There is a positive kind of freedom and there is a negative kind of freedom. Positive freedom is liberty to become and to do as we should. Negative freedom is liberty from control, from regulation, and from restraint. People under positive freedom live in mutual accord governed by laws that protect the vital interests of all. An example is where vast numbers of automobiles, driven by non-professional drivers, ply crowded streets rarely having difficulty. Here, all benefit while most follow the rules although they might find it easier to speed, to cut corners, to use wrong lanes, or to ignore traffic signals. People acting without controls under negative freedom do so although their exercise of freedom might violate the rights of others. Consider how a student's freedom to play his stereo loudly in the dormitory conflicts with the rights of other students to study or to rest, or how the freedom of one student to cheat on tests denies all of the other students their right to a fair system of grading. True freedom requires individual maturity and self-restraint. Free societies have comparatively few police; they require that individual citizens police themselves. If many citizens fail this duty, the society must either fall or become oppressive.
Positive freedom, under law and under self-restraint, is outlined in the Declaration of Independence of the United States and in the basic documents of other western countries. It is also completely defined in the Holy Scriptures, the Bible. The apostle, Paul, wrote in I Cor. 6:12 and 10:23: "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any . . . All things are lawful for me, but all things edify not." God wants Christians to be free and happy. His followers should not be sad prisoners of their faith. So that Christians can be both free and happy, God limited Christian freedom. Christians live within God's prescribed confines from respect of God's will. Others obey these limitations because they are necessary, logical and time proven. Freedom's first limitation is that the things we do must be expedient, or beneficial. The New Testament's original writings in the Greek language used a word best translated as to be creative of harmonious situations. We can do as we please when our activities build harmonious situations. But, we must understand that freedom is a spiritual, not a physical, dimension. We can understand this by remembering some, although surrounded by wealth, are unhappy, remaining prisoners within themselves. Others, like Paul and Silas (in Acts 16:25), although physically imprisoned, sang hymns of joy and praise to God. The concept that freedom is physical is one of the great misunderstandings of our times. Paul instructs us, in Galatians 5:13: "For brethren we have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another."
To express freedom's first limitation more generally, we ask, "Is this good for my soul?" Humans are not bodies that have souls, rather they are spirits that will live somewhere as long as God exists. Where our spirits spend eternity will be influenced by how our activities meet this first limitation. Will this activity create a harmonious situation, is it good for my soul? Abiding within limitation number I is an obligation to ourselves that we must keep. God's second limitation on our freedom is that we must not be mastered by, or brought under, the power of the things we do. Jesus said that no man can serve two masters. Thus, servants of Christ must never serve other things. But you say, "I will not be slave to anyone or anything, I shall be free". This is a popular myth; no human has ever lived who wasn't mastered by someone or something. It might have been kin, or boss, sexual drives, lust for wealth, liquor, cigarettes, or drugs. Everybody has a master of some kind. It is better to be slave to the master of the universe than to our own selfishness, indulgences, and bad habits. How free is the alcoholic? How free is the slave of the desire for material gain, surrounded by wealth, yet desperately unhappy having no real purpose in life?
Mankind can stand great pain, suffering and privation. Mankind cannot stand life without meaning or without purpose. Materialism and other modern concepts confuse young people. Many don't know what they should believe, and their lives have become without purpose or meaning. This is one reason why suicide among our young, ages 15 through 23, are the greatest cause of death, second only to accidents.
We must choose which master we will serve (we will serve someone or something). To be free we must choose our activities to include only those that serve Jesus and His kingdom. In so doing, our lives will have clear meaning and purpose.
God's third limitation to our freedom directs that our activities be constructive. That is, they must edify, or build-up, both those around us, and ourselves. This is so because freedom is also a social dimension. You cannot take another's goods because this conflicts with his right to keep them. You cannot speed on the highways because this interferes with the rights of others to travel safely. The notion of absolute freedom is an absurdity. No one has ever been absolutely free to do everything he might wish to do. All of us are bounded and constrained by the needs and rights of others and by our own limitations. We easily fall for the cheap solution, "I can do what I want as long as nobody gets hurt". How do you judge who gets hurt? What is hurt? How much hurt is permissible? Can you speed ahead on the highway squandering fuel without consuming from those you have passed? Will they get to their destination if the service station's allocation ends with you? Is the decision made by two young people in a moment of passion theirs to alone to make? Are their families implicated? Is the child, should one result, unaffected? Over 112 million young, unmarried women will give birth this year in 40 ; how free do they feel? Freedom is a delicate balance of many relationships. We can do what we want, but it must be beneficial to all, it must serve the true Lord of us all, and it must be constructive for all. By limiting our activities in these ways, we will attain and maintain true freedom.
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