Today is Independence Day in the United States. From 1776 until today, July 4th has been celebrated by Americans as a day to commemorate the official vote of the United States Continental Congress to declare Independence from the authority of Great Britain. Recently we also celebrated Juneteenth, often referred to as America’s “Second Independence Day,” rightly remembering the emancipation of enslaved African Americans from a life of oppression.
Both highlight a principal we cherish – the freedom to live outside the authority of another’s will. We cherish it so much that it has naturally translated into an overall spirit of independence – independent thinking and action are now seen as a symbol of growth and maturity. To be free is to be human. As we’ve seen recently regarding vaccines and abortion rights, passions run high when we perceive our freedom to be threatened.
Freedom is a word we recognize as followers of Jesus. When we became Christians, scripture says we were set free from the oppressive authority of sin and judgment – praise God! To be in a relationship with Christ is to be truly free (2 Cor. 3:17). While we have much to be grateful for as Americans, we have SO much more to be grateful for as Christians.
The struggle with a correct view of freedom goes all the way back to what I consider the original Independence Day – Genesis chapter three. After noticing it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone (independent?) in 2:18, he created Eve. Together, they were granted the freedom to make their own choices. When Satan successfully convinced them God didn’t truly have their best interests in mind, they chose to walk away from his authority. They chose independence from the constraints of their Creator, and the rest is a tragic story of sin and brokenness.
Adam and Eve were made to be in community and relationship with God, something we might call interdependence. The original design was this: we are so beloved by God, we choose not to see his commands or constraints as burdensome or an infringement on our rights, but as the key ingredient to human thriving and happiness. This is how David put it:
“I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.”
There is freedom within relationship. In fact, this is modeled for us in the New Testament, as we see what Christians call the Trinity, a beautiful and interdependent community of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit working to show fallen humanity a picture of healthy relationship.
When humans decided to exercise independence from God, we naturally elevated self-interest to a primary ambition. It results in things like self-preservation, self-protection, self-advancement and the insistence on autonomy in all decisions. There is truth and value to be found in all of these things, but they also can easily distort the Christians’ idea of how to exercise spiritual freedom.
The Bible offers a very countercultural idea of freedom.
First, it says we are a part of a unified body. As Christians, we exist in community, within relationship to each other – we belong to each other (Rom. 12:4-5, 1 Cor. 12:12-27, Ephesians 4:23, Hebrews 10:24-25).
Second, it says our spiritual freedom is not necessarily freedom from the will and desires of others, but freedom to serve other people, a tangible expression of our gratitude toward God serving us. The apostle Paul says we should not use our freedom to indulge ourselves or advance our own desires, but we should use it to serve and give back:
“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”
So what should this mean for us as American Christians today?
Well, it means we have individual rights, but an individualistic way of living is not biblical. It means we can choose what we personally prefer and believe, but strive to love those who disagree with us. It means we may see others make sinful choices, but as fellow sinners we are drawn to compassion, love and service – the opposite of judgement.
In a world that is biting and devouring each other, can we use our freedom as Christians to lean into the perspective of someone who doesn’t vote the way we do?
Can we use our freedom to serve others who are experiencing the pain brought on by decisions we wouldn’t personally make?
Can we use our freedom to step into our communities in Tampa as healers and peacemakers?
More specifically, can we view abortion as a sin, uphold the biblical value of human life, and show people the heart of Jesus by seeking out ways to lovingly serve men and women experiencing the burden of unwanted pregnancies?
And can we, as a wonderfully diverse body of Christians use our collective spiritual freedom to show the world around us an inspiring picture of unity and self-sacrifice?
Our neighbors need us to think deeply about these questions and find real ways to serve. Our next blog will focus on a very tangible way we can offer hope to a hurting world and uphold the value of human life as Christians – adoption.
Today as you enjoy backyard barbeques, enjoy displays of fireworks, and eat red, white and blue themed desserts, take some time to intentionally think about how you as a Christian view freedom. Let’s be grateful for the rights we have as Americans, but let scripture inspire us in how we operate as free people.