Defining "True Freedom"

By Jonathan, TfT Director.     First published in Spring 2012 newsletter.

butterflyAt a recent speaking engagement in Northern Ireland I was asked by a young man how I would define ‘true freedom’ as it relates to the area of struggles with same-sex attractions. Did I believe that the defining mark of experiencing true freedom is that an individual is completely set free from same-sex struggles and goes on to experience heterosexual attractions?

Fortunately I was prepared for the question, because a major focus of the staff team and trustees during 2011 was to rethink and refresh our Vision, Mission and Goals. As part of that process we gave considerable thought to the whole concept of ‘true freedom’ from a Christian perspective. We concluded (to quote from the Vision, Mission and Goals statement) ‘that true freedom, contentment and wholeness are found by trusting and following Jesus Christ, rather than being defined by the absence of same-sex attractions.’

This is not to say, of course, that increasing freedom from same-sex attractions can’t or won’t be experienced by those who trust and follow Jesus Christ. Indeed within the membership of True Freedom Trust, there are a number who would testify that they have experienced or are currently experiencing such freedom to one degree or another. The point we’re wanting to stress in our definition, however, is that the absence of same-sex attractions should not be taken as a defining mark of what it means for an individual to experience true freedom. The gospel doesn’t promise us complete freedom from struggles or temptations, at least not this side of heaven.

Some would disagree with our definition, of course, and would urge us to place much more emphasis on encouraging change in sexual attractions and desires. One of the joys (and challenges!) of serving within a ministry such as True Freedom Trust is that our work crosses denominational boundaries. The individuals and churches who approach us for support and teaching come from a wide range of theological, denominational and cultural backgrounds. Even amongst our membership there are a wide-range of views about concepts such as change, freedom and healing.

The foundation for any Christian definition of true freedom has to be the word of God. We certainly don’t claim infallibility when it comes to biblical interpretation, but we are quietly confident that over time we’ve developed an authentically biblical view of freedom. Our brochures and literature carry the words of Jesus in John 8:36: “If the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.” The context of those words is Jesus’ assertion to his Jewish listeners that they need to be set free from slavery to sin. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (John 8:31,32 and John 8:34)

So authentic Christian freedom, according to the definition of the Lord Jesus, is all wrapped up with the teaching of Jesus. His teaching is truth and Jesus uses this truth to personally set us free from our slavery to sin, which is the natural state of every human-being. Nowhere in that discourse, or indeed anywhere else in the gospels, does Jesus promise us freedom from the temptation to sin, or freedom from an ongoing struggle with sin. To be “free indeed” as Jesus puts it, is to be set free from our slavery to sin and all its consequences. As a Christian sin in is no longer my master, sin no longer controls my destiny, sin no longer has ultimate power over my life.

So how does this work out in practice? Well, as an example, in my own life it means that yes I still struggle with same-sex attractions. I still get tempted to act out those attractions in a whole variety of ways. But every time that I submit to and hold to the teachings of Jesus, every time that I allow His perfect truth to govern my thoughts, words, feelings and behaviour, so I experience “true freedom.”

Often this true freedom is experienced right in the midst of an intense struggle or a prolonged period of temptation. But each time that I choose to say “no” to sin, so I reinforce the spiritual reality that sin is no longer my master. Jesus is my master; I’m a willing “slave” to Him and to His word and, as paradoxical as it sounds, slavery to Jesus and His word is true freedom. When His truth has mastery over my life, I am “free indeed”, because I’m living for God’s pleasure just as He intended me to.