This weekend, our nation celebrates its independence. The root idea is that individuals have the right to choose how to they wish to live their lives. We are blessed that we can choose how to worship, what to say, and where and when to travel.
For almost 250 years, we have celebrated our freedom.
Freedom. Lately, we have heard that word tossed around quite a bit in the news, in politics and in our culture.
There are two different ways to think about this important word : Freedom from, and freedom for.
These days, it feels like when people use the word freedom, they are most often talking about freedom “from.” Freedom from oppression. Freedom from encroachment. Freedom from rules they believe are unjust or unfair. And these are all legitimate (and important) perspectives. Throughout history, tyrants and governments have short-changed the freedom of the people around them, and people have suffered.
But most recently, the idea of “freedom from” has been lived out in the public arena in a number of high profile public debates:
- The controversy over requiring masks in the midst of the pandemic
- The debate over employers requiring vaccinations for employees
- The fight over gun regulations
- The debate over prayer on public school football fields
People cry out (often in anger) over their strong belief that their freedom is being somehow limited. But “freedom from” is only one side of a coin. The other side is “freedom for.”
We haven’t just been given the gift of freedom to prevent others from infringing on that freedom. We have been given freedom for a reason, for a purpose, for a cause. Freedom does not stand alone as a concept. Freedom is intimately connected with responsibility.
The apostle Paul writes about this freedom in Galatians 5:
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. You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.Galatians 5:1 & 13-15
Because of the grace and love of God, Christ has set all of God’s people free…truly free…but not merely to be free “from.” God calls us to be free “for.”
We are set free from the limitations and bondage of sin so that we might care for our neighbor, serve those in need, speak out for justice for the oppressed, and show compassion to those who live on the margins.
Jesus, the Son of God, came for you. And in the same way, we are called to be here for our neighbors. But Paul reminds us that we are not set free simply for our own well-being. With this gift comes great responsibility. If our sense of freedom winds up only being about ourselves, we are living a narcissistic life and faith.
God wants something different. God wants us to be for each other.
That is what grows relationships. That is what grows community. That is what brings about real freedom.
Happy 4th of July!