“Mama, watch me twirl!” my daughter often calls out. “Oh, listen to the music! Can I dance?”
The truth is, she can’t help but dance. Even before she was born, Anne twirled and kicked and danced within me, and she hasn’t stopped in eight years. On stage or off, whether she’s practicing in the ballet studio or just telling me a story, Anne dances.
I love it. I love the beauty, the joy, the lightness that comes to her heart and the “at home” expression on her face when the music starts and the dance begins. I admire my daughter’s gift. It brings tears to my eyes. When I picture Anne dancing, twirling, arms out, eyes closed, face pointed to the sky as she spins, one word comes to mind: freedom. Anne dances because she is free.
I also picture freedom when I imagine, not my little girl, but a tall statesman—President Abraham Lincoln. What better symbol of freedom than a man who set thousands of slaves free? Nearly 150 years ago, on January 1, 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring, “all persons held as slaves … shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”
Forever free. Such life-changing, life-giving words to the slaves. Forever free to choose, to speak, to own possessions because they were no longer possessions themselves. All at once, with the stroke of a pen, men, women, boys, and girls moved from bondage to liberty.
I picture a young slave girl, around the age of my daughter. She had only ever known fear and labor and hardship, but on that Emancipation day, hope blossomed within her. She traded despair for joy, and a lightness came over her heart. I imagine that there were tears in her mama’s eyes when she explained, “Mr. Lincoln says we’re free.” Maybe the little girl even twirled. She danced because she was free.
I wish I could dance—that I could sway and leap and twirl. The truth is, I’m as awkward as my daughter is graceful. These two left feet of mine will never dance lightly across the stage, and there isn’t even the slightest hint of freedom of movement in my body. But what about in my spirit? Spiritually speaking, does my soul dance because it is free?
It should. Paul wrote, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). As a follower of Jesus, then, my soul should freely dance because God’s Spirit lives within me. And after all, isn’t freedom the very reason that Jesus came? “It is for freedom,” Paul also said, “that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). Jesus Christ freed me from sin and death, to live abundantly and eternally with Him.
Free from Death
“I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross,” I sing in church. How true. I don’t understand what a gift freedom from sin really is. I simply can’t comprehend the enormous chasm Jesus closed to bring me to God. But I’m so grateful! I’m grateful that Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy when He said:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.” (Luke 4:18)
What great news Jesus proclaimed—that I’m forever free! Freedom from sin doesn’t just mean freedom from sin’s guilt. It also means that I can be free from the hold that sin and temptation have on me. Sin shouldn’t control or characterize me anymore. Things like fear, doubt, and anger, which normally weigh me down, may no longer oppress the heart that Jesus sets free.
And what peace is mine, knowing that death itself has been defeated!
Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?… Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)
Gray hair, illness, even death itself are powerless over the believer. When I am in Christ, death isn’t about defeat. It’s about victory. Death ends in triumph. My soul can dance into eternity, because I’m forever free.
Free to Live
The freedom that Christ came to give goes beyond freedom from death. Not only does He set me free from sin, but He also makes me free to live. He has freed me to live abundantly right now, on earth, even before I reach the promises of heaven. “I have come that they may have life,” Jesus said, “and have it to the full” (John 10:10). To live fully—abundantly—is to live richly, with peace and joy and above all, freedom.
Jesus also set me free to live in friendship with my Creator—to enjoy an intimate relationship with the God of the universe! What a privilege to speak with Him through prayer and His Word. What an honor to know Him, and be known by Him. My closest friends will fail me, and even my devoted family members can’t completely satisfy the deepest parts of my soul. Only intimacy with my Savior reaches there, and I’m free to live life closely united with Him.
Finally, in Christ, I’m free to live in obedience. “Freedom” and “obedience” don’t seem to go together, but in a surprising paradox, freedom in Jesus motivates me to obey Him. When Jesus sets me free, I no longer live for myself. I live for God. Paul wrote, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13). Obeying God isn’t a restrictive prison; it’s an adventurous journey. The psalmist wrote spoke of obedience this way, “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free” (Psalm 119:32).
A Final Picture
My daughter twirls on her toes because she is free, and a young slave girl danced in freedom when Abraham Lincoln set her forever free. A final picture reminds me of freedom: the image of a bride and her groom. In joyful anticipation, the bride has made herself ready for the adoring groom. The music begins, and she approaches him with beauty and lightness of heart. The couple sees no one but each other, and they thrill when their hands finally touch. They endure the wedding ceremony, ready to spend a lifetime dancing together. They want nothing more than to love deeply, and trust completely, and live freely.
And so it is with Jesus. I, the Bride, make myself ready for Him (Revelation 19:7), and He is enthralled by my beauty (Psalm 45:11). He has set me free from sin and death. I am free to belong to Him, love Him, and dance freely with Him. I dance because He has set me forever free.