Freedom, the opposite of servitude or bondage, whether physical, moral, or spiritual. The term is used of slaves or captives being set free from physical servitude or imprisonment (Lev.25.10; Jer.34.8, Jer.34.15-Jer.34.17; Acts.26.23; Heb.13.23), or the granting of certain privileges while imprisoned (Acts.24.23; Acts.27.3).
In Ezek.46.17 reference is made to “the year of freedom,” which is the Year of Jubilee. The term has a legal and moral tone in 1Cor.7.39 in asserting the right of a widow to remarry. The special concern of Christianity is the spiritual liberty of believers in Christ. Found in union with Christ, it carries with it freedom from the ceremonial law (Gal.5.1; Gal.2.4) and must be valued and guarded. The essence of Christian liberty lies not in external freedom but in deliverance from the bondage of sin and its consequent inner corruption (John.8.34-John.8.36; Rom.6.20-Rom.6.22).
In the Old Testament
In the Old Testament the concept of liberty is used basically to refer to the physical freedom of slaves. Thus, derōr is used in Leviticus 25:10 for proclaiming liberty for Hebrew slaves in the fiftieth year of Jubilee (cf. Ezek 46:17), and in Jeremiah 34:8, 9, 14, 15, 17 this liberty is to be granted to slaves in the seventh sabbatical year.
In one instance the Hebrew rāhāb speaks figuratively of the psalmist’s freedom in living a godly life since he has sought the Lord’s precepts (Ps 119:45); and in another derōr is used prophetically to describe a part of the Messiah’s spiritual ministry of salvation as He will “proclaim liberty to the captives” (Isa 61:1; cf. Luke 4:16-21).
In the New Testament
In the New Testament there is reference to the physically free, as opposed to the slave (1 Cor 7:21, 22), where the Christian who has his political and social freedom is enslaved to Christ and the Christian slave is free in Christ. Galatians 3:28 teaches that with all other groups free men are united to Christ.
Having been liberated by Christ from the penalty of sin, the Christian is challenged to employ this liberty properly in Christian living. He is not to use it as an excuse to satisfy unchristian sinful desires but he is by love to serve others (Gal 5:13; cf. vv. 19). The world should see that the believer’s freedom in Christ does not result in sin; it issues in good works (1 Pet 2:15, 16). The Christian is to consider the conscience of another in his use of Christian liberty (1 Cor 10:29). A divine means by which the believer’s life is influenced to godly living is the perfect law of liberty, the Word of God (James 1:25; 2:12).
2 Peter 2:19 suggests that a false freedom can lead to corruption and bondage.
Finally, at the Second Coming of Christ the Christians will be given a glorious freedom from the effects of sin (Rom 8:21).
Spiritual liberty is the result of the Spirit’s regenerating work, for his presence and work within produces liberty (2Cor.3.17), giving a sense of freedom through a filial relation with God (Rom.8.15-Rom.8.16). Godly men of the Old Testament knew a measure of this spiritual liberty (Ps.119.45), but the gospel reveals and offers it in its fullness. Using the picture of Isa.61.1, Christ proclaimed this liberty to be the goal of his mission (Luke.4.18). Intimately related to practical holiness of life (Rom.6.18-Rom.6.22), spiritual liberty never condones license.
Believers are warned against abuse of this liberty in sinful indulgence (Gal.5.13; 1Pet.2.16; 2Pet.2.19); and speech and conduct are to be judged by “the law of liberty” (Jas.2.12), which has taken the place of the ancient law. In regard to things not expressly commanded or forbidden, Christian liberty must be granted, allowing for the exercise of individual judgment and Christian conscience before God (1Cor.10.29-1Cor.10.31); but its use must be limited by considerations of love, expediency, and self-preservation, lest that liberty become a stumbling block to the weak (1Cor.8.9). Rom.8.21 points to creation’s future “liberation” from decay and imperfection when God’s children are glorified.
J. E. Frame, “Paul’s Idea of Deliverance,” JBL IXL (1930), 1-12.
Peter Richardson, Paul’s Ethic of Freedom, 1979.