Galatians 5:1 Christ has set us free. He wants us to enjoy freedom. So stand firm. Don't let the chains of slavery hold you again.
Well, July 4th is coming up this Thursday. We celebrate our nation’s independence by getting together as families for picnics, and enjoying each other’s company. We listen to bands play patriotic music; we eat fried chicken, potato salad and watch baseball.
If we cast a thought in the direction of the history that brought us to this point … so much the better. But whatever way we celebrate is just fine. As William Faulkner wrote: We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.
We can claim freedom as loudly as we want, but it is in the exercising of our freedom, the practice, that proves we are free. Attending the church of our choice is a freedom that not everyone in the world enjoys. Reading whatever we want, owning property, speaking our minds on any issue, are rights that we have in this country.
We don’t have the right to succeed, but we have the right to pursue success through work. One of the great statements within the Declaration of Independence is the acknowledgement that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these, but certainly not limited to these, are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
Before there was a Constitution we had rights. Before the Bill of rights, we had rights – God-given rights that cannot be taken from us. John Adams said that we have rights “…antecedent to all earthly government; Rights, that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; Rights, derived from the great Legislator of the universe.”
To interfere with someone’s rights is frowned upon by law. That’s theoretically why laws exist – to protect our rights. Laws do not initiate or create rights. They protect rights and clarify situations when conflicts arise. Freedom of speech, for instance. We do not have the right to maliciously or falsely yell “fire” in a public theater. That would be depriving others of their rights. So there is a law against that.
We have the right to vote. There are laws to protect that right because there have been problems where people have tried to suppress the vote of others. We have the right to state our opinion on topics and there are laws to protect that right because there have been incidences in the past where a person or organization tried to stifle people’s opinions.
To see people’s rights restrained causes discomfort, because we are gifted by God with many of these rights. Yes, some rights do not come from God of course; like the right to vote, which is gifted by the Constitution, the charter by which this country operates, and we all agree to live under.
But our freedom does not come from just saying we are free. It is in the doing. It is in the voting; it is through the working, through the owning of property, through the ideas exchanged in our reading, speaking, and writing that confirms our freedom. We have the freedom to exercise our rights or not. In our free land, we have choices. We have the choice to read or not read; to vote or not vote; to bear arms or not bear arms. People who are not free probably have a tough time with this. Societies without choices must find it peculiar when we choose not to exercise a freedom that they do not have themselves and very much wish they did. Such is the nature of freedom.
I think we all have felt at some time in our life, in some way, the feeling of not being free. Even as a child, if you were held down against your will, you know the feeling of desperation, of longing to be free. When deprived of it, we will fight for freedom as fervently as we struggle for air to breathe.
Because we are a free society, we often recognize this desperation in others. We have choice as individuals; therefore we can quickly comprehend when another individual is deprived of their personal freedom. I believe this is one reason that Americans respond so passionately to disasters and reach out so generously to the victims. We can see the rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness being ripped from the victims of tragedies, and we react empathetically. Furthermore, we respond strongly because our society allows us to. We are able to make decisions on our own; we are able to create organizations that give aid. We are free to treat others with respect and dignity. It is the way our free society is structured.
Another reason that Americans respond quickly and actively to disasters is this: on the flip side of every right is a responsibility. When tragedy strikes, Americans will put aside petty differences and help others. It doesn’t matter the race or political affiliation. It doesn’t matter if it is in this country or not. We are free, so it is our responsibility.
Our strength as a nation and a populace stems from our willingness to act from our freedom, which is the exercising of our rights and embracing our responsibilities. Thomas Macaulay, British historian and politician wrote this: "Many politicians are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story who resolved not to go into the water till he had learned to swim."
As we engage freedom through the dedicated implementation of our rights and responsibilities, we grow stronger as a nation and as an individual. We may not always make the right decisions; we may even choose not to act at all. But it is through practice that freedom finds wings. So dialogue continues, and we make progress.
There are different ways of looking at freedom. One is that freedoms can only be taken away by fellow human beings. People who live by this definition live a life of trying to stop other people from taking away their freedoms; they spend their lives on the defense, reacting, plotting, always on the lookout for offenses. Living by this philosophy requires the reeducation of others so that they will change their behavior.
Another perspective is to think that all freedom is self-liberation. These people are engaged in bettering themselves, learning to rise above situations so that they are not affected in mind and attitude. They are trying to gain freedom by releasing their desire to control circumstances and other people.
I believe the freedom that Christ offers us is a combination of those two ideas: know the truth, and the truth will set you free. He was not beyond turning over a few tables when that would lead to educating others and changing behaviors. Yet, one of the powerful lessons he taught was on the cross: not my will, but Your will be done. This was not an attitude of resignation, but one of rising above, releasing any personal yoke and surmounting the situation.
In Galatians 5:13 we read: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
Great Bible verse. It tells us we are free and at the same time we have a responsibility to love and serve our neighbor.
So, however you celebrate Independence Day on Thursday, know that Christ is waiting patiently to express through your actions, your decisions, your words … through you, and your practice, and is ready to lift you to the heights of freedom.