It happened in some places starting Friday, and will continue in many places through next weekend. Folks around this country will gather together, family and friends, to celebrate our nation’s independence. There will be picnics, trips to the pool, the lake, or the beach. Some will watch fireworks or set off their own. Some communities will have parades, while others will have concerts, military drills, or BBQ cook-offs. We do all of this as we celebrate as our nations celebrates its freedom from England’s tyranny. With that in mind, I spent two days this past week asking the question, “When you hear or read the word “Freedom,” what is the first thing that comes to mind?”.
Some of the responses I received were:
· Fourth of July
· The Revolutionary War
· The Liberty Bell
· Celebrating all those who fought for our freedom
· Self Determination
· The opportunity to pursue your own course in life, make your own choices, and gladly take responsibility for both
· Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln
· The right to live according to my beliefs and the sacrifice of others who assure me this right
· Free to keep paying more and more [taxes]…
· Independence Day by Martina McBride
· Sacrifice of Soldiers and their families
· Responsibility to use it wisely…
As noticed, some answers appear more than once and that is because they were offered up by more than once person…among the multiple nominations were “war,” “soldiers,” and “choices.” These three come to mind quite readily as we near the 4th of July and celebrations are held to honor the freedom so hard fought and won in our nation, especially during an election year where issues of freedom, choice, and responsibility are used repeatedly by political candidates.
Yet, as precious as the freedom we have in this nation is, there is a freedom that was won for us long before 1776, and on soil that was nowhere close to the Americas. That freedom was won for us around the year 30, on a hill called Golgotha.
Some of the respondents must have had this in mind as they offered up answers such as:
· Setting the captives free
· It’s not free
· Free to make choices
· The Cross
· Freedom in Christ’s love
· Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
· Having a free heart; living peacefully, and not having any worries or burden laid upon the soul, simply being free.
Despite the fact that I categorized the responses as I did, there were many from the first group that could fit in here…including self-determination, choices, honor, the responsibility to use it wisely, and even war.
It was definitely this freedom victory that Paul had in mind as he wrote to the Galatians. Paul, in other letters, makes reference to the spiritual warfare in which Christ has claimed final victory. He was the only soldier that went to that war, and as He sacrificed His life for us, Jesus set us free. The question that Paul puts to us, though, is the issue of what we are going to do with the freedom that through God’s grace, Jesus has offered to us. Paul questions the Galatians, and us, on whether or not we will use the freedom that God has given us with honor and responsibly.
I guess the best place to start is the type of freedom that Christ has won for us. The freedom at issue, my brothers and sisters, was the fact that we were slaves to sin. Before Christ came into the picture, we had no choice but to sin. God had set His Law before His people, yet they could not, and we cannot, achieve living by that Law on our own, we would always and constantly fall short---sometimes in little ways, sometimes in great ways. Nothing we could do would be entirely and completely free from sin. Even when we tried to do what was right so that we would have God’s favor, it was not done freely and without sin, it was done out of self-interest and self-preservation…we did not want to get struck down by being disobedient. We wanted to obey God so that God would reward us with a good life and with plenty…in doing so, we were not living for God, but living for ourselves.
Jesus, God’s Son—meaning actually God Himself, came and achieved that which none of us could do…He lived a completely selfless life for God. As a result, we nailed Him to a cross. Yet, through what we meant for harm, God used for good. On that cross, Jesus took upon himself all our sin and our bondage to sin, and died the death that each of us deserved. Through His suffering and sacrifice, He gave us freedom--the freedom to be free from sin and the need to sin, and the freedom to live wholly and completely for God.
Paul words to the Galatians imply the truth, though. The freedom that Christ so dearly won for us gives us freedom, but with that freedom comes choice. Because we are free, we do not have to live for God, we can continue in our relationship with sin and choose to enter back into that slavery. This is what raises Paul’s ire…how could we mock what Christ has done by entering back into the sin that he died to free us from.
We, especially any of our military here, understand that ire. Men and women who have risked their lives for the freedom that we enjoy in the United States, or the families of those who actually gave their very lives, cringe and grow angry as they watch people use that freedom to stage protest marches at a soldier’s funeral, burn flags, or turn their backs on a homeless veteran. Those images hurt and pain us. We understand Paul’s frustration, don’t we?
Paul is frustrated because all too often the actions of the Galatians, and our actions, in our freedom are that we enter back into sin, and effectively spit on Christ’s cross. I remember how worked up so many of us got years ago when a so-called artist offered as his art a crucifix soaking in urine—claiming freedom of expression. It infuriated so many Christians. However, we aren’t far beyond doing that ourselves when we slip back into the slavery. How do we fall back into sin—how do we spit or worse on the cross of Christ?
Hear again the plea from Paul: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence…do not gratify the desires of the flesh…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.”
When we engage in sexual immorality—which is any sexual activity outside the confines of a husband and wife relationship, we are spitting on the cross; when we place other things ahead of God, our jobs, money, our recreation, our families, and make idols out of them, we are spitting on the cross; when we trust in horoscopes and luck, we are spitting on the cross; when we practice hostility and build barriers, arguing and bickering, we are spitting on the cross; when we want what others have as opposed to what God has given us, we are spitting on the cross; when we get drunk or high, we are spitting on the cross. When we do any of these things, we enter back into sin with total disregard for the sacrifice Christ made for us.
What are we supposed to do then? Paul calls us to live responsibly into the freedom that Christ has won for us. Paul says that we honor Jesus’ sacrifice by “living by the Spirit.” When we exercise our freedom of choice to let our lives be marked by “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” when we place God and those around us ahead of ourselves, then we truly honor Christ and the freedom to live for God.
My brothers and sisters, God’s grace has given us true freedom and today we remember the dear price paid for that freedom. Just as many will celebrate the freedom of our nation with some type of meal this week, today we will celebrate the freedom that God has given us with a meal. In this sacred meal, we remember the sacrifice of God’s only Son, the breaking of his body and the shedding of his blood to free us from sin. As we come forward to receive this meal and celebrate our freedom, let us vow that Christ may not have died in vain, as we seek to live completely and wholly for Him in true Freedom.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.