If my younger self could sum up the Fourth of July, it would be: freedom, fireworks, and food. Except that I was way more focused on the fireworks and food. For those of you outside of the United States, the Fourth of July, or Independence Day, is the day we celebrate America’s independence from England. Typically, this day is celebrated with friends and family, eating hot dogs and hamburgers, and shooting fireworks into the night sky. While I still appreciate the food and fireworks aspect of the Fourth of July, the freedom aspect has become more important to me over the years. And even though I do appreciate America’s freedom, it is the freedom we have as followers of Christ that really impacts me. Though a country’s freedom is great, the freedom we have in Christ is so much greater.
What do you imagine when you think of the word “freedom”? Perhaps you think of someone who was wrongly imprisoned, running away as they make an escape. Or maybe you think of someone sitting in the back of a car with the windows down, lifting their hands up as they zoom forward on the interstate. Or perhaps you think of a student finishing the last day of school, running out the doors and into the delight of summer vacation. The word “freedom” typically carries this idea of a state of bliss where there are no boundaries or barriers. We all long for freedom, because we all enjoy the feeling of being free and having no one holding us back.
Over the years, especially in the West, freedom has become more about being true to yourself and doing what you want no matter what someone says. In a 2017 National Graphic video, some people answered the question “What does freedom mean to you?” by saying, “Freedom is being who you are,” and “Freedom is doing what your heart wants.” While these ideas are nice, they pose a problem. If everyone lives out who they are and does whatever their hearts want, disorder is the result. When people live however they want, they end up infringing on other people’s freedoms. This only creates more chaos as people end up opposing one another and fighting one another over their own free choices and ideas.
How, then, should we think of freedom? I think Tim Keller is right when he says, “Freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones, the liberating restrictions. Those that fit with the reality of our nature and the world produce greater power and scope for our abilities and a deeper joy and fulfillment.” These words teach us that we were created to live within proper restrictions, restrictions that actually enable us to flourish. When we push against these restrictions rather than embrace them, we fail to experience the freedom that God has given us.
Sadly, our sinful nature causes us to want to live without any sense of limitation. In our human pride, we want to do what makes us the most happy and find ourselves frustrated when someone tells us otherwise. But pursuing our idea of freedom instead of living in the freedom God designed us to experience only leads us further into captivity. We end up becoming captive to our own sinful desires, always wanting more and never finding the sense of fulfillment we are searching for.
As James K.A. Smith writes, “Insofar as I keep choosing to try to find that satisfaction in finite, created things–whether it’s sex or adoration or beauty or power–I’m going to be caught in a cycle where I’m more and more disappointed in those things and more and more dependent on those things.”
The reality of what our sin causes us to do would be discouraging without the hope of Christ. Christ’s grace and forgiveness liberate us from the bondage of sin. Not only this, Christ empowers us to live within the liberating restrictions God has made for us. With the gift of the Spirit given to us through Christ, we are able to walk in God’s ways and resist the sin that only makes us captives. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:1, “Christ set us free. Stand firm, then, and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
How do we not submit again to a yoke of slavery? Paul tells us, “I say, then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). As we walk by the Spirit as believers—by obeying the Spirit’s leadings, depending on the Spirit to resist sin, and listening to the Spirit’s convictions—we live as God created us to live. Rather than delighting in sin, we will produce the fruit of the Spirit that leads to not just our own flourishing but the flourishing of others. We will experience the joy, contentment, and life that comes with not walking in our own ways but the Lord’s ways. This is what it means to have true freedom.
Christ gives the freedom each one of us yearns for. Except it’s a freedom we wouldn’t expect. It’s not a freedom that enables us to do whatever we want but to do what we were created to do. It’s not a freedom that allows us to do what our heart desires but what the God who created us desires. While some would still view this type of freedom as restricting, it isn’t until we live how God designed us to live that we realize we are living liberated. So on this Independence Day, let us certainly celebrate and be grateful for the freedom we have as a country. But let us also allow that freedom to point us to the much greater freedom we have in Christ, a freedom that can never be taken away from us.
Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism
James K. A. Smith, On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real–World Spirituality for Restless Hearts
Additional resources on freedom in Christ