How to explain true freedom to students

Living with the right limits

April 21, 2022

A few weeks ago, I came to my fifth grade class with a question: “What does freedom mean to you? What would it look like to be completely free?” The specific responses varied, but the general themes were abundantly clear: Freedom means no one telling me what to do. Freedom means living my life however I want. And, particularly high on the agenda: Freedom means not having to finish my homework.

None of these answers were a surprise to me. After all, they line up perfectly with the way our culture has trained us to understand freedom — which, essentially, is all about opportunity maximization. In other words, we’re told, the more options and opportunities and choices you have, and the fewer limitations that you or anyone else puts on your life, the freer and happier you’ll be.

Pursuing individual freedom

In the wealthy West, at least, there’s never been a better time in history to pursue this kind of individual fulfilment. Want something you don’t have? Three clicks and it’s yours, with free two-day delivery (as long as the supply chain holds out.) Hate compromising with your family about what to watch on TV? Just pop in your AirPods and stream whatever you want on your phone. 

Hate the opinions of the people you go to school with? Just get online and find some people with better opinions. Don’t like the identity handed down to you by your family or your culture or your community? Just mix and match your own identity however you want. And now, with the arrival of the metaverse, you don’t even have to live in the real world anymore. Just strap on a headset and dive into a whole new reality of your own making.

Of course, not all of this is all bad — but up against this cultural backdrop, it shouldn’t surprise us if, at first, the wisdom of Scripture seems kind of backward and upside-down. 

Living with the right limits 

Take Psalm 119:45 for example: “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.” In stark contrast to our usual understanding of freedom, the writer says, “I am truly free because I let God rule and guide my life.” By this definition, true freedom isn’t about living without limits. It’s about leaning into the right limits. Which, like I said, might sound completely counterintuitive — but when you think about it, it’s a truth we already live out every single day.

For instance, sleep. Your body needs a decent amount of sleep each night in order to stay healthy. You can ignore that reality if you want to. You can keep chugging down coffee and energy drinks, keep slapping yourself in the face every time your eyes get heavy, but it’s not going to end well for you. Ignoring your body’s need for sleep might feel like freedom in the short term, but eventually it’s going to destroy your freedom. It’s going to ruin you both physically and mentally because your body is designed to sleep.

The deal is the same with food. Your body needs proper nutrition in order to thrive. Again, you can ignore that reality even if you want to. And living on nothing but burgers and fries might feel like freedom at first, but eventually, it’s going to ruin you. That kind of diet is going to mess you up because your body is designed for proper nutrition.

If you want lasting health and freedom, you’re not going to find it by ignoring the things you need to survive. You’re going to find it by embracing reality. You were designed to thrive on sleep. You were designed to thrive on real food.

And what God is saying through the words of the poet in Psalm 119 is that on an even deeper level, you were designed to thrive on his love and care and guidance. God is the one who made you, so figuring out who he is and figuring out who you are go hand in hand.

Despite how it might sound, God isn’t asking you to throw away your freedom in order to follow him. He’s asking you to follow him so that he can guide you into freedom — into the true life and meaning and purpose that he created you for. This is a big part of why you find Jesus saying stuff like, “broad is the road that leads to destruction” (Matt. 7:13) and, “narrow is the road that leads to life” (Matt. 7:14). 

There are so many ways we go chasing after freedom that actually end up enslaving us to things like work or study or money or our own self-image or other people’s opinions and expectations. So, if there’s a way to be set free from all of that, then of course it’s going to be narrow, because it’s going to rule out all those destructive, oppressive options.

The truest freedom 

“If the Son sets you free,” Jesus says, “you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Why? Because Jesus offers us liberation from death itself. Death is the ultimate tyranny that wipes out all our other freedoms. And he’s come to liberate us from the slavery of sin— that introduced death in the first place. God offers us forgiveness for all the ways we ignore and reject and disregard him, and all the havoc we wreak on each other, and on our own souls, in the process.

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus have paved the way for our resurrection into eternal life and everlasting freedom on the day Jesus returns. And in the meantime, Jesus promises to help us find true freedom in this life, here and now, by showing us a safe path through all those other options that promise freedom, but only end up enslaving us.

Jesus promises that if you put your trust in him and hold to his teaching, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). This might still sound kind of backward, but the more I live into that reality, the more I discover that not only is it true, it’s the most liberating, life-giving truth there is.

Find out more about Chris’ new book, Who Am I and Why Do I Matter? 

Chris Morphew

Chris Morphew is an author, teacher, and school chaplain living in Sydney, Australia. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24