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Even for those who us who have never seen the film, William Wallace’s freedom speech in Braveheart has been immortalised in memes and video clips across the Internet. You may be able to picture Mel Gibson, in full blue-and-white war paint and traditional attire, rallying the Scottish army with a rousing speech about freedom: “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!”

Everybody values freedom. Sadly, in the age in which we live, freedom is equated with the ability to do precisely as one pleases with few, if any, limits. Freedom means that nobody will tell us what to do. Freedom means that I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul. Unfortunately, this idea of freedom stands at odds with the biblical vision of freedom.

In the Bible, freedom is as much liberty from something as it is liberty to something. As contradictory as it may sound, true, biblical freedom is found in obedience. David understood and expressed some of this truth in Psalm 143.

David begins the psalm by acknowledging that, were he to be judged on the basis of his own righteousness, he would be in trouble (vv. 1–2). He goes on to lament the crushing opposition he faced from enemies (vv. 3–4) and longs for a restoration to the good old days when he enjoyed sweet, uninterrupted divine favour (v. 5). He pleads for the Lord to restore such favour by removing the influence of his foes (vv. 6–9). He longed, in other words, for freedom from the crushing opposition of those who hated him and his commitment to God.

But David understood that godly freedom would carry obligations. Consider his words in v. 10: “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!” Notice his two petitions here: a plea to be taught obedience to God’s will; and a plea to be led by the Spirit on level ground.

When you think of “level ground,” you might immediately be tempted to think of a flat surface. The language literally speaks of an open plain. The picture is that, rather than being constrained as one might be in a valley or a canyon with high walls on either side, there is open space and great freedom. Picture wild horses galloping freely on an open plain. It’s the image of freedom that we so desperately desire.

But notice the context in which the freedom comes: “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God!” True freedom comes in the context of obedience. People are most free when their will is bound to God’s will. The writer of Psalm 119 painted the same picture: “I will keep your law continually, forever and ever, and I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought your precepts” (vv. 44–45).

We dare not fall into the trap of thinking that freedom allows us to follow the sinful desires of our heart. If we give ourselves to sin, we become slaves to sin (John 8:34). This is more obvious with some sins than others (e.g. substance abuse, which leads to addiction), but it is true of all sin. Sin wants to master us. It wants to control us. And if we give ourselves to it, it will do just that.

True freedom is the Spirit-enabled ability to walk in obedience to God. We find liberty as we walk as he designed us to walk. As Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32).

Allow Psalm 143 to encourage you that freedom—true, biblical, God-honouring freedom—is found in obedience. Pray with David, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Let you Spirit lead me on level ground!”