A Twilight Musing
As on every July 4, we heard a lot earlier this week about “freedom,” which in the context of the holiday refers to the political freedom gained by the American colonies breaking away from an oppressive British government. The justification for that action was eloquently and nobly expreessed by a Declaration of Independence. However, “freedom” is often used more for its emotive content than its precise definition. It frequently embodies a self-congratulatory attitude, as in identifying the U. S. as one of the nations of “the Free World.” The term also commonly refers to the rights of individuals to do as they wish, being under no legal restrictions in making their choices, as in the popular catch-phrase, “a woman’s right to choose,” referring to abortion. However, as the founders of our republic understood, the exercise of freedom requites a foundation of moral law.
The Bible has a great many references to freedom, but they are not primarily (and sometimes not at all) concerned with political or civil freedoms. In fact, the concepts they convey are often counterintuitive to human reason, for, particularly in the New Testament, they are presenting the paradox of people who are apparently politically or personally free being in bondage, while the freedom that God wants to give His people is spoken of as slavery. In fact, our fallen human condition means that we are enslaved in our natural state, and that our only deliverance from that bondage is to become slaves to Christ:
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. (Rom 6:17-22)
This is worlds away from the idea of “freedom” as something we have a right to. Jesus made this distinction clear when he imparted His radical truth to the Jewish leaders:
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." They answered him, "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, 'You will become free'?" Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
Freedom, Jesus tells them, is not something they can claim as a part of their “rights” as Israelites, children of Abraham. Rather, it is something granted by the Son of God, completely His to give or withhold. As Paul says, the only thing we fallen humans can claim as our “right” is death, whereas “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
It’s appropriate to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of our “free” country, with its constitutionally defined Bill of Rights. But no amount of political or personal freedom in the society of mankind can bring us the freedom that we most need, the God-defined and grace-granted freedom “from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). Let us principally rejoice in that which makes us “free indeed.”