We think that standing up for our “freedom” to follow our desires and impulses is what it means to be human. That we all have a right to do what we want, when we want, as long as it doesn’t hurt others (or hurt them too much).
But this idea of freedom, isn’t actually “freedom”, it’s slavery.
All we have done is become absolute slaves to our wants, desires, and impulses and call that “freedom”. That “freedom” is to do whatever – our desires, wants, or impulses are. The problem is that not only isn’t that freedom, it actually doesn’t lead to life. Slavishly following our desires leads to instant gratification, debt, divorce, and all sorts of hurt. When we think following our desires is freedom we become slaves to our basest and worst selves.
David Foster Wallace noticed this and criticized our culture for exposing our kids to it so early. He writes this – this is what we teach our kids:
“That you are the most important and what you want is the most important. And that your job in life is to gratify your own desires…This does not work as well when it comes to educating children or helping us help each other know how to live… and to be happy – if that word means anything. Clearly it means something different from ‘whatever I want to do’ – ‘I want to take this cup right now and throw it! I have every right to! I should!’ We see it with children: that’s not happiness. That feeling of having to obey every impulse and gratify every desire seems to me to be a strange kind of slavery.”
And I think he is right on. The feeling that we need to follow our impulses and gratify our desires is a kind of slavery. It doesn’t lead our kids to happiness to let them do whatever they want, so why should it lead us to it?
But we’ve fallen for that lie and that trap. We use language like, “I just need to follow my heart”, “Well it wasn’t true for me”, “I deserve this because I want this” all the while not realizing we are slaves to our desires rather than masters of them. True freedom doesn’t consist in doing whatever you want when you want, true freedom consists in having these desires transformed and aligned so we can live whole lives. This is why Paul says that he is a “slave to Christ” because he knows that he needs his heart, desires, and impulses changed. He needs to have self-centeredness, greed, violence, and hurt rooted out. Ironically then for Paul to be truly free is to be a slave to Christ, rather than a slave to our desires because Christ sets free in us who we were meant to be.
My point in all of this is fairly simple. Following our impulses and desires isn’t freedom. Those things need to be shaped and transformed or they become self-centered, greedy, and ugly. And having those desires changed doesn’t happen through embracing our “pretend freedom” but submitting to a master, submitting to a path, or as Paul says, “becoming a slave to Christ.” And there is nothing in this world that will set you free for true freedom like Jesus Christ.