Every year the Cato Institute issues a report called “The Human Freedom Index.” It is a global measurement of personal, civil, and economic freedom. The results might surprise you. The top five freest countries in the world according to this survey are: New Zealand, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Denmark, and Australia. The bottom five are Iran, Yemen, Venezuela, Sudan, and Syrian Arab Republic. For what it’s worth, the USA and United Kingdom are tied at number 17.
There is a direct correlation between freedom and income. Countries in the top quartile of freedom have an average per person income of $50,340 compared to the least free quartile at only $7,720 per person. And not surprisingly, there is a strong relationship between human freedom, democracy, and personal safety. In addition, three of the freest countries, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Denmark are also included in the top ten happiest countries in the world. The connection between freedom, prosperity, safety, and happiness is clear.
Perhaps this is why freedom is so important to God. God loves freedom. And God made the first humans free. In the Garden of Eden, God told the first man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden.” But this freedom of choice also came with a warning. In essence God was telling humanity, “Even though you’re free to do it, don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It will be bad for you.”
You know what comes next in the story. The first humans abuse their freedom. They do eat the forbidden fruit, and it was bad for them. Life becomes difficult, and they become slaves to sin and death. But God does not abandon them. In fact, you can make a good case that the whole rest of the Bible describes how God goes about restoring human freedom and reconciling a broken humanity back to himself.
When God’s chosen people, the Israelites, were forced into slavery in Egypt, God acted to free them. Freedom is important to God. The Bible says, “God heard their cries and remembered his covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He looked down on the Israelites and felt deep concern for their welfare.”
God raised up a great leader in Moses to lead the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. After ten miraculous demonstrations of divine power, Moses and the Israelites obtain their freedom. As desirable as that freedom was, there was still work to be done. The fact that Israel had been liberated did not change the fact the whole world was still in bondage to sin. We all remained slaves to sin and death. Fast forward about 2,000 years to the time of Jesus.
Through Christ, God was about to show the world how important freedom was to him. God reveals his character to the world most completely through Jesus Christ. Someone wise once said, “If you want to know God, get to know Jesus.” And Jesus had plenty to say about freedom.
One of Jesus’ most important teachings is about how we should forgive one another. There is freedom in forgiveness. And not just for the person who is being forgiven. When we truly forgive someone who has wronged us, it takes a great burden off us.
It’s like a weight has been lifted off our shoulders. Failure to forgive can eat us up inside. It can lead to bitterness, resentment, and ultimately lead to vengeance and even violence. But we are freed from that when we truly forgive.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells his audience, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” He goes on to tell them that everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. Ouch.
We can’t read this saying without recognizing that even today, none of us is sinless. We are all slaves to sin. But Jesus doesn’t let us dangle there without hope. Immediately after this he reaches out to us and says, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
Jesus’ teaching to forgive one another is a great gift. As we get better and better at forgiving, we are less and less likely to become bitter and resentful. But the greatest gift of all comes through the forgiveness given to us by God.
When we put our trust and faith in Jesus, all our sins are forgiven. The Son has made us free, and we are free indeed. The slate is wiped clean and we are no longer under condemnation. We are free at last from the greatest enemy of all — death. Just as God raised Jesus from the dead on that first Easter morning, all the faithful will also be raised on the last day.
You have heard it said that freedom isn’t free. And I suppose that’s right if you’re talking about the kind of freedom measured by the Human Freedom Index. Personal, civic, and economic freedom all come with a price. And all those freedoms can be withheld or rolled back. But that is not true of the Spiritual Freedom that comes through faith. Not only is that kind of freedom free, it lasts through eternity. If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed!
Rick Ehrheart is pastor of Mountain of Faith Lutheran Church in Tooele.