Freedom. It is not a gift any government benevolently bestows upon its citizens; freedom is the gift of God to everyone created in his image. It is a serious blessing to live in a land founded by those who believed that the responsibility of our nation’s leaders was to recognize and protect the freedom that is already the birthright of those given life by their Creator.
It’s a blessing to be able to celebrate on July 4th the birthday of a nation “conceived in liberty.” And, whatever our national citizenship, it is worthwhile at any time for citizens of God’s kingdom to spend some time reflecting upon the nature of genuine freedom.
How important is freedom for Christians? So important that the Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”
Freedom carries with it both deep privilege and deep responsibility. If we twist it into license to be as selfish and self-centered as we wish, how long will we as individuals, as families, as any group, as a nation, as God’s church, still be truly free?
Because it is “for freedom that Christ has set us free,” the apostle proceeds to issue a serious warning: “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
In this context, St. Paul was warning the Galatians not to allow themselves to be misled by those who trusted in what they could do by human effort (and thus boast about) rather than humbly accepting what Christ had fully accomplished by divine strength and love. A needed warning still!
Freedom is easily lost. Ironically, if we loudly claim our “rights,” all the while allowing most of our relationships to be ripped apart by our own selfishness, meanness, pettiness . . . If we allow ourselves to be enslaved by our own worst attitudes, addictions, and base instincts, we can yell and demand and whine continually about our freedom even as we are the ones throwing it away. No one is free who chooses to live like a slave.
As a Christian, I need to remember the price Christ paid for my freedom with his own blood. Whatever my earthly citizenship, whatever the nation in which I live, my highest citizenship by far is in Christ’s kingdom. I can and should thank the Lord for all that is good and best about the earthly land in which I live, and, wherever I live, in a land governed by those whose heritage is a love of freedom or in a land governed by brutes and despots whose deepest fear is that citizens might speak truth and develop a taste for freedom, I should live to honor my King. Wherever I live, if I don’t cherish and honor the Giver of genuine freedom, I easily become enslaved by my own worst passions. Then, whatever else I am, the one thing I am not is truly free.
As July 4 approaches, what, I ask, about my citizenship in America? Oh, my deepest allegiance by far is to Christ as the highest King. Still, I think it very true to say that for me a lifetime of love and devotion to America and all that is best about this grand experiment in self-government is not enough even to begin to pay back the debt of gratitude every citizen of this land owes.
We don’t have to be blind to our nation’s flaws; we don’t have to agree with the domestic or foreign policy of a particular administration of government or to have voted for this or that governor or president or particular politician, to begin to pay back that debt. We just need to be immensely thankful to live in a land where the voices of the people are heard—even if we sometimes wish they spoke with deeper wisdom and the loudest weren’t so often the ones whose voices we should listen to the least.
We’re free not to acknowledge the gift of freedom. Free not to appreciate it. Free not to cherish it. We’re free to be selfish and self-seeking, ignorant and arrogant, ungrateful and blind, even as we take advantage of what we don’t appreciate. And, at least as long as enough better people still love this land unselfishly, our nation will still be free.
But we won’t be. And the prison of our unhappiness will be one of our own making and our slavery, self-imposed. Freedom must be cherished—or lost.