And it is this very power that we fear. While this may seem a bit harsh, please know that I’m not preaching. I’m doing my best not to be self-righteous about the self-righteous. I don’t want to be a Pharisee about Pharisees. But the truth is, freedom really does scare the Pharisees to death. The question is why?

Freedom Takes Away Leverage

Freedom threatens religious people because it takes away their leverage and makes it more difficult for them to maintain control. They might want to maintain control for the right reasons, but they’re still trying to be in control.

Jesus was not big into control. He said, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

One view in the church (and I still struggle with it) says that Christians have a tendency to be wild and, if we don’t do something to maintain control, they will…well…get out of control.

Sometimes we think that the only thing that will make a Christian “go” is a bit of fear and guilt. Of course, Jesus has forgiven their sins—but how can we possibly tell them? They’ll take it way too far, for sure.

Freedom Takes Away Power

Freedom also threatens religious people because it takes away their power. Yet even if we want to maintain power for the right reasons, it is still power and can rob us of freedom.

“But we do need authority,” we object. “Without legitimate authority, discipline, and a proper chain of command, anarchy ensues, and everything for which Christ died will come crashing down around our feet.”

Freedom threatens religious people because it takes away their power.

Jesus wasn’t terribly happy with such a view. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them,” he said. “It shall not be so among you.”

Freedom Destroys Smugness

Freedom scares religious folks to death because a lot of ego goes into being right and “righteous.” If we aren’t right and good, how do we differ from those other Christians who always get it wrong?

It always amazes me how irritated those of us who are right and righteous become when we get around those who think they are right and righteous. I don’t have to be other people’s mother, but I certainly want to be. And I think, If I give them freedom to be what God wants them to be, where will I be? So, I don’t give them freedom.

Paul said, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls.”

Self-righteousness is one of the most addicting things in the world. You’ll find it rampant in Hollywood, in the halls of Congress on both sides of the aisles, in the books that try to politicize us, and in the arrogance that every crime brings to those who read about it in the newspapers or see it on television. You will find it on every street corner and in every home. But the one place you should have trouble finding it is in the church, where the bad people are supposed to find love.

Freedom Breaks Down Walls

The thought of freedom displeases a lot of Christians because they think we must maintain a clear demarcation between them and us. In order to maintain that demarcation, we must have discipline and conformity. After all, what would happen if we couldn’t tell the difference between the good guys and bad guys? If we don’t stop talking about this freedom thing, we will get lost in the crowd and lose our witness.

Maybe. And then again, maybe not.

Jesus seemed to suggest that mustard seeds and leaven often go unnoticed, and furthermore, in the end, God will sort it all out.

Some of us in control may redefine freedom for the right reasons, but I suspect a lot of it has to do with another agenda. If we allow followers to live free, we risk a lot. I think, however, it puts more at risk our agenda of power and control and our need to be right and righteous, than it does those who need protection from the “dangers” of freedom.

Freedom Scares Us

We often find it easy and tempting to blame our loss of freedom on others when, in fact, we simply don’t want to be free. Freedom scares us because we don’t trust ourselves.

We find it comforting to have others decide for us. If we’re free, we could be wrong—and we don’t want to be wrong. That’s the essence of perfectionism: If I haven’t done it wrong, I’m still perfect; and even if I do it wrong when someone else told me to do it wrong, that takes away from their perfectionism, not mine.

Besides, living in a prison cell can bring real comfort. You may not like it a lot at first, but eventually you grow accustomed to the darkness. After all, the sunshine might hurt your eyes.

Go ahead anyway. Be free the way Jesus told you. You’ll be really glad.