"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." Galatians 5:1
When training a horse in a round pen, my initial goal is for the horse to, by its own freewill, follow me. The horse's flight instinct sends it around the pen, looking for a way out. I stand in the middle, with whip in hand, quietly waiting for the horse to stop running and turn to look at me. If it stops running but turns its hindquarters to me, it feels the bite of the whip, which sends it around the pen again.
Once the horse stops and looks at me, I will not move. I will talk softly to it, and as soon as its attention is off me, I send it around the pen again. After several rounds, the horse learns that the most comfortable place is to stand looking at me.
Then I begin my approach. If the horse bolts, it feels the kiss of the whip until it stops and looks at me. Eventually the horse learns that the safest place is next to me. Yes, it has the freedom to run away. There are no ropes about its neck forcing him to do my bidding. But by its own freewill it follows me like a dog and soon allows me to touch it everywhere.
I learned this training technique when I was fourteen. My little mare, Ginger, and I became such fast friends that I would dance with her in a ten acre pasture, her attention fully on me while I ran this way and that. She'd follow my every move. Through my teen years she was my closest and dearest friend, and we'd play for hours in the field.
My sister had a mare, Smokey, who never learned to stay close. At the first chance, she'd take flight. As a result, her freedom was limited. She'd be driven into the smallest pen and held there until we were finished with her. She had a wrong perception of freedom.
We humans can be very much like Smokey. We race around the pen either trying to avoid God or thinking that an escape from the whip of the slave master (sin) would be to work harder at finding that hole in the fences of ritual or human traditions that would bring us peace. But God stands in the center, calling for our attention, waiting for us to come to Him by our own freewill.
Our works cannot save us from the whip of sin nor can they manipulate God into doing our bidding. God stands in the middle of our pen desiring to extend to us His abundant grace, to give us the joy of being His friend and faithful follower.
John Adams spoke of our freedoms as citizens of America, but spiritually the freedom from sin Christ gave us is in danger when we lose sight of why we follow certain traditions or why we make certain applications of our faith. Not that we would lose our salvation, but that we would lose the fellowship we could have with God if we relied on our works to earn the blessings of God. By faith in God's grace we receive salvation, and by faith in His grace we live in His good pleasure to perform what works please Him.
Smokey was a rather contrary horse. Even the other horses didn't like her. She received fewer favors from us because of her nature. Yes, she'd follow rituals at feed time, when moved from pasture to pasture, and in her general care, but almost every aspect of working with her was more difficult than with Ginger, even though the two mares received the same training.
When I look at my own life, I can see times when I've gone through the motion of serving the Lord, but in truth I was serving myself. I'd look for those escape routes to do as I pleased (under the guise of serving God, of course) and would feel the sting of the whip. I'd run about looking as though I was working for the Lord, expending great energies for God, thinking that these efforts would bend God's will to my favor. Yet, all along God stood in the center waiting for me to come, lower my head, and allow Him to pour upon me His abundant grace and the joy of following His plan, not my own.
I have learned that the place of greatest freedom, of perfect peace, of tremendous joy, is when I willingly follow God's leading, dancing with Him in the pastures of life even as Ginger would with me.