Freedom is certainly what we’ve been celebrating in the United States these past few days. We look back to a time when people were much less free, living under the control of a king.
They were not free to speak as they wished. They were not free to worship as they wished. They did not have the influence they thought they should have in their government, particularly when the king and his men were deciding to tax them.
So, people in what is now the eastern edge of the United States revolted. During the course of the war, about 376,000 of them actually valued freedom enough to take up arms and risk dying to secure freedom for themselves, their families and their neighbors. More than 23,000 of them did die from death or disease during the war.
This idea of freedom certainly stirs people’s hearts, motivating them to great acts. Our Bible reading today shows us the deepest source of freedom. Freedom is a gift from God, expressed through Jesus Christ.
Galatians 5:1: For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Why did Christ die on the cross for our sins? Here’s one way to understand the atonement: We were trapped, bound tight, in slavery to Satan because of sin. When Christ died on the cross, he broke the chains. “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free … .”
Why would any slave return to the master once set free? Simple. We sometimes will trade freedom for what seems familiar.
In the laws the Jews lived under, there even was provision made for a slave who was freed but preferred to continue to live under his master’s control. (We’re talking about slaves who were what we might call indentured servants, existing as someone else’s property for a limited time rather than a lifetime.) If the slave expressed a desire to remain, the master would put the slave against the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl, marking the slave as the master’s property for a lifetime.
Now, in Old Testament times, a slave might have good reason to do this. Maybe his wife and children were still slaves and he wanted to be with them. Maybe he feared starving if he could not find regular work.
There is no good reason to re-submit ourselves to Satan’s slavery, however. There is nothing to be gained. There is everything to be lost, including the most precious gain of all through Christ, eternal life. We must never let the sins that may seem comfortable, familiar and even beautiful in this life to cost us our freedom.
Galatians 5:13-15: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”
The gift of freedom carries with it great responsibility. We voluntarily begin to serve one another, not because of some mandate of the law, but because we now know the power of love. We begin to live and love as Christ lived and loved, and sometimes, that means living sacrificially, knowing even the loss of our lives in this world means nothing when we consider eternity with Christ and one another.
Galatians 5:16-21: Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Providentially, we are not in this life alone. Not only are we set free, God becomes our companion as his Holy Spirit works within us. We are elevated, lifted above those actions that previously bound us and pleased our old master Satan.
Yes, our earthly selves, our flesh, will continue to chafe at the presence of the Spirit and pull us in the wrong direction. Trust what God whispers to us within, knowing his Spirit works to change us through Scripture and prayer.
Galatians 5:22-25: By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Now, here’s the really good news. When we let God work alongside us and within us, this freedom we have gained is never a chore. Instead, we experience a life of constant reward. Who would not want the fruit of the Spirit in their lives?
We taste this fruit occasionally and know we want more. I doubt if any of us experience or express the fruit of the Spirit all the time. I know in just the past week I would have liked to have better exhibited God’s Spirit to those around me. But I also knew immediately what I was lacking when I exhibited other, poisonous fruits.
If we are a Christian nation, what is true individually should also be true corporately. A Christian nation will show godly fruit more often than not. In particular, our leaders will show these traits most of the time. I will leave it up to you to decide whether we as a nation do enough to show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Once we see such evidence of God’s presence expressed nationwide, we will know freedom, freedom rooted in God, has established itself deeply. There will be a taste of heaven on earth, and we as a people will shine as a light for all the world.
An even greater revolution than the one in 1776 will have occurred.