As we converge upon another celebration of American freedom, my heart is ready to rejoice. The Fourth of July is always a memorable occasion for me, partly because it is a holiday filled with family and fun, and partly because the freedom I am celebrating is bigger than the borders of a nation.
In Christ, the whole world has received a freedom that provides for a new way to live. And maybe it seems redundant, but according to Galatians 5:1, the reason we have been given freedom is so that we might live in the freedom we have received. This is, indeed, a reason to celebrate. Yet, sadly, I see so many people every day celebrating a counterfeit version of the real freedom we were meant to enjoy. Like so many of our celebrations today, we seize the moment but cheapen the sacrifice by which that moment was won.
Freedom has become, for many people, a license to do anything and everything they want to do. But this is not the definition of freedom, nor does it lend the promise of real freedom. True freedom is freedom from more than it is freedom to. It is the ability to not have to do that which is to your own detriment, that which brings harm to your life. It is the freedom to live without being a slave to something that devours you.
The problem with this definition, or rather with the interpretation of this definition, lies in the cultural mindset which plagues our nation. For all the enjoyments of our “freedoms,” we have become a people blinded by our own desires, unable to see that what we want and what we love really is killing us. Only the killing is happening at a level which is not visible to the human eye, and so it becomes easy to ignore, especially as we continue to indulge in our celebrations of the freedoms we so deeply cherish.
In the Garden of Eden, deception came wrapped in a death-defying package that promised prosperity and satisfaction. Immediate gratification of all that man could want, right here and right now. Looks great, tastes great, feels great, in the moment. But the cost was then as it is now: a death that could not be seen. At least not until it was too late, not until the devastating consequences landed and suddenly there was a separation so deep it could not be crossed. Separation between God and man, and separation between humanity. Separation that made what once was unashamed shameful. Separation that made relationships awkward and impure. Separation that humanity has tried to bridge in a thousand different ways with a thousand different “freedoms” over the course of thousands of years.
But to no real avail. Because in order for humanity to truly be free again, someone had to lay down their perfect life. Someone had to give up all their rights and privileges for the sake of those who were busy indulging in their own. Someone had to make it possible for blinded eyes to be opened and deceived hearts to see the light again. Someone had to shed their blood so that we could see beyond the light show in the sky and into the parted curtains of Heaven, where real freedom is held out by a God Who loved us broken people so much that He was willing to die, so that we might truly live. Truly living stretches far beyond the moment of celebration. It reaches into eternity, and stretches back again to affect the choices we make in the moments we live every day.
But we have become a people convinced that we are and that we can be free, in whatever measure we desire to be, and by whatever means we conjure up to secure it with. What we have failed to recognize, however, is that all of our demonstrations of freedom lack the one real evidence of true freedom: love that is willing to lay down its own rights for others. This is the kind of freedom that Christ died to give us. Freedom that is marked by real love, for Him, and for others, and for self.
We are not granted freedom so that we can do whatever pleases us, without regard to the temporal and the eternal consequences. If the root of our freedom and the cause of our celebrations of freedom is the right to do whatever makes us feel happy in the moment, and encourages others to do the same, then it is not freedom we are celebrating. It is a dangerous lie, a lie that leads smiling people who claim to care about others’ freedoms down a road which ends in deep and bitter despair.
This is not the kind of freedom I want to celebrate. I want a freedom I don’t have to regret in the morning. A freedom which makes room for others, not to do whatever is best for themselves, but whatever is best for all of us. A freedom that considers others before, during, and after every choice I am presented with. A freedom that is clean, and leaves others feeling the same.
I don’t want a freedom that brings us together for a few hours of fun, but then alienates us again as we retreat to our independent posts, clinging to our own beliefs, reinforced by the “freedom” we have just celebrated together. I don’t want a freedom that begins and ends with human efforts and human sacrifices and human ideals. I don’t want a freedom that lands my brother and my sister and my children in bondage that I can overlook for the sake of a night of great memories.
I want the freedom that Christ has promised and delivered to me. And as I celebrate this fourth of July, I want to spend it envisioning and praying for others to know this freedom, too. Because then, and only then, will we be a nation under God, indivisible , with liberty and justice for all.