In this week of celebration of our national independence from tyranny it is appropriate to reflect on the Biblical concepts of freedom, liberty and liberation.
Some would argue that from the days of God’s intervention through the plagues in Egypt and the insistence by Moses to Pharaoh to “let my people go,” God has demonstrated His will that people should be free. But the value that God places on human freedom goes back much further than that.
The origin of religious freedom
It was in the Garden of Eden that God first extended the grace of religious freedom. God gave Adam and Eve the full freedom to believe, trust and obey Him or, to doubt Him. What some call the God-given and God-blessed “freedom of the human will,” is God’s gracious extension of religious freedom to every person in every time and place.
The Bible records that in exercising their religious liberty, Adam and Eve sinned. That first fall has led to all kinds of evil, but God was more interested in our freedom than in conformity to His will. That’s an amazing reality. God loves us enough to let us “have our own head,” as an equestrian might say. No bit in our mouths, no oppressive yoke; in fact, in Christ, the yoke of God is easy and the burden light.
So, real freedom begins in the Garden, and that freedom is then restored on Golgotha. In between is the reality of slavery to sin that cannot be escaped. God, by grace, gives His people the Law as a counselor, tutor and guide, but ultimately there is no effective or lasting righteousness achieved. Atonement was only possible through One perfectly submitted in perfect sacrifice. And only God could do that. So He did.
Freedom is not free and never has been
The all-sufficient atoning sacrifice of Christ for freedom from sin and liberty from the Law is what Paul is talking about in Galatians 5. For liberty we have been liberated; for freedom we have been set free. Nothing need be added to Christ for salvation: no deeds, no circumcision, nothing but Christ. To add anything of our works to Christ is to put ourselves again under the unbearable yoke of slavery to the Law — and ultimately slavery to sin.
When we celebrate our independence as a nation, we do so as those who know and acknowledge that freedom is not free and liberty is not to be turned into license. Our ultimate freedom in Christ, and our national freedoms in the United States of America, are freedoms won through the shedding of blood. We dare not take those freedoms for granted but use the liberty won by others to, in turn, become people who are benefactors of freedom for others.
That calling is to evangelism, declaring the freedom from sin’s penalty and sin’s present power to everyone regardless of the particular circumstance of the government under which they live.
But that calling is also to engage in declaring and living into the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom from tyranny in our own nation. It is for freedom from sin and death that you have been set free in Christ, and it is for freedom and liberty that you have been set free in America.
Threats to religious freedom and to people of Christian conscience are real. Defending the freedoms for which others died is imperative if we hope for future generations to live with the freedoms we enjoy. Even enduring ideas like freedom need defenders, champions and advocates. It is time for the Church to arise and shine that others might know the heritage and hope of the freedoms found only in Jesus Christ and a life governed by Him.
Freedom, within bounds
Current examples of using freedom for license abound as our culture has devolved into moral relativity. We are not accurately described as “one nation under God” as too many pledge their allegiance to identities apart from God. To our own peril we have disconnected the independence as a people from our dependence upon God. Everyone does what is right in his own eyes. We have forgotten that to be liberated from the tyranny of sin also means we joyfully submit to the full authority of the Lord who died that we might live. The yoke of Christ is real – not burdensome, but real. He is our King and our Lord, and He has very real expectations for our lives. That is the nature of discipleship: a person set truly free by Christ and freely enslaved to Christ. So we are called, so let us live.