If I’m Free, Why Can’t I Do What I Want? And Other Ways We Misunderstand Freedom


“Kiss who you want.” These three words popped up on my Instagram feed a few months ago, and I thought about them for a while. The argument underpinning the statement was that people should be able to kiss who they want, because people should be free to do what they want.

But what does it mean to be free? That’s a question with a lot of different answers depending on where you live and your worldview. If we look at the common rhetoric of western culture, it means being able to make your own choices without fear or restriction and to gratify any and every desire or whim.

Unsurprisingly, the Bible talks about freedom differently.


What the Bible says about freedom

While the world talks about freedom as a right, the Bible talks about it as a gift. “It was for freedom that Christ has set us free.” The cultural worldview is that freedom is our natural state and something that is taken away from us when we are given laws or rules that prevent us from operating autonomously. The biblical worldview is that slavery is our natural state, and freedom is something that is obtained for us through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Because Jesus paid the price for our freedom, the only way we can lose our freedom is if we surrender it, succumbing to the yoke of slavery and picking up once again the chains of sin that so easily entangle us.

The fundamental difference between the way the world and the Word talk about freedom is that the Bible provides the context that freedom is less about having the freedom to do or be things and is more about freedom from sin. The death of Jesus was a salvation effort and a rescue mission as He saved us from the clutches of sin. This means freedom is costly and valuable because death is its price, and it also means freedom comes with some limitations—if we are free from sin, we can’t live in it.

One of the things the Bible calls Christians to is temperance: living life in moderation and with self-restraint. In fact, self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). This isn’t the only place the Scriptures encourage believers to be restrained. We are encouraged to add to our knowledge self-control (2 Peter 1:6) and are told that those without self-control are like cities with broken down walls (Proverbs 25:28), lacking security and free for anyone and anything to invade or occupy.

This means freedom and self-control are not opposites as they are often framed in cultural ideals, but are in fact two sides of the same coin in the Christian tradition.


What biblical freedom means for our lives

We can’t live our lives thinking only of ourselves.

While the cultural narrative teaches us that our choices are only about us, the Bible shows us that our freedom from sin should not get in the way of others living free. Scripture calls us to walk in freedom, but also to walk in love (Romans 14:15, 21). This means when we operate in our freedom we need to be aware of how our walk impacts others; we don’t need to constantly worry about how our actions affect others, but we do need to make decisions with an awareness of the effects they can have.

In a recent Java with Juli episode, licensed professional counselor Jessica McDaniel made a statement that stuck with me. She stated that infidelity in unhappy marriages usually resulted in increased distance, rather than the increased intimacy the betraying spouse longed for. It made me think about some of the sexual hurdles my husband and I have faced. While it would be somewhat understandable during times of sexual inactivity for my husband or me to decide to masturbate or commit adultery, neither action would take place in a void. Both would impact me, my husband, and our ability to share sexual intimacy.

Let’s examine this in the light of some of the common buzzwords and issues of our culture today. We can’t watch porn and claim it harms no one. Beyond the damage it does to our own souls and our perceptions of what godly sexuality is, porn teaches us to use people for our own sexual satisfaction instead of valuing them, and it supports an industry that does not ascribe to human beings the value of God’s image bearers. What about abortion? As we talk about abortion, saying “my body my choice” denies the fact that the choice a pregnant woman makes with her body affects the very body inside of her. Similarly, saying you are “pro-life” should also mean you help with the hardships a mother might experience with an unexpected pregnancy. Let’s address a slightly less hot-button topic, like gossip. The Bible calls us to be seekers of peace. This means we need to be aware that the words we say about people, even those spoken outside of their hearing, can defame them and affect others’ perceptions of them.


We are free to not sin, not free to sin.

When Jesus prevented the woman caught in adultery from being stoned to death, His parting words to her were to go and “sin no more.” (John 8:11). Jesus didn’t die so that we could continue living in sin. After all, we weren’t just rescued from slavery to sin, but in the baptism, death, and resurrection of Jesus we also died to it. If we are dead to sin, we can’t continue living in it (Romans 6). We are not to misuse our freedom as a cover-up for evil (1 Peter 2:16) or as an opportunity for the flesh (Galatians 5:13). 

This idea is particularly powerful when we think about self-gratification and the chasing of life’s pleasures. Sin is always out of compulsion, whereas righteousness is a choice we have to make. I often think about the way we talk about our sin: “I couldn’t help it.” “She made me do it.” “I was out of control.” “I had to.” None of these speak of freedom. Instead they reveal feelings of coercion, pressure, and lack of choice. In Christ we have a choice.


There is no freedom apart from God.

The Bible says that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. The only way to truly live free is to live by the Spirit and not the flesh. While the world says freedom is found in embracing our desires and longings, God’s Word says freedom is found by surrendering our desires and longings to Him and choosing to live His way. Freedom without God, at least in the biblical sense, is not freedom at all. It’s what the Bible calls lawlessness.

​​The Bible teaches us that freedom is about releasing what we want and surrendering to the will of a God who knows all and is all-good. The freedom God gives us is one we have to choose to accept, and only when we are willing to release what we want are we able to embrace the gift He has to offer.

Pursuit of freedom from sin apart from God rejects the truth that we lack the ability to live sin-free. Pursuit of a freedom that allows us to do as we please rejects the notion that God knows best and is a pursuit rooted in the idea that all that is good and perfect is not a gift of God, but instead something found outside of Him.

I like to think of this in relation to my desire for intimacy. Intimacy is a good and perfect gift from God. But if I pursue it apart from God and allow that desire to drive me to places, people, or things that are outside of what God has called good, then I fail to see how the boundaries God has set for me are good and perfect. It’s possible for me to pursue the right thing the wrong way, so even as I seek God’s good gifts, I need to do so with the perspective of God knowing what is best for my mind, body, and soul and the understanding that the boundaries He has set are part of His good plan for my life.

Our freedom is so valuable. Christ died to set us free,  giving His life so that we could live unenslaved and unencumbered. This costly gift, a birthright obtained for us by our humble king, should not be exchanged for a meager pot of soup when we experience momentary struggles or temptations. The price is too high.

Think back to that opening phrase: “Kiss who you want.” Can we? Sure. But if Christ died to free us from sin, why would we?


Blog: “God Doesn’t Care” and 3 Other Lies You Might Believe About Sex

Q&A: Is Masturbation a Sin?

Java with Juli: #435: What’s the Most Important Thing the Bible Says About Your Identity?

Publish Date: August 30, 2023