Multifaceted Dimensions of Freedom: Nature and Scope of a Divine Gift

Posted on Dec 14 2021

Ganoune Diop, Ph.D.
Director Public Affairs
General Conference SDA World Headquarters
Secretary General IRLA

Multifaceted Dimensions of Freedom: Nature and Scope of a Divine Gift


Introduction

Freedom is said to be the most complex idea in the history of philosophy or the history of ideas.
Freedom is also difficult to fully embrace because of the implications. Practically, freedom is difficult to even accept.
Because it means loss of power over people. Most tragedies of human experience are connected to the urge of dominance, subjugation, submission, and instrumentalization of others, thus depriving them of their freedom.
Embracing freedom means the end of manipulation of others, out of respect for their conscience.
It means showing solidarity to the humanity and dignity and rights of every human being, and every people group. It means the end of discrimination. It also means the end of criminalization of others because they are different.

Ultimately, regarding one most the pivotal Christian virtues, righteousness, the condition sine qua non for entrance into the kingdom of God, it cannot materialize without the embracing of other peoples’ freedom and the endeavor towards creating conditions for its realization.
A delineation of what freedom can be helpful. Because there is more to religious freedom than meets the eyes.

There is more to religious freedom than meets the eyes

  1. A political principle. (Consent of the governed, limited government, rule of law, democracy, and representative government).
  2. A legal provision in international law, enshrined in the UDHR, European Union, African Union, OAS, and in national constitutions.
  3. A compound freedom. It presupposes freedom of thought, of conscience, of choice, of expression, of association and of assembly.
  4. It is a sign of our humanity, not only rationality, but also our ethical dimension
  5. A symbol of our interconnectedness, because of what we have in common, not just consciousness but also human conscience 
  6. A call to solidarity and respect, of tolerance therefore based on the sacredness of every human being
  7. A seal of sacredness. In Judaism and in Christianity Human beings are sacred because we are created in the image of God
  8. A moral imperative 

Two fundamental ideas are developed in the following reflection.

  1. Individual Seventh-day Adventists should enjoy inner freedom.
  2. Corporately, the Seventh-day Adventist church has to enjoy its freedom in our external relations.

The reflection is connected to the distinction made in reference to freedom of religion or belief between two kinds of freedom. I will draw parallel and further expand on the two international law concepts of inner freedom and external freedom or Forum Internum and Forum Externum.
But first the importance of Freedom in the Bible

  1. Importance of Freedom in the Bible

The Pervasive Presence of Freedom in the Bible.

Beginning with the climax of the biblical faith, the whole Christian faith is predicated upon the reality of freedom.

The apostle Paul in Galatians 5, twice, tells us that it is for freedom that Christ set us free (v.1). We are called to freedom (v.13)

The condition sine qua none of being a Christian is to have the Holy Spirit of Christ. In Romans 8:9, the Apostle Paul is very clear: “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the hallmark of being Christian.

Moreover, in 2 Corinthians the Apostle says that “where the spirit is there is freedom (v.18).
No wonder then that in Galatians 5 he talks about the fruit of freedom, that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy peace patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control).

Broadening our reflection, I can say the following:
The Whole Bible is a history of freedom. We also call it the history of salvation.
God is the God of freedom
The people of God experience freedom.
The exodus is part of the history of freedom.
The Israelite festivals are indeed festivals of freedom.

The Sabbath is the day of freedom. It is like every week we have an Independence Day (See Deut. 5)

Even fast is not conceived without the dimension of freedom.
Isaiah 58 about fasting puts it this way:
            “Is this not the fast which I choose
            To loosen the bonds of wickedness
            To undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppress free
            And break every yoke”

The sanctuary, its functions and ritual performances were inseparably connected to the idea of freedom: freedom from condemnation, freedom from defilement, of course ultimately freedom to worship and fellowship with God.

Our theological or soteriological nomenclature (vocabulary) are freedom oriented.
Justification is freedom from condemnation
Sanctification is freedom from defilement or freedom from disqualification to fellowship with a holy God.
Glorification is freedom from shame and everlasting contempt.

Salvation is overall freedom from the penalty of sin, the power of sin and the very presence of sin when Christ returns.

The gospel is the goods news of freedom.
A savior has come to bring freedom (First coming)
The Savior is coming again to complete what he has started. He will bring ultimate complete freedom.
This time, it will include freedom from corruptible bodies, actually freedom from death once and for all, that of course will include freedom from diseases, viruses, deadly pathogens, and bad bacteria.

The Three Angels messages are also about freedom.
The everlasting gospel has multifaceted dimensions which certainly contains the good news of judgment, the hour of judgment has come we are told. This is good news. For one thing, Babylon would not have fallen if the hour of judgment would not have come. But we do not want to miss the various dimensions of the everlasting gospel. I would like to highlight one overarching, undergirding dimension of the gospel.

The everlasting gospel is about freedom.
The everlasting gospel is fundamentally about freedom, liberation from the captivity of despair and meaninglessness, from authoritarian and oppressive regimes, from the dragon and its allies the beasts. 
It is also about hospitality and introduction into the kingdom of the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.
In the context of the three angels’ messages the gospel is the following:
It is freedom from idolatry
It is freedom from captivity in Egypt and Babylon
It is freedom from sharing the fate of God’s enemy and avoid total annihilation.

  1. First Angel’s Message

The first angel’s message is in essence freedom from idolatry.
An invitation to life, to God’s awareness, being mindful of God, constantly living in the presence of God, which is the equivalent of piety. We are invited to a life of affirmation of God’s sovereignty, God’s Rights. We give God all the glory in all gratitude for his being the creator. That is true freedom to be connected and to worship the God of freedom.

  1. The Second Angel’s Message

*Is about freedom and end of exile, freedom from oppression, it is freedom from the rule of totalitarian regimes whether political or religious. Freedom from the message, fascinations and miracles of Babylon.
*When God’s people were told that Babylon had fallen, they understood that it is a time of exodus, homecoming, and reunion. It was indeed the advent of freedom.
*It is the good news of home at last.

  1. Third angel’s message
  • An invitation to choose based on freedom 
  • A warning about the consequences of our existential choice
  • It is also an invitation to embrace the righteousness of God. It is freedom from being disqualified, freedom from siding with the powers which are hostile to God’s sovereignty
  • It is an appeal to absolute dedication to God, a commitment to unswerving allegiance to God.
  • It is the positive side of freedom. Freedom to fellowship with God.

Concerning the third Angel’s message, Ellen White said the following:
“The third angel's message is the proclamation of the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus Christ. The commandments of God have been proclaimed, but the faith of Jesus Christ has not been proclaimed by Seventh-day Adventists as of equal importance, the law and the gospel going hand in hand. I cannot find language to express this subject in its fullness.” (3SM 172.2)

“The faith of Jesus.” It is talked of, but not understood. What constitutes the faith of Jesus, that belongs to the third angel's message? Jesus becoming our sin-bearer that He might become our sin-pardoning Savior. He was treated as we deserve to be treated. He came to our world and took our sins that we might take His righteousness. And faith in the ability of Christ to save us amply and fully and entirely is the faith of Jesus. (3SM 172.3)

"Light is to shine forth from God's people in clear, distinct rays, bringing Jesus before the churches and before the world. ... If through the grace of Christ His people will become new bottles, He will fill them with the new wine. God will give additional light, and old truths will be recovered, and replaced in the framework of truth; and wherever the laborers go, they will triumph. As Christ's ambassadors, they are to search the Scriptures, to seek for the truths that have been hidden beneath the rubbish of error. And every ray of light received is to be communicated to others. One interest will prevail, one subject will swallow up every other—Christ our righteousness." —Ibid., Dec. 23, 1890.

She wrote the following: "The law of God is to be magnified; its claims must be presented in their true, sacred character, that the people may be brought to decide for or against the truth. Yet the work will be cut short in righteousness. The message of Christ's righteousness is to sound from one end of the earth to the other to prepare the way of the Lord. This is the glory of God, which closes the work of the third angel." —Ellen G. White, Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 19.
Ellen White insists on the necessity to preach the gospel as the faith of Jesus Christ, namely Jesus the sin-bearer, the sin-pardoning Savior, and the giver of His righteousness.

  1. Implications of Embracing Inner Freedom 
  1. Inner Personal Freedom, Forum Internum: God’s Gift of Liberation

No person should be the conscience of another person. If this be the case it cancels your very humanity. Conscience is the sign according to which every person is sacred.
From a faith perspective, inner freedom is not a recipe but a fruit of reconciliation with God, which results in peace.
"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). The Apostle Paul goes on to say that “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Notice the sequence: Reconciliation freedom, peace, and love. 

  1. Taking the Issue of Freedom One Step Further: Freedom from Fear 

At the core of this reflection is the following statement:
When we let God be God, we begin to taste freedom. This freedom is expressed through a genuine experience of freedom from fear, freedom from all kinds of fears. 
The grip of fear, all kinds of fears in our lives, prevents the Christian from living in the love of God and love of neighbor.
This is our overarching human mandate which Jesus eloquently summarized. Love of God and love of neighbor. But essential for this love to materialize is the necessity to be free from fear.

  1. Freedom from the fear of what other people can do to us Illustration:

The case of Abraham. Jesus is the ultimate example of one who overcame fear. Even facing the horrors of the excruciating pain at the Cross, He did not lose it. He even took time to pray for his enemies. A supreme example of inner freedom.

  1. Freedom from the fear of what others may say about us to destroy our reputation. No worries only God can ultimately vindicate us. It is easy to become a criminal when you worry too much about defending yourself. Trust God.
  1. Freedom from the fear of not receiving a blessing as in the case of Jacob
  1. Freedom from the fear of losing a privilege (David)
  1. Freedom from fear of death that makes us slaves of the evil one (Heb 2). Death should not cancel trust and love of God. Love should cancel the fear of death.

* Dying is best experienced when we willfully entrusted our care to our God and creator and lover.
* That is dying in dignity not in despair. See the beautiful example of our lord and savior, Jesus Christ.” Into your hands I entrusted my spirit” said Jesus.

  1. Freedom from the fear of being imprisoned: Paul and Silas sang while in prison 
  1. Freedom from attachment to worldly rewards, accolades and recognitions. See this kind of freedom in the hall of famers of Hebrews 11. Positively, that is the freedom of faith. Freedom to keep faith under all circumstances. The above freedom is the act of settling in one’s mind that we are only to deal with God.

It is a detachment from the illusion that we have to fight people and circumstances and become winners at all cost. This freedom is a gift from God. It comes from the Holy Spirit. It is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, peace, Shalom with God, Shalom with oneself.
One of the greatest gifts in this life is peace with God. (Romans 5).
It leads to Shalom with others. We do not have to fight against flesh and blood. Our real enemies are invisible ones, wicked spirits Satan and one third of demoted angels, fallen angels, evil spirits, demons using people to make a mockery of our commitment to God. They will use anything or anybody to shake our confidence in God.

The example of Job’s wife: curse God and die it is said. The reality of her losing her children may have been unbearable. It has brought bitterness and despair, feeling of loss and meaninglessness. Job stood his ground. “Even if he kills me, I will trust in him. I know my redeemer lives.” He is not locked in the grip of death. He resurrected so I and so will you live according to his promises.
So, job was free in the midst of his trials and tribulations

  1. Freedom from the fear of end time tribulations, along with freedom from the fear of the signs of the times. Regarding the signs of the times. Jesus said when you see these things, lift up your head for your deliverance draws near.
  1. Freedom from hatred. The purpose of freedom from fear is Freedom to love. The goal of freedom is love. It is not to settle scores or to hate not even enemies. In this perspective, it is good to remember that not everything written in the Bible is prescriptive or normative. The imprecatory psalms are there for some lessons but not to be adopted and wish ill to enemies. We pray for our enemies. We do not curse them, despise them, hold grudges or show contempt. We do not curse them in any way. We pray that they be reconciled with God and get back to their right mind. That is God’s attitude. Romans 5 puts it as follows: “God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…For while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Romans 5:8-10).
  1. Freedom from fear is freedom to let God be God. Our prayers are not bargaining chips but confident trust and surrender to God’s providence, provision, and protection when God sees fit. Your will be done we say. Just like Jesus showed us. It is freedom to love God for God’s sake.

“To enter into a true relationship with God, you have to be more interested in him than in what he gives, more in what you are than in what you do for him.”
Jean-Marie Guellette. Laisse Dieu Etre Dieu en Toi: Petit Traite de la Liberte interieure.
To let God be God, one must overcome the three primordial temptations.

  1. Freedom to Overcome the Three Primordial Temptations

All of humanity is invited to freedom from the three primordial temptations
Key among them is freedom from pride

The problems of humanity have been expressed since the garden of Eden: (“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyers and the boastful pride of life is not from the Father but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” 1 John 2:16-17.

The book of Proverbs gave us insights about what must be overcome.
“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him:
Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers (Proverbs 6:16)

To say this according to the words of the prophet Micah, we are invited to walk humbly on earth. The whole world belongs to God. Also, all that we have is just entrusted to our stewardship. They belong to God. On this basis our relationships also ought to be seen in light of God’s sovereignty.

  1. The Other Aspect of Freedom: Forum Externum

Freedom in our relationships
Relations with the public space, civil society, government leaders and community leaders, both political and religious.
External Corporate Freedom: Forum Externum or Freedom from Empires’ Claims and Hegemonies
True Christian Freedom:

  1. Today’s Challenge: The Urgent Task of Restoring a Credible Faith in the Public Space

In the public space, there are global powers competing for hegemony, domination and control of resources.
Seventh-day Adventists were invited to a radical reconfiguration of the landscape of human relations, according to which we make no difference and do not discriminate against other human beings based on nationality, skin color, social position, religion, caste or class.

“Christ commissioned His disciples to proclaim a faith and worship that would have in it nothing of caste or country, a faith that would be adapted to all peoples, all nations, all classes of men.
Ellen G. White, Desire of Ages, 819.
“In the days of Christ, selfishness and pride and prejudice had built strong and high the wall of partition between the appointed guardians of the sacred oracles and every other nation on the globe. But the Savior had come to change all this. The words, which the people were hearing from, His lips were unlike anything to which they had ever listened from priest or rabbi. Christ tears away the wall of partition, the self-love, the dividing prejudice of nationality, and teaches a love for all the human family. He lifts men from the narrow circle that their selfishness prescribes; He abolishes all territorial lines and artificial distinctions of society. He makes no difference between neighbors and strangers, friends and enemies. He teaches us to look upon every needy soul as our neighbor and the world as our field.” E.G. White. Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings, p.42.

This vision of one human family is severely tested. Seventh-day Adventists have a unique and decisive contribution to make.

A work of restoration is needed today. 21st century Christianity faces a decisive challenge because of the entanglement of Christian Churches with political ideologies which instrumentalize religion for political positionings, control and imposition of its morals and social agendas.

The deeper temptation is to confuse or to conflate human empires, human social arrangements with the kingdom of God.
The task of the Reformation included the stripping of empire ideologies from theology, soteriology and ethical values. Human valuing, racism, conquests, subjugations, submissions, exploitations of people’s vulnerability or fragility contrary to Christ’s justice and righteousness have been accommodated to the faith of Jesus. Ideologies of manifest destiny to subjugate people or to decimate their existence and plunder their resources have been legitimized in Christianity.

  1. Implications for Embracing External Freedom

Seventh-day Adventists are called to be different in living the values of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. The solutions to sanitize the faith are the following:

  1. Decolonize Christianity and dissociate it from a search for power over people. The freedom of conscience and choices of all people should be respected. The time when the church ruled over societies is over or partner with empire to colonize people is over. Even though some versions of religions continue to lord it over whole populations, it should not be the norm for the church. The pushbacks that led to secularism and Laïcité were a refusal of the domination of the church over society. The dechristianization of Western societies goes hand in hand with the rejection of empire mentality, an ethos of conquest, domination and subjugation which are an antithesis of the deepest longings of human beings: freedom, equality, and self-determination. 
  2. De-imperialize Christianity. 4th Century Christians had let empire mentality and ethos crept into the Christian Faith. The result has been catastrophic for the identity, message and mission of the church Jesus founded. The ensuing fusion of church and state during the Middle Ages has discredited the separation of church and state Jesus promoted. This fusion has led to the legitimization of violence.
  3. De-racialize and de-ethno-centralize the Christian faith. 15th to 19th century Christianity accommodated itself with the enslavement of people of African descent and the genocide of native Americans. This betrayal of the message of the prince of peace was even viewed as divine endorsement. It was even grounded in the misinterpretation and instrumentalization of biblical texts such as the so-called curse of Ham or the mark of Cain to justify slavery and the subjugation of black people.

There is an urgent need to De-racialize and de-ethnocentralize Christian communities, in order to fulfill the dream of the one humanity God envisioned. The de-racialization of Christianity should not be confined to its various contexts. It should also expand to other world faiths, religions and philosophies.

  1. De-nationalize the Christin Faith. 19th and 20th Century Christianity continued to embrace the concepts of manifest destiny, election, exceptionalism and religious triumphalism to frame the narrative of Christian mission. To this day vestiges of that bygone era are still visible in the church through hymns of conquest, militarized language and nationalist or ethnocentric art form coopted to represent the divine as a cover to promote ethnic superiority. Subliminal messages of so-called racial superiority are thus insensitively perpetrated. Many a people dismiss the Christian message because of its politicization and cultural supremacist messages.
  2. De-politicize the Christian faith and restore the reality of the separation of religion and states, church and states.
  3. Delegitimize violence. It is necessary today to strip our reading of Scripture of the framework of the legitimization of violence and human valuing and hierarchicalization. Early Christians lived in brutal and violence-filled Roman Empire, nonetheless, following Jesus’s footsteps, they preached peace and blessings on peacemakers. 
  4. Re-universalize/Reinstate universal values inherent to the Christian faith. (Faith-Hope and Love). The Christian Faith is inseparable from universalism, universal principles and values. National interests should not make us sacrifice universal principles, values and norms.
  5. Re-center on the biblical and Reformation principle of “all to the glory of God.” This focus includes seeking God’s absolute will in revealed Scriptures. Throughout history, God accommodating condescendence was manifested to meet humanity where we were. Our various social arrangements should not be confused with God’s will or God’s ideal. God’s only perfect model of social arrangement is the kingdom of God. This is the reason why we pray “your kingdom come.” Moreover, God’s accommodating to our social arrangements was always purposed to gradually lead us to the ideals of His kingdom as Jesus clearly taught.
  6. Restore the peacemaking, peacebuilding, and reconciliation mission inseparable from Christ’s person, teachings, kingdom and righteousness.
  7. Restore the primacy of the love of God. The Love of God is what all human hearts are longing for. Until people see its demonstration in our lives, they would assume that it does not work.

Religions may seize the current time of various reckonings to recover their initial project of functioning as ligaments, the act of tying the human community together.
This mingling together does not mean adhering to a uniformity of beliefs or fusion of churches and religions. That would be syncretistic alliances and open door to heresy. 

The Pivotal Role of Religious Freedom
There is more to freedom that meets the eye.Religious freedom allows the dignity of difference while finding intersections of values to improve the condition of coexistence between human beings in peace and equitable sharing of earth environment and resources.
True Christian freedom is built on these premises or prerequisites.
In this context, we Seventh-day Adventists share with the whole world our faith, our hope and our love. 

Freedom matters
Our name Seventh-day Adventist has two components, both related to the idea of freedom.
The Seventh-day Sabbath is not only the commemoration of creation and a celebration of salvation, but also the prefiguration of freedom in eternity.
Likewise, the name Adventist is a prophetic announcement of the upcoming total freedom when Jesus Christ comes again.

Freedom matters so much that God chose to reveal Himself through a name related to Freedom: Yahweh.
Jesus’ name is also related to Freedom.
The Holy Spirit is the God of freedom for where the Spirit is there is liberty.
May the God of freedom, the one who said, “if the Son makes you free, you shall be freed indeed” come and free us from all viruses, diseases, and grant us incorruptible bodies.
Come Lord Jesus. Maranatha.

I would like to leave you with a very well-known text which in fact helps us better understand the depth of freedom.
In the context of our meditation
I would like to draw your attention to the prayer of prayers. The Lord’s Prayer for it is a prayer of freedom.

Not just because the word “deliverance” is mentioned in it.“O
ur father” that in itself is a deliverance from tribalism, ethnocentrism, 
“Hallowed be thy name” freedom from idolatry
Thy kingdom come freedom from occupied territory,
Thy will be done. Freedom from chaos
Give us this day our daily bread: freedom from want
Forgive us our debt: freedom from guilt. Freedom from condemnation 
As we forgive our debtors: This means freedom from grudges, freedom from hostility against others, freedom from hatred of others.
Lead us not into temptation: Freedom from helplessness, freedom from the weakness of the will, freedom from powerlessness before temptations: temptations of the eyes, temptation of the flesh, temptation to prideD
eliver us from evil: freedom from abandonment in the hands of evil.

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.
This is freedom from the temptation to usurp God’s unique prerogatives: The kingdom, the power, the glory.

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