The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Freedom just another word for not following Jesus

A tough, narrow path to travel in me-focused culture

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few that find it (Matthew 7:13-14).

Read the above teaching slowly. Jesus reminds me of a profound tension that exists for people who claim to be members of Christ’s church and live in the U.S. at the same time.

In our country we rightly pride ourselves on being a people who are “free.” Free to move about and think as we please. Free to worship God however and wherever we wish. Free to live where we choose, work in a job of our own selection, and vote for candidates who seem to be in concert with our political convictions. These are all wonderful and underappreciated gifts.

I love my personal freedoms. But if I’m reading Jesus correctly in the passage above, the man seems to ask me to surrender personal freedom in order to find true life. That is, I can’t take just any old path of my own choosing and expect Jesus to bless it with insight and growth.

Instead, I’m invited down a “narrow way,” a particular path down which many will balk, even after they become members of a church.

Can you guess why that might be? Why church people might resist such a narrow way? I’m convinced it’s because we’ve been sold a bill of “freedom” goods telling us that we are the ones who know most about how to live our lives. We don’t like anyone showing us how to structure our days. Even Jesus.

It’s going to be hard for a Christian to live faithfully in the U.S. because Christianity is largely a relinquishment of personal freedom.

Many times in his letters Paul describes himself as a “slave” of Christ. What does this mean? Instead of living life the way I want to, making choices that are best for my personal situation, I instead choose (there is indeed freedom here — no arm-twisting) to surrender control over my life and sign on as a student of Jesus. (The word “disciple,” by the way, literally means “student.”) I decide to learn how to live life from Jesus rather than relying (if I’m not careful) on a host of inner wisdom resources, hunches, intuitions or best guesses that emerge to guide and inform my freedoms.

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