It is interesting when you look at freedom in the Bible. Personal freedom was not a great concern. Of course the Jews didn’t like living under the thumb of Rome. But when Jesus came it was not His intent to change that. Even slavery was not prohibited, though Christian masters were taught not to treat their salves harshly. If a slave could gain his freedom, fine. If not, then serve in best efforts they could give. Certainly the kind of slavery we are familiar with is wrong, but personal liberty was not a central issue in Scripture. True freedom was found in a relationship with the Lord. Each of the Apostles called themselves the slaves of Christ. It was in a deep and personal relationship with the Lord Jesus that they found their true freedom. They were free from fear. They could be content in whatever circumstances they found themselves. They were willing to serve and give of themselves without worry about the future. They knew they were held in a love that would never leave them. They had no fear of death for they knew that they had already died and that their life was hidden with Christ in God.(Colossias 3:3) The same has been true for Christians through all the centuries since, and it is true today. We enjoy our personal freedoms, but our true freedom is found in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today is Independence Day in U.S. We celebrate the freedoms we enjoy that have been hard won for us over the past two and a quarter centuries. We rejoice in these freedoms and continually work to maintain them. But there is another kind of freedom that that is even more important. Jesus, in a discussion with the Pharisees, said “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”(John 8:31) The Jewish leaders argued with Him saying they had never been slaves to anyone. “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.'” (vs.34) There’s that word again, “sin”. It’s the word we don’t like and do everything possible to get around. Yet it is very real. It is anything that takes us away from the good life that God designed for mankind. But the sin that enslaves us is the very reason God provided the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. The cross of Christ is the greatest symbol of our true freedom. We will do all we can to maintain our political freedom, but we live our lives in the truth that “if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”(vs.36)
Americans are well grounded in their concept of freedom and rights. We cherish the freedoms granted in the Bill of Right in our Constitution, and rightly so. But I think this makes it a bit hard for us to think in Scriptural terms about our right relationship with the Lord. All of our Lord’s Apostles referred to themselves as slaves of Christ. We declare that we are free to do what we want, but the Lord’s Word says “you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body.”(I Corinthians 6:20) That price was the very blood of Jesus Christ. Both Testaments declare that God is our Maker. We were created by Him for His good purpose. Paul writing to the Philippian Church said, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”(2:10) Yes, we are thankful for our political freedoms, but we find our true freedom when we submit ourselves to the will of our Lord.
Jesus said to those gathered before Him, “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”(Matthew 5:20) “Surpasses their righteousness”, how is that ever possible? The Pharisees and teachers were the good guys. I know Jesus had His troubles with them, but they strictly followed the laws of Moses. God had said this is what He wanted, and they were obedient to it. How could we possible do better? And on top of this Jesus said that what is in our minds counts also, whether anger, or lust, or whatever, these are sins, too. How can we ever be righteous before God? But that is just the point. We can’t. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves right with God. It is all in what Jesus came to do on our behalf. He lived the perfect sinless life. He died to make atonement for all of our sins. He gave us, as a free and unearned gift, His perfect righteousness. We can stand before God in a righteousness that far exceeds that of the Pharisee, the righteousness of Jesus Christ, Himself. Speaking of Abraham in Romans chapter four Paul says, “‘(His faith) was credited to him as righteousness.’ The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness–for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”(vss.22-24) What a marvelous truth! What a marvelous gift! We are free in Christ Jesus.
We are a people who cherish freedom. The Bill of Rights in our Constitution grants us freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly, and more. We have fought wars to preserve freedom. And yet there are more ways to be in slavery than under political domination. One can be bound by addictions of various sorts. One can be bound by politically correct thinking or cultural norms of the day. One can be bound by events that happened many years in the past. One can be bound by peer pressure, or ever legalistic religious practices. St. Paul had to deal with Jewish Christians who demanded that all follow the whole of the Jewish law. So freedom is much more than not being subject to certain governmental dictates. Paul wrote, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”(Galatians 5:1) Our true freedom of heart and mind is in Jesus Christ regardless of our outward condition. It is this freedom that allows Christians to obey the two great commandments, to love God above all else, and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self, regardless of the personal cost or sacrifice.
An often used statement in the U.S. says, “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance”. It comes by Thomas Jefferson in 1817. It is certainly applied to the safety of our nation, and the liberties established in our constitution. However, I also think it applies to the church as well. I’m not speaking here of guarding our religious liberty, which is important, but rather our liberty in our Lord. Jesus said, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free”.(John 8:32) He was speaking of the power of sin to bind us, making us slaves to sin. True freedom from the bondage of sin is found in the atonement of Jesus Christ. Yet sin has a way of creeping back in through the pressures of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Vigilance through staying in God’s Word and fleeing again to the cross for cleansing is the way we maintain our liberty with our Lord.
There was a fireworks display in our area last night, and today there will be parades, celebration and more fireworks in the U.S. all recognizing the freedoms we cherish as a nation. We are blessed that our constitution contains a Bill of Rights granting us freedoms as citizens of this country. We have and continue to fight many battles to maintain those freedoms. Our Bible talks about freedom, too, but of a far deeper and richer kind. There is a freedom in Jesus Christ that far surpasses anything worldly governments can provide. There are many dangers, many fearful things in this broken world. There are many ways of being in bondage. Yet through faith in Jesus Christ we know that none of these are the Lord’s last word for us. In a very uncertain time for His followers Jesus said to them, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”(John 14:27) As we grow in understanding of what that really means we find a freedom that nothing in this world can remove.
In a lengthy discussion with the Jewish leaders Jesus said, ”you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”(John 8:32) At times this has been a misused statement referring to political freedom. Yet He had preceded it by saying “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you shall know the truth….” Knowing the truth is conditioned upon being a follower of Jesus Christ. Yesterday I was at a luncheon meeting with a group explaining an addiction recovery program. Freedom was a central theme. About ten of their people gave testimonies to how their relationship with Jesus Christ had freed them from the power of drugs. A few were what we would call “normal” people carrying on everyday activities, but secretly bound by addiction. A couple of other had been in prison having to spend years behind bars. One had even been a state senator, but all were bound by forces that had nothing to do with law or politics. It was only by the cleansing, freeing presence of the Spirit of Christ that they were given a new life. That is true freedom extended to us all.
The 4th of July is a great celebration in the U.S. Today marks the 240 anniversary of our independence from Great Britain. Freedom and independence are prized possessions of Americans, underlined by our Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to our Constitution. In my message yesterday I underlined the fact that our Founding Fathers all believe in Natural Law. It was upon this that our Republic was founded. Natural Law is the belief that God has given certain values to guide the people He created. Those values guide our moral actions and are unchanging. Some things are always right, and others always wrong. Unfortunately, statistics have shown that almost 70% of people in the U.S. no longer believe in absolute values, or a God given Natural Law. We have moved to a world conditioned by circumstances, personal desires, and expediency. We love to quote verses from Jesus like “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”(John 8:32) But truth has become a variable quality. Our Founders knew that there was a true God who was behind all truth which did not change. The complete statement of Jesus begins in verse 31, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know…” The foundation of our freedom is holding to the truth of the One True God who created us, and who has redeemed us in Jesus Christ. In Him is the true freedom in which we can celebrate.
We are a country founded on freedom. We abolished slavery 150 years ago. We expect the freedom to go where we please, say and write what we please, and worship as we please. However, that freedom must be guided by solid principles or it simply ends in chaos. It is striking how slavery was dealt with among the Hebrews of the Old Testament. A poor Hebrew could sell himself into slavery to another Hebrew. However, at the seventh years the law demanded his release. There were cases where the slave loved the master and his family and didn’t want to leave. He was then pierced through the ear lobe as a mark, and became the slave of that master for life.(Deuteronomy 15:12-17) It is also striking that the Apostles of the New Testament referred to themselves as slaves of Christ. Out of love they had given themselves into obedience to Christ, and were marked in the sign of their baptism as slaves forever. The amazing truth they discovered was that in this slavery they found true freedom and life. Freedom is not doing your own thing whenever and wherever you want. It is in perfect submission to Christ who guides us into all that is good and right.