It’s ninth grade American History class, and we’re studying The Civil War…
One of the first things our teacher taught us about the Civil War was that it wasn’t fought over slavery… It was fought over freedom, he said.
And when the Civil War unit was completed, we had our choice at assignments: we could write a long paper about the meaning of freedom; or, we could memorize the Gettysburg Address, recite it in front of the class, and write a short paper on the meaning of freedom.
I took the option to recite the Address—because I didn’t think it would be any easier to write ten pages about meaning of freedom. That question’s hard enough to answer even as an adult.
What is freedom? Is freedom the ability to get everything your heart desires, with no obstacles and interferences? To get “all you can eat at the buffet of life?” Or is freedom something else, something altogether different?
As Christians, our understanding of freedom comes from the freedom that is given to us by Jesus Christ: the freedom from slavery to deadly sin.
Being slaves to sin means that sin controls and determines everything we say and do. Even when we try and do good, we do evil. There is nothing WE can do to free ourselves from its control. What’s worse is that sin will ultimately destroy us, so that we are forever cut off from the God who created us. What a dreadful state of being this is: living as a slave of death, only to be destroyed by death.
Jesus changed all that, that deadly sin would not have dominating control over you. Even though there’s nothing we ever did to deserve it, Jesus redeemed you.
He took your place, to die the death you deserved—and by rising from the dead, he broke the chains of deadly sin for good. Now, you are bound to God; and you will live forever because of what Jesus does for you. That is freedom—you are a freed slave. There’s nothing that you must do; no demands you must satisfy to secure eternal life for yourself. It’s all given to you as a gift. You’re a child of God now.
With this good news comes, though, a stern warning: do not submit again to a yoke of slavery… That’s the nature of freedom: we can choose. The imprisonment to sin is gone, but the opportunity to sin remains—and how else does sin manifest itself but as the opportunity for self-indulgence?
And what else is self-indulgence, but doing everything in your power to satisfy all your heart’s desires; getting all you can eat at the buffet of life?
One-by-one, Paul lists the indulgences through which deadly sin manifests itself in us. I’ll spare you reading them all, but we indulge in these because doing so makes us feel good. We can gratify ourselves in the moment; have fun; “enjoy life,” look good before others, and feel good about ourselves. But what do you think would happen if every person exercised “freedom” to have it all, and be it all? Can you imagine what life would be like, if it was “every person for themselves?”
We can’t all have it all… The more we try, the worse life will become for everyone—and true freedom will elude us…
And on this week that we celebrate our nation’s independence; our FREEDOM; we as Americans and Christians need to remember that freedom is a gift we receive from God that we, in turn, share with each other.
Our freedom from sin’s deadly control is a gift from God, made possible only by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ…
Our freedom as Americans is a gift from God, made possible only by those who gave of themselves on our behalf, and those who still do… In other words, made possible by those who serve…
And if this nation is to have any kind of a future; if our Christian faith is to have any kind of a future, it is up to us to exercise our freedom not merely for our own sake, but for others.
We must become as slaves to one another in love. This is ultimately what it means to live as a child of God: that we, who have been made free by grace would, in turn, use our freedom to CHOOSE to live as slaves to our neighbors. We don’t need to be burdened by our own self-interest, because God has our needs at heart. We can become living signs of the grace given to us by God in the grace we show towards others. We use our freedom to give of ourselves for our neighbor’s sake.
And how do we do this but in love, patience, generosity, gentleness, self-control…?
In these discouraging times, it is not beyond us to build communities of peace and healing. For there are so many who know no sense of freedom at all, because they are imprisoned by sickness and disease; by poverty and need; by loneliness and isolation; by hopelessness and unbelief. But we who have been made free have the power to set others free. What better way to enjoy our gift of freedom than to set others free?
Living as a slave to our neighbors may sound so daunting as to be almost repulsive, but why should it be? Christ gave his life to free you from sin. Your faithful God has your best needs at heart. And Jesus commands us to walk in love because this is how we discover true joy and meaning in life, because a good life is not measured in how much you get, but by what you give. God made you beautiful to be beautiful to others. God made you free to set others free. If we delight to be as slaves to one another, we shall all, in turn, delight in God’s gift of life; to overcome all our problems, to heal, and to live in joy. By grace we are saved; by grace we shall live. This is true freedom.