Maybe more than ever the cry for freedom is a common, reoccurring refrain everywhere you go today. We fiercely advocate for sexual freedom, arguing that whatever is done between the sheets is nobody's business. We encourage children to be free to be themselves, find themselves, and express themselves. And we boldly champion our freedom of speech, religion, and bearing arms, to name a few. Yes, at one time or another, everyone fights to attain or preserve freedom. As a nation with rootedness as "the land of the free," this all may very well be par for the course of the American experience. Unfortunately, many followers of Jesus have come along for the ride.
Having been bought with Jesus' ultimate sacrifice, Christians should be the first to proclaim that freedom isn't free. No longer enduring legalism's grave rules and regulations, in the new covenant we live under grace. Cultural, gender, socioeconomic, and class distinctions no longer define us. We are freely equal before the Lord. In Luke 12:48 we are told, "...to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded." So, while freedom is a wonderful gift that we should express perpetual gratitude to God for, it does not exist in a vacuum. For Christians, freedom requires dying to oneself in order to truly live how God intended. One area that this becomes painfully evident is in singleness and matrimony.
If I may be so candid, as a pastor especially, I am regularly alarmed by how Christian singles and married couples abuse their respective freedom. Singles are probably the easiest target here. In addressing the unmarried populace, the apostle Paul's advice was, "... it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am." (1 Corinthians 7:8) Whether for a season or a lifetime, for the Christian singleness must equal celibacy. The shenanigans of cohabitation and premarital are simply incompatible. However, much to God's disappointment, this degree of biblical sexual conduct seems to have fallen on deaf ears in a culture that worships individualistic autonomy, where the idea of submitting to anyone is foreign. Halfheartedly following God is more appealing.
Even so, rest assured that singleness is indeed also embedded with freedom that can be positive if used responsibly. Contrary to those who have said, "I do," if you are single then you are free. No one to answer to. No one to take care of. No one to argue with about who shepherds the remote control or why the dirty dishes weren't cleaned last night. However, contrary to prevailing folklore, singleness still doesn't render one an autonomous refugee on a deserted island. You are not supposed to live like the Prodigal Son, sexually, emotionally, vocationally, or otherwise sowing your wild oats in the name of childishly perceived freedom. You are not your own. You may not answer to another man or woman about the who, what, why, when, and how of your life, but you do answer to God.
It should be no surprise, then, that I have a similar reproof aimed at married Christians like myself. Although our lot is different, we are just as guilty of endorsing selfishness and living as though we are not married at all. Having been married for eight years now, I am the first to admit that my wife and I are the epitome of imperfection. We get on each other's nerves. We fuss and fight, and at times have gone long spells not seeing see eye-to-eye. We are sinners, fellow beggars in need of Jesus' daily bread like anyone else. I am grateful, however, that through the years we have decided to not shy away from the implications of our union. We are married and it is our business to walk, talk, and live like a husband and wife committed to making a difference for the Lord and for each other every day. Say what you will, but although I am God's property, I also belong to my wife. And the same applies to her. That isn't meant in some crude, exploitative manner implying that we must fulfill every flippant desire of the other. But, there is no getting around that we are joined together as one under God. We should want the best for each other (Ephesians 5:28).
We read a lot about the structure that a godly marriage might follow in Ephesians 5, particularly verse twenty-one's declaration: "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." There is freedom all over this for sure, but the freedom itself isn't free nor does it come easily. Nevertheless, it is what you sign-up for in holy matrimony. You actually relinquish a great deal of freedom in becoming a wife or husband, as you are then rightfully subject to another. You should not come and go as you please. You should not have secrets or separate finances, as they will only stoke the flame of separatism. You should have no lover other than the one who "put a ring on it." You are married now.
Maybe the divorce rate is so high amongst Christians because just like the world we go about making marriage something it was never intended to be, a corporate merger of two sinners hell-bent on winning by any means necessary. Pardon my candor, but if you want to do what you want when you want with whom you want no matter your spouse's feelings, then it likely isn't best for you to marry anyone anytime soon. We all want freedom, but it comes with a cost. One of life's most provocative pursuits, freedom is routinely misunderstood. Sadly, Christians haven't done the best job of articulating an alternative lifestyle for God's people that the biblical narrative represents.
On the Korean War Veterans Memorial is engraved: "Freedom Is Not Free." As much as we crave freedom we are quick to behave foolishly with it upon its arrival. Whether single or married, we have an obligation to properly manage the freedom that Jesus bled and died, and was resurrected for us "while we were yet sinners." (Romans 5:8)