We are free when no one can force us to do things that we don't want to do. We are free when we can choose how to live without any person or group interfering to prevent us from doing things that we want to do, or forcing us to act against our will.

There is a lot of talk these days about freedom, but freedom is a funny thing. If we cling to it too tightly, we can lose it. And if we give up some freedom, we can often gain more.

A person living alone in a cave in the bush is totally free. He can choose when to go to sleep and when to get up. He can decide when to go hunting for food and how much of what he finds to eat or store. He can choose to wear whatever he likes.

However, he is not as free as he feels. If a snowstorm comes unexpectedly, he might not be able to go hunting for food on the day he had planned to. If a drought occurs, his water supply might run out, and he might have to travel several miles each day to get the water he needs.

But in a way, his freedom is limited. He is not free to go to the movies, because he has no money. He can't choose to eat a restaurant meal, because he cannot afford it. So although he is totally free, his freedoms are quite limited.


The person living alone in the bush is almost totally free to live in a very limited way. However, a person who chooses to live in a society/community quickly finds that their freedom comes up against other people exercising their freedom. When two people want to do the same thing at the same place at the same time, there is often a clash of freedoms. People living in society find their freedom is limited by other people taking free actions that disrupt their planned activities.

These are just a couple of simple examples that show that we do not have absolute freedom. When we participate in society, we cannot always act according to our will. When we take a free action according to our own will, we will often end up limiting the freedom of other people. People living in society have developed various practices of handling these conflicts of freedom. These are just a few practices that commonly affect our freedom. If you ponder your freedom, you will think of others that limit your freedom. The following are examples of these practices enabling people to live freely without disrupting the lives of other people. Once a person agrees to participate in society, the need to accommodate the actions of other people places limits on our freedom. Hopefully, most of these limits will be voluntary, but a few will be enforced by the community or the government.

Participation in Society

When a person chooses to participate in a community/society, they have to give up some of their freedom to accommodate the needs and actions of other free people that they encounter. The irony is that when we give up some of our freedom to share our lives with others in this way, it opens up a whole range of freedoms that a person living in isolation does not have.

When a man and woman decide to get married, they have to give up some of their freedom to meet the needs of their spouse. Because they love each other they will often put their spouses needs first, instead of just doing everything that they would normally choose for themselves. However, this loss of freedom opens up the possibility of doing things together that they could not do on their own. They get the freedom to have a family and create a family heritage. This brings joy and freedom that living in isolation cannot deliver.

When we join a club, social organisation or church, the same applies. We have to give up some freedom to comply with its rules and requirements, but we gain the freedom to participate in its activities. For example, a person living in isolation can kick their football wherever they chose, without any restriction. However, when a person joins a football club, they have to submit to the rules of the game. and obey the instructions of the referee. They are no longer free to do what they choose, but have to submit to the instructions of their coach and the captain of their team. They don't always get a choice about who they will play alongside.

The person joining a football club gives up some freedom, but they gain the freedom to enjoy the beautiful game. If a midfielder sends a perfectly-weighted pass, that puts them into space behind the defence, they get the freedom to score a goal.

When we take up paid employment, we have to give up our freedom for eight hours a day and submit to the will of our employer. An employer can decide what our tasks will be, who we will work with, and who will be the manager that we report to. The employer can specify requirements for the way that we will work and how we will dress. If an employee cannot meet the needs of the employer, they can end the employment relationship.

In exchange for this loss of freedom from submitting to an employer, we get a wage and or salary that opens up freedoms that we would not have without it. We can buy things that we would not have if we remained in isolation from society. Submitting to an employer is voluntary and most people choose an employer that does things that they like doing, but that is not always. For some people, employment is a hard grind, but they continue to submit to their employer requirements, because they value the freedom that their income brings.

In an employment relationship, the employer has most of the authority. However, the relationship is voluntary, so if the employer becomes too demanding the employee has the option of leaving the role and looking for a better employer.

Some people who participate in society will decide to start or buy their own business. They don't have to surrender any of their freedom, but they are not totally free either. They cannot choose when they will work, but have to ensure that their business is open for business when customers are likely to need it. The business owner is not free to do what they like, but will have to submit to the requirements of their customers and meet their needs, or they will lose them, and their business will become unprofitable. The business owners will have authority over their employees, but they have to treat them well sufficiently well to retain them. If they are continually losing staff their business will suffer.

Full participation in society requires some loss of freedom, but it opens other freedoms, which are very rewarding.


In the modern world, everyone wants their nation to be governed by a government (I don't, but that is another story). Expectations of governments have vastly increased and people now expect their government to resolve all the big problems that hinder their living. Modern governments see themselves as responsible for solving all problems that may arise in their society. And most people seem to be happy with this. Even farmers, who were once ruggedly independent, now call on the government to help when they face labour shortages, droughts or flood damage.

The corollary is that modern governments have demanded more and more power to deal with their increasing responsibilities. And most people seem to be happy with that too.

However, we need to understand that when we submit to our government by voting in an election, we are giving up considerable freedom. We are giving the government authority significant power to interfere in our lives to limit what we can do, and to force us to do things that we don't want to do. A human government can decide how much of our income they will take in taxes. They can take land and use it for public purposes. They can conscript young people and force them to fight in wars that they don't support.

The distinguishing feature of every government is that it has a monopoly to use force and coercion to get its will done. Government is the only agency in society that has this power. That is why people like it; because they hope it will force people whom they think are bad to do the right thing.

This problem is not new. Back in the time when Samuel was a prophet to Israel (1 Sam 8), the people said,

We want a government, like the other nations.
Samuel warned them what will happen,
You will lose your freedom.
This was a serious loss. When God gave the Torah through Moses, he gave Israel a legal system that would allow the people to live in close proximity and interreact with each other within society with minimum loss of freedom. Unfortunately, the children of Israel rejected God's system, and chose to be ruled by a government like the heathen nations around them.

People in the modern world have made the same choice. They have rejected the Government of God, and chosen to be ruled by a human government. However, the cost is a loss of freedom.

In New Zealand, the parliament has absolute sovereignty. (This is different from the United States where the constitution places a few limits on what Congress can do). The elected government can pass any law for which it can get a majority of votes. There are no limits on what it can do, except that if people hate its actions too much, it might be voted out in the next election. However, if both main parties are in agreement, the parliament can pass unpopular laws and enforce related regulations. Our bill of rights is relatively weak, because the specified rights can be proscribed by any "law that can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society".

People are currently protesting against their loss of freedom due to vaccine mandates. The reality is that freedom disappeared long ago when people decided to put their trust in governments to resolve the problems of life. The governments that are enforcing vaccine mandates are just doing what governments everywhere are doing and have always done. In every situation, they decide what should be done and people have to go along.

Forcing the minority to go along with majority wishes is what democratic governments do. During the second world war, young men were sent off to war whether they wanted to fight or not. Many of those who refused to fight were imprisoned and treated brutally. I recently read about a farmer of German extraction living in the rural district where I grew up. The rumour circulated among his Christian neighbours that he would climb up into the hills at night and flash signals to a German U-boat out in the Pacific Ocean. Although he was more than thirty kilometres from the sea and there was no military activity in the area to report, he was interred for the rest of the war and lost his farm.

During the 1951 waterside lockout in Auckland, emergency regulations were introduced to allow people could be imprisoned for supplying food to the workers who were locked out from their work. During the decade when I was growing up, children of Maori parents were forced to stop speaking their native language. Homosexual men were harassed and put in prison. This was at a time when there were more Christians in Parliament than there are now.

Governments have always forced minorities to do things In the United States and Australia, indigenous people were herded onto reservations against their will. In numerous American states, blacks were forced to go to different schools from whites, and sit on different parts of the bus. Many of these actions seem shocking today, but they were all done with the support of the majority. And usually, they were usually supported by Christians because they were part of the majority.

Christians have tended to support government power because, until recently, it has mostly been on their side. However, many minority groups have suffered terribly at times under government power, so now that Christians have become a minority, their complaints are a bit lame.

If you give people power, they will always try to use coercion and force to make the world better, even if they are good people. Therefore, human governments will always force minorities to do things they don't want to do. If you believe in government power, when you are in the majority, it is a bit hypocritical to complain about losing some freedom when you become the minority.

Clash of Freedoms

If we participate in society, most of what we do will affect others and often limit their freedom. Here is another example. In the UK a significant percentage of the people hospitalised with Covid were unvaccinated, despite the unvaccinated being a significantly smaller proportion of the population.

If a person who is not vaccinated gets infected with Covid, Tuberculosis, Smallpox, etc. becomes seriously ill and needs hospital care, they will expect nurses and doctors to risk their own health while taking care of them during their sickness. The nurses (who will be doing most of the care) and the doctors who support them don't get a choice. Most nurses hate having to wear PPE all day because it is massively unpleasant and hard to wear safely, but they don't get a choice. The freedom of the person who chooses not to get vaccinated comes at the cost of the freedom of those who have to care for them.

Not everyone who chooses not to be vaccinated will get seriously ill, so they can choose to run the risk, but a percentage of the group will end up needing hospital care. The risk for each individual is small, but the risk of the group as a whole is certain. At the time when they make their decision, the individuals don't know if they will become seriously ill or not, but they hope not. The nurses have to deal with the risk that comes from the entire group, which is serious because it is certain that some of the group will get seriously ill.

This is a situation where a whole lot of low-risk, self-interested decisions by individual people create a significant risk for the nurses who have to care for those in the group whose choice proves to be wrong. And the more people that choose the self-interested option, the greater the risks for nurses become. This is not a trivial risk, because numerous nurses have died of Covid contracted while caring for others.

If the illness gets really serious and the person spends a couple of weeks in an Intensive Care Unit, several people who were booked for surgery will have it cancelled, because the ICU beds necessary to diminish the risk of complications from the surgery are not available for the couple of days when they might need.

The free actions of people in a group can often reduce the freedom of others. The choice of one person might not make much difference, but the choices of the group as a whole do. That raises the question of how committed people are to putting their own benefit and needs ahead of the good of society ahead.

In these situations, where there is a conflict between freedoms, I notice that the people who are actively pursuing their personal freedom, the self-interested usually come out ahead of those who are committed to serving the needs of others. This tells us something about the state of our culture.

True Freedom

Jesus spoke about the nature of true freedom.

If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free...
Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin...
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:31-36).
He explains that there is a paradoxical side to freedom.

Jesus explains that most people are not truly free. They may believe that they are free, but if they choose to sin, they are actually partly controlled by the spiritual powers of evil. Most people believe they are free, but Jesus reminds them that they are actually slaves to sin, even if they don't know it. The spiritual powers of evil have more influence on what they do than they realise.

Jesus promised that he will set free those who trust in him. He gives a very strong promise. Those who he sets free will be truly free. However, there is irony in this promise, because to obtain the freedom that Jesus promised, we need to submit to his teaching and do his will. In other words, to get the freedom that Jesus promised, we need to give up our freedom, and submit to his authority and obey the voice of the Holy Spirit.

We can't obtain true freedom by exerting our right to do whatever we please. That just opens the door to control by the spiritual powers of evil. In contrast, if we give up our desire for freedom, and choose to obey Jesus, he makes us truly free.