Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of?
Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of?
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” II Corinthians 3:17
During the early years of the American Civil War, the Union war effort seemed to be grinding to a halt. In fact, in the early years it was estimated that almost 1/3 of the Union Army was at one time or another, “Absent Without Leave (AWOL)”. An unpopular President Lincoln was asked if he thought God was on “his side.” Lincoln always sharply responded that was not the correct question we should be asking. He said the real question we should be asking is if we are on God’s side. Lincoln’s reply raises an interesting question we should ponder as we approach the July 4th holiday and beyond.
July 4th is the next major holiday on the calendar, in which we celebrate all things American. There are picnics, cookouts, concerts, and fireworks. But one doesn’t have to arrive at the July 4th holiday to see the presence of patriotism in advertising and in celebrations throughout the year.
What are some specific themes associated with the Fourth of July? As we prepare for this holiday, what exactly are we celebrating? We know that the answer is our declaration of freedom back in 1776, but again, what are we celebrating? “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is one slogan I was taught as a youngster in school. At the time I was not able to fully understand or explain what that meant. Today it is obvious that this profound phrase means different things to different people. What does it mean to be “free”? At a railroad hotel where I lodged for many years, a very verbose coworker who lacked boundaries, had a bumper sticker on his locker with the phrase: LET FREEDOM RING. In his case, this implied that freedom is the ability to do whatever I want, whenever I want to do it. Is that what defines the freedom we celebrate? To many, the answer is “yes.” If so, what has become of the demarcation between license and liberty? What about the notion of serving the greater good in our freedom, and what should be our response as Christians? What is the role of a Christian in relation to their country? Despite our love of country, there is a higher calling as Christians; a demand for all Christians to be the voice of conscience, and to offer the gospel of Christ as an alternative to popular culture and trends. This starts with a true understanding of freedom.
How are we free? In the gospel, Jesus’ heated response to the Jewish leaders centered on this question. Arrogantly and ignorantly they claimed that they, based on their lineage of Abraham, had never been slaves to anyone. I always found their response amazing, as they were living under the yoke of Roman occupation. With the Christian gift of freedom comes responsibility; the responsibility to ask the right questions about our nation and its relationship with God. What follows this is action; doing the right things. When was the last time we evaluated Lincoln’s presence in present day America? Sadly, I have seen very few editorials asking such deep questions.
So what is Christian liberty? Several guidelines should be helpful in understanding and applying this liberty. Christian liberty comes from being a follower of Jesus Christ. Christian liberty is not “given” to us by any human organization, document or nation. It is based on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and our allegiance to Him. Christian liberty must never be flaunted or taken advantage of. Many use liberty as license to do anything they want or feel. This does not lead to freedom, but enslavement.
This next point may seem counterintuitive to the understanding and notion that liberty is defined through constant choices or actions. Christian liberty is so deep and freeing that we do not need to exercise it in order to enjoy it. This sounds strange, doesn’t it, but there is a solid truth to that. To paraphrase Paul in Romans 15, we ’ought not please ourselves’ in pursuit of freedom. Each time we face a choice in the exercise of our liberty do we ask ourselves: does this build up the kingdom of Christ? Does this choice build up others? Is this choice liberating ourselves from the flesh, the world and the Devil, or are we becoming slaves to the very choices we have made? If the answer to these questions is not kingdom building, then the proper choice is to avoid that choice! These wrong choices have done more damage to the collective good of society than any other issue. With ambiguously defined terms such as freedom and liberty, we have become enslaved to the notion of serving ourselves. And finally Christian liberty varies for each believer. This is a theme Paul develops extensively in his Epistles. Judging other believers, and expecting them to conform to “your” standard, has no place in the freedom we have in Christ.
All of us need to have a boldness to redefine terms in their true and proper meaning, and live them out accordingly. We are called to be different; we have a message that is different. Do we show it in our freedom? This July 4th, take time to thank God for your freedom in Jesus Christ, and live out the true meaning of freedom.
Yours in Freedom through Christ,