If there is one word (besides COVID) that has taken up space on social media and in print media over the last two years, that word is “freedom.”
As Americans, we hear the word, “freedom,” and tend to see it as the gateway to exercising our rights. And there is no denying that we live in a country and at a time when American rights are the envy of the world. Even despite the viral memes about alleged rights infringements in the wake of COVID attenuation measures, we still live in “the land of the free.”
But, as Christians, I think we often lean into a misplaced understanding of the notion of freedom. Because, for the Christian, freedom is not a license to cater to our desires and, yes, American prerogatives. As Christians, we are blessed with a different kind of freedom–a freedom that has two important and complementary dimensions.
The first of those dimensions is the freedom from sin. In Christ our sins are washed away, and we enjoy newness of life freed from the ultimate penalty of sin: separation from God Himself. I suspect that many of us (I know that I do) often run too quickly past this dimension of our freedom. While celebrating grace, I diminish the price paid by Jesus to secure my place with Him. I don’t necessarily forget that “He who knew no sin, became sin” on my behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21). I’ve just become so familiar with the idea, that the impact of it is underplayed–taken for granted, if you will. I sing the worship songs and read the Psalms of praise, all the while going about the business of pursuing my American rights.
And that leads us to the second dimension of Christian freedom. The freedom from sin is the summons to do those things that God has called us to do. When Jesus was quizzed about the “greatest commandment” (Matthew 22), He reached back into the Old Testament and said that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord…with all our heart, and soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37). He then was quick to add the second greatest commandment: to love our neighbors as ourselves (v.39). Freedom from sin; freedom for the Christian, is the freedom to actualize those two commandments. It is a freedom to be the kind of people who love God with all we have and love all those created in His Image with like intensity.
For the Christian, freedom is the privilege (yes, privilege) of putting the interests of others ahead of ourselves and being a people who willingly surrender our rights in order that others might see God at work in us.
This call to love God and love others is a consistent thread in the Scriptures. If we don’t see that thread, it’s likely because we are so fixated on our American “rights” that the call to serve God and serve others has been muted by other voices in our culture.
I was at a ceremony honoring American veterans the other day. As part of the ceremony those present said the Pledge of Allegiance. A pledge I was grateful to say in the company of those who have served our country.
But as we were saying the Pledge, I reminded myself that (and I say this as a 20-year Air Force veteran) the Pledge we were saying was a second level pledge. Because, as Christians, we have obligated ourselves to the highest Pledge–the Pledge that Jesus leads us to in the Greatest Commandment and its corollary.
Imagine what the world would look like if Christians weren’t the most vocal people shouting about “rights.” Imagine what the world would look like if we really, really did love God with all we have and love our neighbors as ourselves. Imagine if we led the chorus shouting “freedom” meaning freedom to be exemplars of God’s love and grace.
A few years ago I got my first and last tattoo. It is a WWJD tattoo. I’d like to say I got it to be ever so cool (well, maybe), but mostly I got it to replace the wristbands which were forever breaking or getting lost.
Whenever I am moved to shout “Rights!” or “Freedom!” I glance down at my wrist. What would Jesus do? He’d give up every prerogative (Philippians 2); He’d surrender His life on a cross–to provide both freedoms–the freedom from sin and the freedom to serve.