Americans love to celebrate Independence Day, to flaunt our freedom before the whole world. Thomas Jefferson’s bold assertion that each individual has an “inalienable right” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” still sounds sweet to our freedom-loving ears. Despite the imperfections and foibles of our political system, we still enjoy tremendous economic freedom, political freedom, religious freedom, personal freedom and communal freedom. But we must be careful that we don’t define the freedoms we enjoy so much solely as “freedom from” — forgetting that the real test of freedom’s value is how we use our “freedom to.”
There is our freedom to gather together for the benefit of others, our freedom to love and serve each other and our freedom to express our feelings, concerns, hopes and aspirations for our community, neighbors and friends. Remember that the same philosophers and statesmen who boldly announced this country’s “Declaration of Independence” were also the ones who worked long and hard to craft our Constitution — a document that sculpts our freedom along the prescribed guidelines and responsibilities necessary to make freedom work — our freedom to govern, to serve, to defend, to protect, to honor and to be loyal.
The Fourth of July is a good time to celebrate the paradox at the center of the Christian faith: We are most free when we are most bound. Through Jesus Christ’s supreme example of freedom in service, we all become the most free when we bind ourselves to Christ. That is why Jesus has been called “omnipotence in bonds.” He freely divested himself of his divinity so that he could make the ultimate sacrifice for our sake and for our freedom.
We must take care not to confuse this freely offered liberty for license. The long list of what Paul calls in Galatians “fleshly works” is what results when we let our freedom to … become freedom from. Freedom to love becomes … fornication. Freedom to worship becomes … idolatry. Freedom to serve becomes … factions. Freedom to inquire becomes … enmity. Freedom to discuss becomes … quarrels. Freedom to disagree becomes … dissension. Freedom to thrive becomes … envy.
The political and personal freedoms we celebrate every Independence Day always remind us that with freedom comes responsibility. For our freedom to “work” we must be good citizens — we must vote, pay taxes, obey the laws, respect property, be loyal and keep the peace. The freedom we enjoy every day of our lives as Christians demands of us only two things — faithfulness and love. In short from we are to love our neighbors as Christ has loved us.
“For freedom Christ has set us free.”