Who Is Truly Free?


by Sean McDowell

One of the quickest ways to find out if someone is secular or Christian in their thinking is to ask how they define freedom. I often ask this to my students and the typical answer is, “Freedom means being able to do whatever you want without restrictions,” or something of that sort. In other words, freedom is having ultimate individual autonomy without being controlled by another. The great philosopher Immanuel Kant said the characteristic feature of modern man is the trust he places in his own reasoning as opposed to some external authority or tradition.

According to this definition, freedom is understood entirely as freedom from something. There is certainly something to be said for being free from tyrannical rulers or oppression. Those who have lived under communism knew the harsh reality of dictatorships. But is this all freedom entails? Ironically, it’s actually restriction of our time and talents that leads to genuine freedom.

If someone wants to be a good flute player, she must choose to practice for many hours. She must limit herself in order to be free to play the flute. Choosing to practice the flute puts a restriction on other things she may desire to do. If you have the natural aptitude, it takes time and discipline to release that potential. In other words, you cannot freely play the flute without limitations. That means restrictions actually set you free!

This does not mean we all have equal aptitudes. Some are better suited for sports and others for music (or something else). For someone with little athletic skills to spend hours training for basketball may be more restricting than liberating. In The Reason for God, Timothy Keller captures this point beautifully…


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