 

(Romans 6:16-18, ESV)


The Apostle Paul speaks to the unexpected nature of freedom. He says true freedom is actually being bound or enslaved by righteousness. In fact he even says this about himself, about who he is. He writes at the outset of Romans, "From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God (Romans 1:1, NET).” Not only Paul, but also James in his epistles calls himself a slave, "From James, a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes dispersed abroad. Greetings! (James 1:1, NET).” Additionally Peter also begins his second letter in the same way, "From Simeon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ, have been granted a faith just as precious as ours (2 Peter 1:1, NET).” And if this were not to convince us of the true nature of freedom, Jesus Christ who is the very image of God, God in the flesh, the picture of boundless possibility and power he also took on the form of a servant or slave, and then was exalted to the highest glory.


Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours inChrist Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality withGod a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that isabove every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2:5-11)


Jesus, the Son of God willfully stepped into our world. It was an environment enslaved to desires and bound to self-determination. We as a race, all people were and are trapped to death by sin. And by graciously binding himself to the consequence of our folly and shame and guilt and pain, Jesus breaks the shackles of sin and death and frees us. But the freedom he grants us is not back to our old way of living, ruled by our desires. Rather our fresh liberty is a new bondage, an enslavement that brings eternal life. You see, in Christ we are bound to him. True freedom is found in who we are. And who we are is human beings. A species made in the image of God meant to be bound in and by that nature—meant to be trapped in righteousness, and meant to be enslaved by his grace to his very self. Freedom is knowing who you are and living in light of that reality. Therefore we do not seek more choices to experiecne  freedoms. Rateher in our bondage to Jesus we seek a deeper knowledge of him, because in knowing him we find out who we truly are. And when we know who we truly are choices no longer guide us, but truth. Jesus frees us from the trappings of choice and welcomes us to his will and way of true reality. The menus of life therefore are neither terrifying because they are not binding, we are bound to reality by Jesus.