O to be free! Modern man longs to cast off all restraint. Don't hem me in! I want to do what I want to do.

John Lennon expressed the yearnings of a generation in the title of a song he wrote in 1977: "Free as a bird". But the phrase was not novel. The Romantic poet William Wordsworth had also used it as a metaphor for his longings, seeking to break out of the order and structures of his own day.

In The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W.Tozer comments on Wordsworth's poem. He questions the romantic desire to be as free as a bird. Tozer writes:

Wordsworth, at the beginning of his 'Prelude', rejoiced that he had escaped the city where he had long been pent up and was now "free, free as a bird, to settle where I will." But to be free as a bird is not to be free at all. The naturalist knows that the supposedly free bird actually lives its entire life in a cage made of fears, hungers, and instincts; it is limited by weather conditions, varying air pressures, the local food supply, predatory beasts, and that strangest of all bonds, the irresistible compulsion to stay within the small plot of land and air assigned to it by bird-land comity. The freest bird is, along with every other created thing, held in constant check by a net of necessity. Only God is free." [ch.22: The Sovereignty of God].

Those who celebrate their identity as free spirits fail to see that they are actually bound by their instincts and desires. They are bound within the community of their fellow free-thinkers. They are trapped in the body and era and cultural milieu in which they live and which determines so many of the ideas that they think they originated. The pursuit of freedom is an illusion. Every man is a slave. Apart from Christ, we are all slaves of sin. We are never offered an absolute freedom - that is part of the seductive lie that we might be as God; we are offered the wonderful freedom of a different kind of slavery. In Christ, we have the opportunity to present ourselves for service everyday as slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:13,18).

This what Jesus meant when he ways that those whom the Son sets free are free indeed (John 8:36). Not free to do whatever we like - but free do do what is right.

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