Historically “freedom” has been an emotionally charged word. Many politicians have run their campaigns on its ticket. Many economists have founded their professional reputations on its power. Many men and women have given their lives in its defense. And every July 4 in the United States of America many of us celebrate its abiding presence in our country.

But theologically the concept of human freedom is much more elusive. Are human beings truly free? If your answer is an immediate, “Yes” (which I assume it will be since you are an American and, as I’ve said, freedom is an emotionally charged word) then my next question is, “Free to do or to be what?” Specifically, are we free to not sin?

Think about that one for a minute. Does the Bible teach that human beings are free not to sin? Is all it takes to live a perfectly sin-free life merely the will to do so? Was the British monk Pelagius correct after all? Are we free to be sinless? All that is required is the determined exercise of our wills so as to perfectly conform to God’s commandments? Are we sure about that? Or was Augustine (and the Church) correct in condemning Pelagius as a heretic?

Regardless of where you come out on that age-old debate, doesn’t the Bible (especially Paul) describe Christian discipleship in terms of slavery? I would argue that following the fall human beings are incapable of ever being truly free, as we define freedom. The Bible emphatically teaches that we are either slaves to sin or we are slaves to God (Romans 6:17-18).

And so before we glibly shout our secular mantra, “Let Freedom Ring” let’s remember that freedom to the natural man means, “Leave me alone so that I can do and be anything I want to do and be.” Inevitably this attitude leads us straight into a sinful lifestyle that enslaves us rather than frees us.

Instead, let’s firmly and resolutely shout our God’s command, “Let Jesus Reign.” Paradoxically, it is only as we submit to Him as slaves that we become truly free.