Freedom: the choice to do or not to do, to be or not to be. God wants us to be free, even if that means we are free to choose wrongly; he much prefers friends, who choose to do what is right out of their own freedom, over automatons who do what is right only because they cannot do anything else.
But some people claim that only sinners are free: sinners get to “do what they want”, while holy people have to do what they should. So are sinners the free ones?
Actually, no. While sinners indeed “do what they want”, they are actually controlled by their wants, even enslaved by them. Think of drug addicts, who want the drug so badly that they will do anything: prostitute themselves, rob other people, cheat and lie, to get that drug. Yes, they’re doing “what they want” because they really, really want the drug, but because of that overwhelming want, they’re doing lots of things they don’t really want to do (selling themselves, robbing people, neglecting their responsibilities, hurting those they love). Every sin, especially a habitual sin, is a bit like a drug addiction. Sinners do something they know is wrong, something they don’t really want to do, because they think will give them something they “gotta have”. That’s what sin is all about.
I write “they”, but I really mean “us”, since there is a sinner in every one of us. We feel upset, or we hear something we don’t like, so we indulge our feelings and become outraged, lashing out in anger. We see someone with something we want but don’t have, and we seethe. We want something so badly because of what we think we can enjoy with it that we do what we can to get more and more of it, without regard for others and their needs. We think of something we need to do, something that takes effort, and we don’t feel like putting in the work, so instead of doing it, we indulge our desire for comfort. We are so attached to enjoying the good things of life that we enjoy them in great quantities, far beyond what is needed, to the degree that it is bad for us. We make choices in our relationships and our personal habits that are driven by our private desires, even if they are bad for us and exploitative of others. We love our comforts so much that we fear losing them, and that fear drives our choices. We love the attention of those we seek to impress, so we gossip, saying things that we know can be hurtful and harmful, or we boast, saying things that we know are not really true. We put ourselves above others and treat them badly, to hide our own insecurities, or to save us the trouble and effort of having to pay attention to them and treat them with consideration. I could go on, and no doubt so could you. You know your own sins, I know mine. Ask yourself: do your sins really make you free? Or do they make you a slave to your wants and desires?
Now we might ask: if sin is the thing that takes away freedom, and God gives freedom, what about people in heaven, who are with God? If sinners aren’t free, and holy people are, then people in heaven should be free to do what they want, even bad things, right? But we know they don’t do bad things, since there are no bad things done in heaven, so they must not be free: they must be forced to be good, no?
So are saints in heaven free to do wrong? Well, yes, I suppose in a strictly technical sense they are: they do what is right because they choose to, not because they’re forced to. But they have mastered their wants so that they will not be enslaved by them: they want God most, and all other wants are secondary to God. So, yes, while they could theoretically choose to sin, in the same way as you could, if you really wanted to, rub tar in your hair and then try to stand on your head in a pothole, or chew on a doorknob, or roll up leaves from the sidewalk and put them in your nose, but just as it would never occur to you to do such things, it would never occur to them to commit sins: why would anyone do such crazy, stupid things? But we, sadly, because our wants aren’t properly ordered yet, because our wanting of God doesn’t come first in our lives, our desires are disordered, and so we do disordered things: we sin.
But the saints give us a clue about the cure for sin. The cure for sin and the source of freedom is to be like those saints: wanting God most, above all other things. Once God comes first, everything else falls into place. When we put God first, we won’t choose to do wrong things, because a wrong thing, by its very nature, is a thing in which something other than God is put first. So the way to overcome sin is to seek out Jesus, who loves us and wants to free us from slavery to our own desires. Seek out Jesus, who died to show us how much God loves us. Seek out Jesus, who will always care for us and help us no matter what sins we’ve committed and no matter how stuck and enslaved we are in them. Jesus will give us freedom from sin, he will make us truly free.