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.
We are about to celebrated our nation’s Independence Day. As a people we hold freedom up as a high value, nationally and personally. But it is well to ask what the nature of freedom really is? If you ask a youngster about freedom they would probably say it is the ability to do whatever you want, which is a very self centered understanding. I ran across a far better definition from William Young in his book The Shack. “Freedom involves trust and obedience inside a relationship of love.” True freedom is not self centered. It is yielding in trust to another who has one’s best interest at heart. In our fallen world this must be done with wisdom and caution, but with our Lord it finds its full meaning. We find our greatest freedom in a relationship of trust in and obedience to Jesus who love us with an everlasting love. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)
Americans place a tremendously high value on freedom. Our Constitution declares our freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and others. These are important and we continually vigilant to maintain them. However, what we don’t realize is that we are really bound in other ways. A right relationship with Almighty God is the greatest treasure we can have. That treasure has been won for us at Calvary’s cross. Having been won, and given to us by grace, we are called to trust God for all aspects of life. In that trust is true freedom. But we, and I speak personally as well, bind ourselves from that complete trust by our life style, our material possession, debt, fear of the future, and the love of anything more that we love our Lord. The list is long and personal, but the things that bind us from complete trust in our Lord are more serious than external forces that deny us of our free speech, press, and the others. Freedom to trust completely is something that is won day by day, and item by item as we hear and respond to Jesus’ invitation “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)