Reading time: 4 minutes
Do you believe it’s possible to do the right thing for the wrong reasons? Love without freedom isn’t real love. You might be following the letter of the law but miss the spirit when your heart isn’t in your actions.
God’s standard is freedom. He wants us to want to follow His instructions. But no one is perfect. The law He provides shows us how our hearts fall short of having pure motives. Following orders under strict obligation misses the mark.
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.2 Corinthians 9:6-7 ESV
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.Galatians 5:1 NIV
Obligation Results In External Motivation
Performing a task under obligation indicates only a limited amount of self-control. For example, wearing a seat-belt out of obligation will protect you just as well if you agree it is a good idea, provided you buckle it correctly either way.
Compliance works at first, as long as there is accountability. If you don’t agree with a law and there isn’t any enforcement of the law, what is likely to happen?
- You probably won’t wear your seat-belt every time.
- You might not buckle it correctly every time.
The motive to wear your seat-belt will come from law enforcement; you will be externally motivated. Sometimes this is the only motivation we have. It is adequate but not ideal. You might only comply with the law when you know someone in authority is watching. Even then, you might not recognize anyone in authority.
Freedom Results In Internal Motivation
Rebellion happens because of our innate desire for freedom and autonomy. In this sense, rebellion is a good thing. Everyone needs to learn how to develop responsibility when they have freedom. It’s possible to have both. When you do, what is likely to happen?
- You will wear your seat-belt most of the time.
- You will invest in learning the correct way to wear your seat-belt.
The motive to wear your seat-belt will come from your heart; you will be internally motivated. You will be in agreement with the law, even if you don’t follow it perfectly every time.
Relationships Need Freedom
Relationships need freedom to function properly. Obligation opens up relationships to other sins like control. If I am obligated to serve you, then I might resort to control to attempt to prevent you from taking advantage of me. This intensifies when I believe I must continue to serve you even when it is harmful to me.
Freedom allow genuine love and care to develop in a relationship. With freedom, I can serve with joy in my heart. The value I have for another person motivates me.
Relationships Need Boundaries
Boundaries provide a natural way to escape the vulnerability of obligation. Boundaries promote healthy attitudes in both husband and wife. They are necessary when one person lacks the desire or ability to follow the way of love. When this happens a person could respond with good or bad control.
Unhealthy control attempts to manage another person. Healthy control attempts to manage yourself. If I am obligated to serve you, I believe I must serve you or I suffer guilt, so my only other option is to try to manage your behavior.
A home can be a good analogy for boundaries. Imagine a husband as a home and a wife as a home. What happens if the husband blames his wife that his home isn’t clean and the wife believes she is obligated to serve her husband by cleaning his home? They will probably end up in a dysfunctional pattern because of the unhealthy dynamic of taking advantage of another who feels obligation to serve.
In this example, the wife could attempt unhealthy control by focusing on her husband’s flaws. “You don’t love me.” “Your house is too dirty.” “You only want me in your life because I’ve been cleaning your house.” This sounds like nagging, doesn’t it? She feels trapped and hopes her husband will accept responsibility for his home. But she is the one working hard to convince him to change.
While these attempts could lead to some fruitful discussions, they place too much of the control outside of the wife. She would be better off focusing on what she can control. She only needs to recognize her opinion on the matter. “I don’t feel comfortable cleaning your house.”
She doesn’t have to participate in something that violates her sense of self. She has the freedom to choose to clean or not to clean. She can use discernment to decide whether cleaning is a good idea. This way she maintains a healthy amount of control over her situation.
Matt Pavlik is a licensed professional clinical counselor who wants to see each individual restored to their true identity. He has more than 20 years of experience counseling individuals and couples at his Christian counseling practice, New Reflections Counseling. Matt and Georgette have been married since 1999 and live with their four children in Centerville, Ohio.