The Fourth of July is a day when we, as Americans, collectively gather to reflect on the history of our great nation by launching thousands of explosives into the air. It’s also the day when we commemorate the founding fathers of our country signing into existence the document that created a nation and shook the greatest empire of the world to its foundations. That document was the Declaration of Independence—the first shot fired in a revolution, a line drawn on the front lines of a battle, and our perennial excuse for firing concoctions of gunpowder and sulfur into the stratosphere.
Those who penned their names on that infamous document all those years ago, however, did not do so in the hopes that their act of high treason against the British Empire would one day culminate in pyrotechnic displays and backyard barbecues. It was a far more pressing dream that led these men to sign their own death warrants: their desire for freedom.
That’s what the Declaration was—a severing of bonds between the British monarchy and the American leaders who had grown tired of what they believed to be its misrule. Almost half of the document is a laundry list of the “repeated injuries and usurpations” of Britain’s King George III, reasons which had convinced many colonists they could no longer remain under his leadership. And so every year on Independence Day, we are reminded as a nation of the actions of those brave men as they put their very lives on the line in support of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”—that is to say, in support of freedom.
What is freedom, anyway?
Merriam-Webster defines freedom as “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.” It’s being able to do what you want when you want, and it’s the pinnacle of most modern-day philosophies. You won’t find a lot of people who are going to seriously debate freedom as undesirable—in most ways of thinking, complete freedom is the ideal toward which we all ought to be striving.
But is it? Is complete freedom from any sort of restraint a good thing? Many in the world seem to think so, but the word of God has a different approach to the subject.
A lesson from the garden
Our story begins, as it so often does, in a garden with a man, a woman, God, and a snake. You know the story; it’s the opening scene of the Bible. Satan convinces Eve to disobey God, Adam follows suit, and the next 6,000 years are more or less downhill from there. But let’s take a look at the actual words of that serpent. In persuading Eve to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Satan tantalizes, “God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). The Hebrew word yada, translated here as “knowing,” has some nuance in its meaning. It’s conceivable (and very much in line with Satan’s character) that our adversary wasn’t just telling Eve that she would acquire knowledge of good and evil—but instead that she, like God, would be able to distinguish between and determine the boundaries between good and bad. Satan’s offer wasn’t exclusively of knowledge. It was of freedom—the freedom to decide between right and wrong.
Sound familiar? Kind of like the history of mankind for the past six millennia, maybe? Take a look at the entirety of recorded history and see if it isn’t a series of train wrecks of humanity setting forward its own, personalized definitions of right and wrong, all stitched together like some sort of nightmare patchwork quilt. Adam and Eve’s first act of discernment was to observe their nakedness and decide for themselves it was wrong (Genesis 3:7). God had created the first husband and the first wife in a state of nakedness, but after taking discernment into their own hands, they redefined what God had called good.
The following chapters paint a sad vignette of the beginning of human history. Adam and Eve are evicted from Eden, the first child of the human race becomes the murderer of his brother, and after a handful of generations, “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (Genesis 6:5-6). Adam and Eve had grasped at freedom—at the cost of paradise.
One flood and a string of decimated empires later, the human condition remains remarkably unchanged.
The freedom conundrum
So the lesson to draw from this must be that seeking after freedom is a terrible mistake that only yields disaster, right? Actually, no. A broader look at the Bible’s pages reveals that we as Christians must seek freedom if we intend to follow Christ. The end result of that freedom depends on what kind of freedom we’re seeking. The kind of freedom Adam, Eve, and the vast majority of the world seek after—well, if you’re wondering where that leads, pick up a newspaper. Turn on the TV. Take a look at what’s going on in the world around you. A myriad of belief systems, each in conflict with each other (and often themselves), each claiming the freedom to redefine the borders of good and evil, wrong and right. If that kind of piecemealed spiral into utter chaos is appealing to you, then, uh, I guess carry on and best of luck. It hasn’t ended well for the rest of humanity, but sure, maybe your descent into a morally gray wasteland won’t be a total disaster.
For the rest of us, the question to be asking is, “Freedom from what?” That’s what sets apart the different kinds of freedom. We know freedom is defined by a lack of limitations, so what limitations are you looking to get rid of? If you’re looking to wipe the slate clean and remove every conceivable restraint and guideline from your life, then may I kindly redirect you to the final sentence of the preceding paragraph. It just doesn’t work like that; you can’t erase all the rules and expect stupid decisions not to collapse on you like so many tons of brick.
The apostle Paul talks about two important kinds of freedom in his epistle to the Romans—one of them vital to growing in Godly character, the other a key ingredient in making your life miserable. He writes:
Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? … just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 6:16, 19-23).
There are, in effect, two mutually exclusive freedoms to choose from here—and the only way to be free of one is in servitude to the other. Freedom from righteousness produces a certain kind of fruit, and freedom from sin produces another. We are free from righteousness when we commit ourselves to “sin leading to death,” and we are told that “sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4, King James Version). The fruits we produce while transgressing God’s law will invariably lead to our own destruction. On the contrary, we are free from sin when we commit ourselves to righteousness—that is, the continual observance of God’s “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25) and calling upon Christ’s sacrifice in repentance when (not if) we fall short.
Seeking true freedom
Over 230 years ago, the forefathers of America believed it necessary to put their lives in jeopardy in pursuit of freedom by declaring their independence from Britain. Today, you and I must take a stand by declaring our independence from sin on a regular basis, all the while declaring our dependence on the God who cleanses us from it.
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.
The world has chosen freedom from righteousness, and every day humanity reaps the fruit of that decision. The human race is in total disrepair and falling to pieces at an alarming rate. Unspeakable horrors are committed on a daily basis and no one seems able to stop them. But one day, maybe a day not too far from now, there will come a time when the world finally understands the fruit of sin and chooses instead to produce the fruit of righteousness. There will come a time when:
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea.
You and I can be a part of that incredible tomorrow by seeking the right kind of freedom today.
Until next time,