As I have traveled over the past several months, the Lord has been sharing some ways that his understanding of Joy and Freedom differs from contemporary Western culture. Some of the most profound North American thinking on joy came out of the Hippie movement, and still echoes through festivals like Burning Man and other references. While the Hippie movement was initially a reaction against the independence, need to control, and idolatry of strength present in North American culture, this movement rejected Christ in it’s efforts to dismantle broken systems and failed to reclaim joy as an essential element of Christianity. Godly joy is challenged by current North American tendencies to delegitimize and secularize it, and divorced from the full expression of God’s character inside and outside of the Church. I am writing this post because Godly freedom and joy is part of the good news of Jesus and an essential byproduct of deliverance ministry.
God is one, so God’s freedom is defined by God’s love. We know the full expression of God’s love through the person of Jesus Christ.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.Galatians 5:1
Here are some ways that Joy and Freedom in Christ differ from Western culture.
1. True Freedom Comes from Deep Healing
Unless God sets you free in really deep places, you’re not free at all. We have to be set free in our deepest places of wounding (continuously as we know God more intimately) to sustain this kind of freedom. Healing means allowing God permission to deal with the deep places of loss that hinder our joy.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.John 10:10
Some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out.Luke 8:2
Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.Song of Solomon 2:15
Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.Micah 4:4
False Freedom Remains Surface Level
When individuals aspire towards freedom without receiving deeper healing, they are going to have to either fake some wholeness OR keep some things hidden. This will limit an individual’s capacity to be vulnerable. For some people, God’s revelation is good news, because it reveals that God knows and loves them as they are. God’s revelation can also be terrifying because it exposes hidden sins or motives that we would rather not deal with. It is easier to gloss over our sins and promote a false appearance to others, but ultimately, we cannot fool God, as the Holy Spirit searches and tests our motives. We must instead ask God to search us, and rely on his help to deal with whatever hidden issues, wounds, or sins he exposes. Not everything the Lord reveals will our fault (ex: wounds related to trauma), but what God reveals, he wants to heal. Even when it is uncomfortable, we have to give him complete access to our inner life and allow him to heal us.
First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.Matthew 23;26
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”Luke 5:8
Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?Luke 5:22
Examine me, O Lord, and try me;
Test my mind and my heart.Psalm 26:22
Each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.1 Corinthians 3:13
“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”John 4:29
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”Mark 2:17
2. True Freedom Requires Risk
There is nothing that can replace the process of receiving courage and then bravely going after your own inner healing. Regardless of how the wounds got there, we cannot outsource our responsibility to address them. However, God delights in responding to us when we are in need! When we allow Jesus to guide us into wholeness, we experience his character more deeply. It is this process of seeing Jesus face to face and receiving his truths instead of lies that ultimately brings peace.
The healing that brings freedom is risky and costly. It is a risk to let God expose wounds and heal them. Healing will also likely have implications for your relationships, your joy, your geography, and so many other factors. And yet, to remain in partial health is unsatisfying, and doesn’t resolve the deep longing we all have for wholeness. Regardless of whether you appear successful, if you let fear for your physical security be greater than the need for deep healing, you will remain unsatisfied. Avoiding healing is deceptively easy. If we can stay trapped in the fear of the cost of healing or the fear of exposure, we never have to take risks. If you are brave enough to let the Holy Spirit transform you, you will be better received and have greater joy in work, relationships, geography, and more. Beyond just your personal interests, God will weaponize your life so that you will be more effective for his Kingdom, and people will be able to sense that you are truly different.
O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no waterPsalm 63:1
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[a] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Matthew 6:19-21
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.Romans 6:22
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.Ecclesiastes 2:11
I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.John 12:24
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?Matthew 16:24-26
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.2 Corinthians 12:9
False Freedom Costs Nothing but doesn’t Satisfy
The world offers freedom without risk or surrender. This was the same temptation the Devil used against Jesus when he tempted him in the wilderness, promising him a cross-less shortcut to his destiny of King of Kings on the Earth.
While cheap, the the world’s freedom is ultimately tasteless. It is unsatisfying and fleetingly brief compared to the continuous state of freedom that the Holy Spirit makes available to believers in Christ. Far from the part time recreational highs brought on by hobbies, substances, and material goods, Freedom in Christ is a place of abiding. Without this intentional pursuit of God and discipled posture of abiding, individuals have access to an excess of earthly delights, but none satisfies like knowing and following God.
Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.Matthew 10:38
I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.2 Timothy 1:7
I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem[a] as well—the delights of a man’s heart. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me…Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.Ecclesiastes 2:4-9, 11
Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the wind? 25 Otherwise, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? Look, those who wear elegant clothing and live in luxury are found in palaces.Luke 7:24-25
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.Luke 6:26
The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. 5 And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.”Revelation 17;4-5
For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.1 John 2:16
This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.Ephesians 4:13
3. True Freedom comes from Sacrificial Love
Most of us understand that as humans, we wont naturally feel free 100% of the time. Freedom has to come from a source that is more powerful than our individual capacities. Through Jesus, we have access to the riches of God’s love, which he apportions to each of us to grow into the full stature of Christ. Through his practice of surrender, Jesus’ is the definition of complete maturity in love. Beyond expertise in the practice of spiritual gifts, beyond opinions and being proven right in the eyes of human beings, sacrificial love brings the Kingdom of God. The reason Jesus was able to say “Satan has no part in me” (John 14:30) was because the quality of his love was so excellent, he owed no one anything. Here was someone whose inner life was utterly blameless. The freedom Christ moved in, the same freedom that brought others freedom from physical illness and demonic oppression when he laid hands and/or prayed for them, was directly tied to his quality of love. It cost him everything, yet for our sake, he delighted to give himself away. If you are seeking God with your entire heart, you will inevitably get more freed up as you surrender more of yourself to God and are transformed into the mature stature of Jesus. This inner transformation is cumulative, and develops into the abiding presence of joy and lightness. It isn’t optional, it isn’t part time, and it isn’t small. This freedom is part of the full expression of God’s character, so it’s not optional, it’s not for special people, and it’s not circumstantial.
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.John 15:13
Still, let not my will but yours be done.Luke 22:42
I cannot speak with you much longer, because the ruler of this world is coming. But he has no power over me.John 14:30
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.1 Corinthians 13:13
Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.Ephesians 4;13
How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!Matthew 7:11
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.Phillipians 2:4
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.Galatians 5:1
Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.Acts 13:38-39
False Freedom is Conditional, Brittle, and Impersonal
Compared to Christ’s sacrificial love, human love is generally self-serving. Human love is passive, and best, reciprocates what we have already received from others Instead of forebearing out of love and serving others in spite of their limitations, we sever all responsibility to serve those who are irritating. We are partial and love those who are easy to love, and we are trapped by our own hardness of heart. In our insecurity, love is replaced by obligation.
And yet, God intentionally goes after people who are the most unlovable. He sustains intentional pursuit long after it is comfortable, and he will not stop until the process is finished. God is not concerned with the amount of time or the amount it costs him. He is entirely focused on restoration with fearsome love.
There seems to be an association in the North American mind between chaos and freedom. True spontaneity is refreshing and full of joy, but chaos destabilizes relationships and individual identity. When God responds to an individual in a way that brings freedom, it is never random, it is never generalized, but it is always intentional and personal. He knows what words need spoken, what actions need taken, what imagery to use, what timing to send it. He is completely perfect, and the master of the human heart. He never takes a “one size fits fits all” approach, except through giving us a perfect Jesus. That approach only works because of Jesus’ incredible range. Unlike God’s responses to our wounds, chaotic freedom is as random and unspecific as winning the lottery. It subtly leads individuals who are motivated by being nice and wanting to produce a kind gesture, but without understanding others’ actual needs. Unsurprisingly, these gestures are generally not anything that will make a deep impact on another person’s life. Instead of a general and impersonal approach to love, God’s freedom is incredibly deliberate and personal. God’s knows our hearts, and he knows what we need. He is committed to meeting us in the ways and through the means that we need him to.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.Luke 6:32
I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.John 10:
Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.1 Peter 2:16
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.Romans 15:1
He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.Phillipians 1:6
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”Luke 15:4
Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one.2 Corinthians 7:2
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,[a] drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.Matthew 10:8
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.James 1:22-25
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.1 Corinthians 6:12
4. True Freedom Takes Responsibility for Self and Others, Remaining-Engaged
Freedom is something that motivates us to take care of other people. Out of a place of wholeness, we are driven to think of other people’s interests. God lifts us up to be deliverers who mirror Jesus in his saving work, on behalf of the vulnerable. Instead of erasing our own identities, we entrust ourselves into his hands. True freedom comes from true identity; it’s grounded in the fullness of what Jesus did and the full expression of Christ’s character, which includes liberating joy. It cant be faked. True freedom will inevitably serve the vulnerable, because that is what Jesus did.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”Genesis 4:9
Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.Luke 23:46
But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my GodRuth 1:16
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.Luke 24:1
False Freedom is Impulsive, Escapist, and Chaotic
Freedom in contemporary culture rejects responsibility and rebels against others’ needs. Contemporary movies are full of impulsive, trauma-driven people who throw their responsibilities to the wind in the name of adventure. Instead of seeing relationships and community as our place of greatest blessing/wholeness, these anti-heroes shed social responsibility like a crash diet. Vacations are framed as “get aways”, promising to help you avoid the irritating others who only bring our own brokenness to the surface.
How much joy can you really produce in isolation? How much joy can you really produce living in a fantasy, where self-abandon and rebellion cause us to forget our identities? The Lord longs to restore identity and belonging to those who run from society because of their wounds. If you have been running, don’t abandon yourself. Only entrust yourself (mess and all) into the hands of God and allow him to start working on your life. Freedom starts on the inside and works its way out as God shows us how to love even the most difficult of people. You don’t have to leave your circumstances to become whole.
“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”Judges 6:15
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.Matthew 19;22
5. True Freedom Results in Joy
When you are set free, there is a joy and lightness that overflows out of places that previously felt raw, dark, and heavy. This joy is a result of experiencing God and delighting in his character. To sustain this kind of joy, we have to maintain a posture of awe and worship. We have to learn to keep our hearts from hopeless and delight in the Lord regardless of the circumstances. As Jesus’ wholeness is formed more completely in us, he is our ongoing joy.
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.Psalm 139:4
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”Matthew 19:14
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”Matthew 13:45-46
“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”John 4:29
Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”Mark 10:15
God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions!Psalm 45:7
This son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.Luke 15:54
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’Luke 7:34
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.Ephesians 5:19-20
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.Psalm 37:4
But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.Psalm 1:2
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.John 3:16
False Freedom is too Intelligent and Holy for Joy
When people are trapped in the heaviness or cynicism that comes with unhealed wounds, they might find it easier to judge other people’s joy than grieve their own absence of joy. From condemning joy, we can convince ourselves that joy is unnecessary and for less nuanced minds. By equating cynicism with intelligence and the ability to criticize with greater discernment, individuals try to ennoble the restlessness of their own anxious minds. Furthermore, there is proud kind of self-neglect, that focuses on serving others and condemns enjoying it. The self-righteously dour may prefer to stay in the underworld, because Heaven will be a party.
Are you too enlightened by cynicism to need help? Have you become proud of your capacity to dismantle others’ joy? If joy is something for some and not others, it means that you wont have to love yourself enough to receive it. If joy isn’t real or available to people like you, it means you don’t have to despair over not having it. Who even knows how these simple-minded folk find joy to begin with?
The sick need a healer, and the ignorant need a teacher. Are you in need of his kind of freedom? God is already near. Ask him to remove the root of bitterness, deal with your disappointment and despair. Ask him to displace the heaviness and rawness, and heal your heart. Let him minister to your deep wounds. Delight in the lightness that follows. Don’t withhold your joy and worship to God for saving you.
And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,Isaiah 29:13
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.Psalm 147:3
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.Psalm 34:18
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.Psalm 40:2
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.Psalm 126:5-6
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.Proverbs 13;12