Today is Independence Day, the day we celebrate the birth of a nation dedicated to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I’ve been mulling over just what that means, particularly in an age where our liberties seem to be diminished more and more. We read that we’re under surveillance by our own government, we trade our rights for an illusion of safety, and our elected politicians don’t obey the laws they’re sworn to uphold.
No matter what your political leanings might be, most of us would agree that our nation is not doing well. It’s not just the continuing series of scandals. Surveys show that the vast majority of Americans (75% in a recent Gallup poll) are dissatisfied with the United States. Once almost unthinkable, it’s now easy to imagine that we can lose the freedoms we’ve often taken for granted in the past.
At the time of Jesus, the Roman Empire dominated the lands surrounding the Mediterranean. While it provided benefits—rule by law, safer roads, etc.—it was still a totalitarian government ruled by a man worshiped as God. We think we have problems?
Jesus, the disciples, Paul—they all lived without the liberties we enjoy here. Yet, the Bible is full of references to freedom. Clearly they weren’t talking about political freedom. Nor did they mean what our culture defines as personal freedom—the license to do whatever we want, whenever we want to.
What does Biblical freedom mean? When Jesus started his ministry, he quoted Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim … freedom for the prisoners…” (Luke 4:18). What prisoners were these?
In Galatians 5:1, Paul wrote what is probably the best known verse on freedom: “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.” Were the new Christians all once slaves?
In Galatians 5:13, Paul goes on to warn the church not to use their freedom to “indulge the flesh.” This clearly rules out the “Don’t tell me no; you’re not the boss of me!” mentality so prevalent today. Peter goes a step: “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.” (1 Peter 2:16) So what kind of freedom are we talking about?
It’s the freedom of the Gospel.
The Jews had a set of laws they had to follow perfectly in order to be good enough for God. Of course, it was impossible. Rather than saving anyone, the Law was a huge burden, pointing out their sin. In a very real sense, the Jews were prisoners of Satan, slaves to the Law. (I should note that because of Jesus’ death, anyone could be saved by faith, even in Old Testament times. Romans 4 makes that very clear.)
But Jesus lived a perfect life on our behalf. We are now free from having to obey the Law. We can have a relationship with God on the basis of grace. That’s why Paul is able to say in Ephesians 3:12—“In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”
It’s great that we can celebrate our political freedom with a barbecue and fireworks. We pray that our nation will continue to be the land of the free for many years to come. But while we may someday sadly lose that freedom, no one can ever take away the freedom God has given us through Jesus. We can celebrate that for eternity!