“I thought when I drove off the property that it would sink in but it still feels weird, different,” she said about an hour after her release.
These are the words of Dana Bowerman, one of over 6,000 inmates released recently around the country as a result of the change in the way the U.S. punishes people convicted of federal drug crimes.
She was a first-time, nonviolent offender who got sent to prison in 2001, at age 30, for taking part in a conspiracy surrounding a methamphetamine ring. Under the sentence in place at the time, Bowerman had been scheduled to serve 19 years and seven months, or until 2018. (Source)
When Dana left the prison, she was freed of the physical prison walls that surrounded her since 2001. But as soon as she got out, a new sensation arose that was unfamiliar: a taste of refreshing freedom, not being stuck in a square cell 24 hours a day. She was so excited for one thing specifically, to be able to enjoy a thin-slice pizza, a privilege not given to her since she stepped foot in prison.
Most Christians face this same dilemma on a regular basis, though mostly not from being trapped in a physical prison. Many believers face the struggle of being free as a result of the work of Christ and not knowing how to handle that freedom.
As explained by Roger Olsen in “The Bonds of Freedom” (Christianity Today; October 5, 2012):
Unfortunately, two very different ideas of freedom get confused in many people’s minds. The biblical idea of freedom is different from, but easily confused with, the cultural value of the same name. And neither one is the same as “free will.” It can be confusing to the average Christian who wants to know what “real freedom” is. Is it having choices? Is it lack of coercion and constraint? Is it being able to do whatever you want? In what sense does Christ set us free, and how is that different from what Madison Avenue and Hollywood promise?
At the very heart of the Christian gospel is the strange truth that real freedom is found only in giving up everything secular culture touts as freedom. The gospel, it turns out, requires a distinction between the enjoyment of true freedom and the mere possession of “free will.” Not that free will or independence from tyranny is a bad thing; they’re just not true freedom. True freedom, the gospel tells us, is trusting obedience, the obedience of faith. That’s not exactly the image one finds portrayed in popular culture.
The great church father Augustine taught that true freedom is not choice or lack of constraint, but being what you are meant to be. Humans were created in the image of God. True freedom, then, is not found in moving away from that image but only in living it out. The closer we conform to the true image of God, Jesus Christ, the freer we become. The farther we drift from it, the more our freedom shrinks.
There is a great focus today on the right to do what you want, when you want to, and not being restricted in any way. But for the believer, the only way to be truly free is to become more and more like Christ in character.
This is a giant task. To become like Christ means to focus on your purpose and remove distractions that deter you from that purpose. This requires the ability to say yes to the right things and no to the wrong things.
A Christian is free from the bondage of the law:
So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. (Galatians 5:1, NLT)
according to Luther, because of what Christ has done for her and because of her faith in Christ, the Christian is absolutely free from the bondage of the law. She doesn’t have to do anything. On the other hand, out of gratitude for what Christ has done for her and in her, the Christian is bound in servitude to God and other people. She gets to serve them freely and joyfully. A person who doesn’t “get” the “get to” part simply doesn’t know the joy of salvation.
What does this boil down to? As Christians, we must strive to use the freedom gained through Christ to reveal Him to those around us and not be caught in this stage of not knowing what to do with this freedom, as Dana felt with her new independence only an hour after being released in Texas today.
May we as believers strive to be truly free as the redeemed children of God we are. And let Christ be revealed through us.