Today, America celebrates our freedom, and rightly so: it’s worth celebrating. Yet on this day, we would do well to remember that freedom is more than speaking, assembling, worshiping, and bearing arms. It has a cost. It’s not a license. It’s offensive.
Freedom has a cost
Freedom is never free. When we think of the cost of our freedom, many of us think of those who have fought for it. My family lives in a community with a strong military presence, so the everyday price paid by those who defend our country is never far from our minds: families separated by thousands of miles; spouses and parents and siblings for whom gnawing dread is a permanent companion, scars both mental and physical that never fully heal.
Yet even so, many of us aren’t actually free, for there are other kinds of bondage than political. We are bound to past mistakes, to toxic relationships, to self-destructive behaviors, to addictions of every kind.
From these demons, too, there is a way to be free; there is also one who has paid the cost of that 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.
- Through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
- So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
Freedom isn’t license
True freedom is limited in all kinds of ways, from preventing infringement on the freedoms of others to the Janis Joplin lament that “freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose“. Those who make the daily sacrifices of marriage and parenthood know only too well how freedom, voluntarily surrendered in love, can be to our good. The self-sacrifice of our freedoms in love is very near to the heart of the Christian message:
- Do you think I cannot call on my Father for twelve legions of angels to save me? But then how would the Scriptures be fulfilled?
- “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
- Christ, being in very nature God, he did not use it to his own advantage, but made himself nothing.
Freedom is offensive
People like to mind the way that other people live. Always have. We want other people to act and think as we do; disagreement can cause interpersonal friction, so in one sense, it can seem easier if everyone is the same. Yet if we do not want to be told how to live and what to think, we must grant others that same grace. Scripture bears it out:
- By the same measure you use, it will be measured to you.
- Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?
- Do unto others as you would have done to you.
As Christians, we must not be offended when others exercise the same freedoms we enjoy. We must not confuse our national freedoms in the Constitution with our God-given freedoms in love.
When we say destructive words that damage others, we must not take refuge in “freedom of speech”.
When we advocate violence against our enemies in defiance of scripture, we must not take refuge in “the right to bear arms”.
When we become the oppressors who would deny the freedoms of others, we must not take refuge in “freedom of religion”.
In all things, we must be more like Christ. We are not acting in his name when we insist on our own rights. We would do much better to seek ways we can sacrifice for the good of others, and especially those who offend us most.