“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).
We Americans love a story that captures the joys wrought from bursting the bonds of tyranny and slavery. We are roused to hear William Wallace (played by Mel Gibson) in “Braveheart” cry out “Freedom” before being executed. Or another favorite Mel Gibson movie for the 4th of July, “The Patriot.” Then there is the quintessential “Independence Day” movie overthrowing those pesky aliens.
Of course, it is not just an American tale. Humanity has experienced bondage and oppression (and continues to do so) since Adam brought about the Fall. The cry of the Israelites withering under the hand of Pharoah in Egypt went up to the Lord, “Deliver us!’ And God answered their cry, and through the Moses, delivered them out of the land of slavery! It is why the spirituals of the slaves withering under the hand of chattel slavery found a kinship in those cries.
But what the Israelites soon found was that they were willing to trade one form of slavery for another, quickly bowing the knee to a golden calf in the wilderness, and raising Asherah poles and other pagan monuments in the heart of Israel. They then found themselves under the oppressive hand of Assyrian, and later Babylon.
And even after the return from captivity in Babylon, Judah would suffer at the hands of the Persians, Greeks, and finally the Romans. This would bring the Zealots into Jewish history, working to break the bonds of servitude under Rome. And not just the Zealots – most devout Jews were looking for a Messiah to come who would deliver them from that same bondage.
Consequently, when Messiah did come in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, many did not understand his message. The idea that the real problem in humanity was not oppression from foreign powers, but from the sin that indwelt every heart rubs us wrong. We want freedom, often without a thought to the consequences of that freedom.
I am grateful that our founding fathers recognized that an unrestrained freedom was just another tyranny, maybe the worst kind of tyranny – enslavement to our own devices. That is the purpose of our Constitution. What a profound and beautiful statement is made in the Preamble to the Constitution.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Rule of law and restraint were necessary to promote the general welfare and to secure the blessing of liberty. Even in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence from Britain, our founding fathers recognized the we are prone to evil. Even as they lay out a defense for their revolution, we find these haunting words: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long
established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
So, though we enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the Land of the Free, we must understand that true freedom is not won by conflict or revolt. No amount of civil freedom can free us from the tyranny that is found in our own hearts. We need to know and understand this: “So if the Son sets your free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). This is the freedom that Paul is reminding us we have, freedom from sin, death and hell. So we must be on guard, and “lay aside every wight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2).
The gospel of Jesus Christ is a story of freedom, to be sure, but a freedom constrained by the Cross. As you wave those flags proudly today, remember the price of the true freedom we have in Christ, and be thankful.