Across the United States, the month of July is known for hot weather, family vacations, and of course the ubiquitous celebrations of Independence Day. The Fourth of July happens to be my favorite holiday. From backyard barbecues to fireworks exploding across the night sky, America loves the fourth. Besides being the day that I asked my wife on our first date, I love what it symbolizes: Freedom! We as a nation declared our independence from Britain and told King George III in no uncertain terms that the bonds between us were now dissolved. We were our own nation and we were free to establish our own form of government.
Neither King George nor Parliament found this new national identity and irreverent declaration very amusing. The Revolutionary War would rage for another seven years and cost tens of thousands their precious lives. Freedom always has a price.
But I also love the 4th of July because it paints a wonderful spiritual portrait for those of us in Christ. Just as we celebrate nationally the freedom attained by a declaration that we did not write and a war that we did not fight, so in Christ we rejoice over a spiritual freedom we did not initiate and we did not earn. Our freedom from sin, from Satan, and even from our own flesh nature was paid in full by Jesus upon the cross of Calvary. We are the undeserving recipients of God’s grace and we cherish a resultant freedom that our own spiritual poverty could never have consummated. We love him because He first loved us.
And although our freedom is highly esteemed among us both as Americans and Christians, I think it’s time to admit we have gained a very lopsided understanding of freedom itself, both nationally and spiritually. Our culture now sees freedom as purely license, the right to do whatever we want, whenever we want, and however we want. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco just “ordered” the U.S. Government this past Wednesday to cease enforcing the ban on openly gay members of the military. Why? Because freedom now, even in the minds of highly educated and articulate judges, means pursuing personal happiness via any path any individual chooses, no matter how absurd or perverse. As long as we don’t harm the environment or discriminate against race and gender, we are free to indulge every passion. So even the armed forces must comply with this new understanding of freedom, no matter how deviant or offensive.
This new understanding of freedom is pouring into the church as well. The predominant attitude among young evangelicals is that their freedom in Christ is indubitably parallel to the freedom of secular America, except that we go to church on most Sundays and we verbally acknowledge a Galilean social-worker named Jesus. The list of new Christian leaders preaching holiness, separation, and tangible sacrifice is short and getting shorter. The new and repeated emphasis from the pulpit is contextualization and generous orthodoxy. After all, the last thing our Christian freedom could ever entail is perceived exclusivity from secular culture.
Real freedom however, has nothing to do with unbridled personal fulfillment. It is not the lack of restraint or the dissolution of restriction. Freedom means having the unopposed opportunity to do what I ought to do. It is the ability to love and serve and live for my Creator as He has commanded me, and to do so without formal interference. Christians that understand their Bibles know that sin and the ability of sin to capture and imprison the flesh is the greatest obstacle to spiritual freedom. Sin is addictive, compelling, and enslaving.
Freedom therefore, means having the shackles of sin broken off my life. It means being loosed from the bondage of this world to live a life wholly pleasing to the Lord. That’s why only Jesus gives us true freedom, because only He gives us the power to overcome sin.
May we as Christians see that freedom comes from Christ, that it is the liberty to pursue righteousness, and that it must be closely guarded and preserved. Using our freedom to drive on the same freeway but one lane over from the world isn’t freedom. It’s imitation and it ends at the same destination. Jesus has freed us to live for him in a manner that is above and beyond this world. As Christians we have commandments, prohibitions, and the power of God, and because of it, we have freedom.