We live in an age of liberty. Everyone wants to throw off the shackles – without even thinking too much about what they are there for. The pulse of our culture is beats with the demand to be able to do our own thing, as and when we feel the impulse to do so.
There are many images and messages that support the notion of throwing off other people’s constraints upon us. In Ratatouille we have a rat wanting to escape the cultural abhorrence toward his kind and the disgusting cultural values of his family. Fights against oppression, determination to rise above family limitations, and such sentiments are common fare.
What brought me to this topic, however, was that I was reflecting today on one of the many stories which carry this theme and I saw something I had not noted before. The story is outdated now. It is the Australian made movie, Strictly Ballroom. As I recall the story (and it’s been several years since I last saw it) a particular ballroom dancing competition has become the life focus of a group of young people.
The central character of the story is a young man whose own father was once a successful competitor in the competition but who somehow damaged his career by going outside the limitations set by the competition. Everyone is now quite intent on meeting the strict requirements, except this young man who, like his father, has a penchant for free expression.
The climax involves the boy stepping outside the prescribed rules and creating something that expresses who and what he is. The whole competition shuts down as a consequence, until the boy’s father steps up to support his son’s individualistic expressions. The story ends with a triumphant liberation of the people from the rigidity of the competitions controller.
The sub-text speaks of each person’s need to find who they are and to be brave enough to step out for the liberation which they should be able to claim. Like many other packagings of the same theme, the subtext is to be the individual that we each are.
But here’s the rub. Some constraints are not the product of egocentric control freaks. Not all things that limit us and make performance demands on us are evil, self-serving structures designed by others and which oppress and limit our self-expression.
Liberation from oppression is one thing, but liberation from godly morality, responsibility and the like is a completely different proposition. The current popular cultural theme of self-expression, self-discovery and self-assertion is not anchored in the fear of God as it needs to be. It does not respect our need to be who God has made us and to face the limitations which He has placed on us.
The Bible supports our personal liberty through Christ. We are even told to hold on to our liberty from sin and degradation. We have been called to liberty, Paul tells us (Galatians 5:1). However, Paul also warns us not to use liberty as an excuse for indulging our fleshly desires (Galatians 5:13).
What is being promoted in our culture is a notion of liberty without bounds. Liberty for liberty’s sake has become the value proposition, rather than liberty within the bounds of God’s holy purposes in our lives. We are to stand firm in the liberty which Christ has purchased for us, but not to be brought into slavery by our inappropriate application of liberty. Hence my title “Excessive Liberation is Slavery”.
When people pursue personal freedom as an end in itself they end up applying that freedom to their own self-serving ends. That then brings them into slavery to sin, shame and degradation. They become slaves to the things they indulge in. Their liberty has led them to slavery and they are not free at all.
Stand fast in the liberty in which Christ has made you free – but be not entangled again in slavery.