‘BORN FREE’ is the name of a real-life story by a couple who raised an orphaned lioness cub to adulthood then released her into the Kenyan wilderness. The book was made into a film, whose title song chimes with a deep-seated human desire: “Born free and life is worth living, but only worth living ’cause you’re born free.”
Not everyone has freedom. Those who enjoy it should value it. At the inauguration of US President Joe Biden on 20th January 2021, the poet Amanda Gorman described herself as a black girl descended from slaves. In his address President Biden himself referred to two people concerned about freedom: Martin Luther King who is perhaps most famous for his 1963 speech about his ‘dream’ of ‘freedom and justice’, and Abraham Lincoln, whose Emancipation Declaration of 1863 ultimately led to the abolition of slavery in the USA. Lincoln had said that this was his proudest achievement: his ‘whole soul’ was in it. Referring to his new role as President, Joe Biden echoed these sentiments.
Slaves And Free
In the First Century, society in the Roman empire was rigidly hierarchical. At the bottom of the ladder were slaves (the Bible uses the word ‘bondservant’), who were the property of their masters.
On the other hand, the apostle Paul was a Roman citizen by birth, which gave him several important civil rights. This citizenship was a tremendous honour:
Then the commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” He said, “Yes.” The commander answered, “With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.” And Paul said, “But I was born a citizen” (Acts 22:27–28).
It is therefore remarkable that Paul, although ‘free’, was happy to describe himself as a bondservant of Jesus (for example Romans 1:1, Galatians 1:10,
Titus 1:1). And he is not alone: other Christians are described as bondservants (Epaphras in Colossians 4:12; James in James 1:1; Peter in 2 Peter 1:1). What is even more remarkable is that Jesus himself willingly took on this role.
[Jesus] made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7).
So it is hardly surprising that Jesus’ followers are happy to take on a similar role. But what does it actually mean?
We Are All Slaves
Paul was ‘free born’. However, he understood that his freedom was an illusion. Paul said that he, and all of us, are naturally born as slaves: slaves to sin. Sin is disobedience to God. God asks for obedience. Paul explains this in Romans 6:16–23, and his inspired argument is as follows:
We are all born as slaves to sin, following it instinctively, and on a course for death. If we obey the Gospel message we are released from our natural master ‘Sin’, and choose a new master ‘Righteousness’. We have the choice: we either serve one or the other. When serving righteousness we obey God and He considers us holy and is happy to give us His free gift of eternal life.
Consequently, by having faith in Jesus and a commitment to serving him, we can be free from the terrible consequences of the human nature we bear. We no longer do what we want, to please ourselves. Like the bond slave we do (or at least try to do) what Jesus wants, in absolutely everything. And then, by being his servant or slave, we can have amazing freedom.
In comparison with the yoke of sin and death, the yoke of Jesus is easy:
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:30).
Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1).
And Jesus himself alluded to this:
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed him, ‘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).
Free To Choose
The song says: “Born free, as free as the wind blows, as free as the grass grows, born free to follow your heart.”
There are many honourable causes we could take up. Many things to which we could devote our ‘whole soul’, indeed ‘following our heart’. But Jesus was quite clear about what our priorities and commitment should be.
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these (Mark 12: 30–31).
We are certainly free to make some choices about what we believe, how we spend our time, how we behave and what our focus is. To what will we devote our heart and soul? There is no higher or more honourable cause than to devote ourselves to serving the Lord God. This makes our life worth living not only now but throughout eternity. Let us put our ‘whole souls’ into doing that.