first name is free, last name is dom.

Confession. I absolutely love the show Nashville. I watch it every week, sometimes “live” with a glass of wine and friends (who will rename nameless, lest their reputation be tarnished, too) and sometimes on Hulu with tea and a pile of blankets and tissues to soak up my drama-loving tears.

There’s this character, Maddie Conrad. She’s 16 — and boy, is she 16. This last week, she majorly disobeyed her mother and when she was sent home (on a private jet), you bet her reaction was typical teen. She’s in trouble (no matter the reason) and finally, she tries to say that what her mother forbids Maddie to do (strut her stuff on stage) is exactly what her mom actually does as a performer. Reyna’s response? “I’m an adult!” Sixteen-year-old response? “So am I.”

And — like every fight every teenage girl has ever had with her mother about what it means to be an adult — her mom counters with a firm, angry: “No, you’re not.”

And then it hits the fan. Maddie says her mom is jealous because Juliette is cool. Reyna says if that’s what you think is cool, we’ve got bigger problems on our hand, and SHE will be making the rules from now on, thankyouverymuch. And then Maddie sulks.

Did any of you have this phase? Where all you wanted in the whole world was to be able to do whatever you wanted — to be free from someone else’s dominion over you? To be an adult? To be free to stay out with your friends past curfew or talk on the phone until 3 am with your boyfriend or drink or — in Maddie Conrad’s world — perform on stage with your super-cool-mega-pop-star friend?

I chased that idea of freedom for a long time. Freedom meant being able to do what I wanted when I wanted. And the more I grew up, the more I realized this notion of freedom is a sham. At its most restrictive, I am at least the product of the culture, country, society, region, gender, politics, education, affluence and family in which I was raised. I was not, at birth, free to choose any of those factors and they have indelibly shaped my personality and preferences, which I can no sooner abandon than I can my own skin. At its most expansive, I am the product of all of history, all people, all nations, all societies, conflicts, genders, politics, social classes, wealth and families that have interacted to create every aspect of the world in which I was born.

And in this world, I see that I am directly and indirectly influenced daily by marketing, social media, advertising, friends, the city I live in, the approval I crave, and the place I work to behave a certain way, to dress a certain way, to purchase some things and not others, to make some choices but not others. I have bills I must pay every month, food I need to eat, experiences I pursue to feel happiness, situations I avoid to escape pain or discomfort. There is no present situation in which I could purchase a private jet for myself next week, for example.

I’m not kidding, this clip from The Devil Wears Prada sums my point. I am restricted in many, many ways, including by the 30 years and 10 months of choices I’ve made for myself.

Here me — I’m not complaining; I’m just saying, I think this idea that I can absolutely do whatever I want whenever I want is a ruse.

And so this notion of freedom fascinates me. What does it really mean to be free? The Bible discusses being free as freedom from sin and death. A quick google search finds me at least 75+ references to being free or delivered in scripture. Okay, so maybe being free doesn’t meant I get to do whatever I want whenever I want — and, let’s be honest, I have just as many moments where that brand of freedom got me into a lot of heartbreaking trouble as I do moments when that freedom felt good. Maybe freedom means I get to be free from sin and death — I get to go to heaven and see everything restored to its perfect, unbroken, intended state. Surely, I’ve had glimpses of that kind of freedom in a pure, eternal way — but I think for the most part I’ve lived like being set free meant “be a better person.”

But there’s this verse that’s been kicking around in my brain for about two years. It’s worth reading the part that comes before … and Romans 5 … okay, really just the whole Book of Romans, but here’s the part I’m talking about:

14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves nto anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members us slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. Romans 6:14–19 ESV

It seems like we’re about to get a free pass — sin doesn’t own me, and I have grace. So, don’t I get to do whatever I want then, including sin? Not according to verse 15.

Paul seems to be telling me that I’ve been set free to become a slave — oh, and then calling me stupid in verse 19 (I kid, I kid). It seems like a bait and switch.

Except … except for this next part:

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Okay. Okay, so Paul is asking me a question. Sure, you were free — you had no obligations to God. You could do what you wanted, given some natural and necessary restrictions of the world we live in. But let’s be clear, he’s telling me: you were a slave. You had a master. It was sin. It brings death.

Or, he counters, I can be free from sin. But if that’s true, that’s not where it ends. If I’m free from sin, it’s because God is my master now. And belonging to Him yields the fruit I desire — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control — and those fruit yield eternal life with my Lord.

I confess with my mouth that it’s true — that I have greater freedom in worshipping and submitting to God than I ever did in pursuing my own will — but in my heart, I harbor corners that reject this outright. Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.

More on this soon. I’m still chewing on it.

Scripture image taken from here.

Originally published at on October 27, 2015.