As the nation celebrates its independence this month, I find myself wondering if Christians understand the concepts of independence, freedom, and liberty the way the Bible speaks of them.
Martin Luther, in a tract titled On Christian Liberty, said, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.” He based that assertion on 1 Corinthians 9:19 which says, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.”
Luther’s focus was on spiritual reality and vitality rather than politics, but that ought to be our preoccupation as well! I would like to encourage you to seek a balanced view of the freedom we have in Christ as we think about the concept of “liberty.”
First, in contrast to current American thinking, freedom is not emancipation from moral and spiritual responsibility / accountability. Paul put it this way: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. … For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Gal. 5:1, 13) The slavery in view was the bondage to the limited efficacy of the Law which has been replaced by the limitless efficacy of the Spirit to change us. Our freedom was designed to do away with the works of the flesh, not authorize them!
When I was a child in the 1950’s we heard warnings about “godless communism” and its threat to our way of life. What no one seemed to notice is that godless capitalism is just as destructive! “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Tim. 6:9) Guess what? In God’s program, greed isn’t good! Do a quick concordance search of “covet, covetousness” and it will be very plain that God is against it!
Second, consider the end toward which our values and slogans will lead us. Some have observed that the history of North America and South America was the motivation of those who colonized them. North America was dominated by pilgrims seeking God while South America was dominated by Conquistadores seeking gold. That is overly simplistic, but the value systems of the two neighbors have been significantly different ever since.
Another contrast is the American revolution, which was founded on the concept of a Creator who gave rights to men (Declaration of Independence). The French revolution gave birth to the motto “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” (French Constitution, article 2). A strictly horizontal focus led to the guillotine and vast bloodshed followed by a fiercely secular and godless culture.
It is not enough to be patriotic and nostalgic on July 4th. We need to be rededicated to manifesting our citizenship in Heaven (Phil. 3:20-21) through a life which starts with a supreme love for God and then issues forth in love for man (Matt. 22:37-40) as commanded of our King (not an elected president).
This July 4th, I call you to celebrate true freedom, the freedom to submit in love to God and your neighbor. The freedom to practice righteousness, no matter how decrepit your neighbor may be. The freedom from greed and covetousness in favor of sacrifice and generosity. Freedom from the works of the flesh to pursue love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control with no room for “I do my own thing”.
These are the freedoms worth living out and dying for!