Fourth of July Weekend is more than just a time for slapping another burger on the grill. It is a time to step back and gratefully acknowledge the American Soldier who gave some of his life or all of it for your Freedom. It's a time to appreciate the freedom to wave a flag, or not as you so desire. It's a time for every American to be grateful that even though our country isn't perfect " there's lots of worse places on the planet. No America isn't perfect but it's my home and I am grateful to God that I live here because I'm free.
American Freedom came at the price of blood and doesn't come with a guarantee. It was Thomas Jefferson who recognized that keeping our political freedom would be a full time job when he said, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." But it is not political freedom alone which we must guard.
Paul writes to the Galatian church in Galatians 5:13:
"For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." What Paul is alluding to is the cost of freedom.
The price of our freedom was the life of Jesus Christ, fortunately it does come with a guarantee; that's why we celebrate communion. But the cost of living in freedom is eternal vigilance.
As Paul's warning in Galatians 5:13 indicates, and as our own experiences bear out it is entirely too easy for our freedom to degenerate into carelessness and sin. "Do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh.…" Be mindful first of your own life.
In Deuteronomy 4:9 we read, "...Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them."
We need to keep watch over our own lives. In the fourth chapter of First Timothy, Paul is going to tell him to "watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers."
There's a twofold cry for vigilance in both of those passages. First Watch yourselves and second watch for others. I might be remiss if I failed to point out how this works in an authority structure with Parents guarding their children and pastors guarding their flock. But the lesson does remain. In Hebrews 10:24, we are called upon to "consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds."
We have a lot of freedom as Christians, and it's more than just freedom from sin and it's punishment. Certainly that's important, but our freedom is greater than that. We're free from the need to follow the law as a means to salvation. We're free of guilt, fear, and rigid – fearful compliance to a law we cannot keep. But we must not let that freedom lure us into sin as if it does not matter.
Now something happens in our minds when I talk about being vigilant. I've learned to discern over the years that Christians are just like everyone else: we're pendulum people. We go from one extreme to the other. So we move from being lax to being legalistic. But that's not what God calls us to; we were called to actively live as free people.
Actively living in freedom
Back up just a few verses from where we started and we arrive at Galatians 5:1 which says, "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery."
Somewhere between verse one and verse thirteen, Paul aggressively denounces both extremes of the pendulum. In verse 13 it's the undisciplined and unchristian embrace of sin and in verse 1 it's the equally unchristian – Pharisaical tendency to cling to the letter of the Law as though the jot and tittle could save you.
What we want instead, is to live not just exist within freedom's boundaries. Adlai Stevenson said, "Freedom is not an ideal… if it means nothing more than freedom to stagnate, to live without dreams, to have no greater aim than a second car and another television set."
Jesus said that he came to bring life to the fullest! But sometimes I wonder just how many of us as Christians are actively living a full and free life.
Sadly a great many Christians have gotten stuck in a loveless relationship with God all we have left is rigid compliance and cowering fear. Or worse yet, we've bought the lie and gone the other way after having allowed worldliness to sneak into our lives little by little until it's firmly entrenched and we don't even know it. Either we've traded or misinterpreted freedom in Christ for something less.
So how do we get back into actively living in freedom?
The first step to get rid of sin.
Rejecting bondage to Sin
In 2 Peter 2:19, Peter is talking about false teachers who promise people freedom, "…while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved."
Romans likewise talks about being in bondage to sin:
Romans 6:16-18 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
Hebrews 12:1 provides the solution; "Lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…" No Christian should have sin running our lives. Through Christ we gain mastery over sin by repentance, confession, and by submitting yourself to God to obey Him. For The Almighty gives grace to the humble.
To live the free and abundant life in Christ, first get rid of sin and second, guard against arbitrary rules.
Rejecting bondage to Legalism
Legalism is an unfortunate catchword which is casually thrown about even when legitimate biblical commands abound. It's not legalistic to demand that no Christian be permitted to browse pornography. Jesus has already said, "Whoever looks at a woman with lust in his heart has already committed adultery with her. "
Nevertheless, we can become entrenched in sinful legalism when we let the rule of law become the defining characteristic of our relationship with God.
Colossians 2:8. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ."
Jesus came however, to set us free from the treadmill of trying to please God through works.
So what have we been set free to? We have been released into relationship rather than rules. If we're focused on relationship " we can learn the law as a means to identifying holiness and living in obedience out of love. If we focus on relationship we won't embrace or even endure sin in our lives because we won't want anything to cloud or relationship with God.
The cost of freedom is the loss of godlessness.
Jesus made you free. How could we go back to being anything less?