Ellis: Lordship Over Us Through Freedom

“There are aspects of the creation which God controls through manipulation. I’m thinking here of the physical and biological laws that determine the behavior of the inanimate world, plants and lower animals. But that is not the way God chooses to control us. He exercises lordship over us through freedom.

Human freedom is derived from God’s lordship and not independent of it, for by definition nothing can be outside God’s sovereignty. As Jesus says, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Our difficulty in understanding freedom as a function of God’s sovereignty is like the difficulty the Flatlanders had in understanding the third dimension. That it is hard for us to understand “freedom control” does not mean that it is not true. To rebel against God’s lordship is to rebel against our own human freedom. If we leave the freedom function of God’s lordship, we find ourselves under the manipulation function. To be under manipulation is to be under the slavery of sin (Romans 6:16; Galatians 5:1). These are our only two options.

When Adam sinned, for example, he was not exercising free choice; he was rebelling against freedom of choice. “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden” (Genesis 2:16): this was the range of freedom. “But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge [determination] of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17): Adam and Eve were not free to choose to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree so long as they lived under the freedom function of God’s sovereignty. Death in this context was not the result of a free choice. On the contrary, it required a willful rejection of freedom in order to partake of this fruit and die.

If our cultural quest for freedom has been a quest for God’s lordship, then Martin Luther King’s parting words to us will be fulfilled. We will cross the River Jordan into God’s rest—a rest with worldwide implications. But if our cultural quest for freedom has been a quest for independence from God, we will end up on the junk heap of the nations—a junk heap of slavery far worse than what we have ever experienced.

-Carl F. Ellis Jr., Free At Last: The Gospel in the African American Experience, 31-32.

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