Freedom is one of the highest values in our culture, and for good reason. One of the things that most distinguishes us as human beings and sets us apart other animals is our capacity to understand the options open to us, to weigh their meaning and their implications, and to freely chose our course of action. This internal freedom is a great gift, and a great responsibility. It is the most fundamental reason why human beings should also have external freedom from coercion, so we can carry out our legitimate choices in the way we live our lives. Our use of our free will enlightened by faith to act according to God’s will, or our choice not do so, is the basis on which we will be judged by God.
However, our free will is not unlimited and free from all influences outside ourselves. We are influenced by our environment, by our passions, by God’s grace, and by the temptations of the devil. Many of the impulses we feel do not lead us to God, but they can be very insistent. In some ways, it feels like freedom when we give in to our sinful desires, but we are really giving away our freedom. If we constantly give in to sin, it becomes increasingly harder to resist, and we become – in the words of St Paul today – slaves to sin. Instead of bringing us the happiness we seek, “the wages of sin is death”, eventually leading to separation from God and eternal condemnation.
Fortunately, God’s grace is there to save us from this situation. When we turn to God through prayer and the sacraments, we receive the strength to be truly free. Although we may still fail at times, God will help us to fight against sin, and to strengthen our fundamental option to follow Him. True internal freedom is not so much doing whatever we feel like doing, but knowing what is the right thing to do, and having the strength to do it, despite the internal and external forces that pull us in other directions. St Paul calls this a sort of freely chosen “slavery” to God. Because it depends on God’s grace, and not just our efforts, the reward of these choices is a gift: “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Not everyone is willing to take on the battle against sin. That is why Jesus says he brought division. Those who choose slavery to sin will often end up in conflict with those who seek to bring salvation to others through obedience to the loving rule of Jesus Christ.
Through God’s grace, may we all continue to fight against the influence of sin in our lives, and strive to serve God every day with true internal freedom, and with confidence in the reward of eternal life. And may the Lord help those who are enslaved to sin to discover true freedom in Jesus Christ.