“I AM THE LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2-3)
“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, free at last!” With these words from the great African American spiritual, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ended his “I Have a Dream Speech” in front of 250,000 people at the feet of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.
It was his dream that this great country “live out its creed, that all men are created equal.”
Now, this is not a discussion on civil rights, immigration or any other political issue. That simply is not my purview.
However, King’s words seem to jump off the page this time of the year as we celebrate our independence and constitutional freedom in this great land.
As I think of the freedoms we enjoy, I wonder how he would react to the mindset behind the motto, “it’s a free country”?
This mindset takes the precious freedoms that have been purchased for us by none other than blood and turns them into a permission slip to do and say anything and everything.
It’s as if we have turned the freedom of this nation into a freedom from civility, tact, empathy and being “other-focused.”
Again, it is as if “freedom” has been replaced by and used as “permission”— permission to think of and gratify ourselves first.
A professor once told me that freedom only becomes a problem when people see it as the ultimate goal and pay no mind on how to use it once it’s obtained. I think every parent feels the same way when they hand their 16-year-old child the keys to their car for the first time.
For Christians, this time of the year can take on a double meaning as we focus on our freedoms in this country and also our freedom in Christ Jesus.
Paul writes in Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set you free; stand firm therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
The slavery Paul is talking about is slavery to self, sin, death and hell.
You are free from your slavery to yourself. You no longer need to prove to yourself that you are worthy of God’s grace, because you aren’t and can’t be.
It’s by grace you have been saved through faith, not by your doing. It is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9).
You were dead in your sin and an object of God’s wrath until he redeemed you by sending his son to die for you (Ephesians 2:3, Romans 3:22-23, Galatians 4:4-7).
Moreover, in Christ’s death and resurrection you have been freed from the sting of death, Satan’s attacks and hell as your future home by Jesus claiming you as his own and making his death and resurrection your possession (Romans 6, Colossians 1, Titus 2:14, Hebrews 2:14-15, 1 John 3:8, 1 Peter 1:18-21).
“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, free at last!”
In the above text from Exodus the Lord our God reminded Israel how they were his and he was theirs as he brought them from slavery, bound by the oppression of the Egyptians.
An event that points to the eternal freedom you now experience in Christ is that you are given the status of an heir to the Kingdom of God and the privilege to call God “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6).
Now the question needs to be asked, what are you going to do with this freedom?
Your freedom is not the end of life, it is only the beginning. Are you going to use your freedom to indulge yourself? To go back to the way things where before Christ called you out of the darkness of sin and death?
After all, you’re free.
Free to go back to being defined by your stomach, your lusts, your self-promotion — all at the expense of others.
If you want to use your freedom as permission to again take on a yoke of slavery to self, you’re free to do that.
In fact, left on our own I believe we all would.
Have you ever noticed the things that rob us of life are the things we can do on our own? You can be selfish on your own. Lustful on your own. Even view yourself as “better” on your own.
But if you want to be loving, joyful, peaceful, kind or demonstrate self-control (Galatians 5:22) you have to be part of a community.
For us all, the first relationship in that community must be our relationship to the Lord.
Him coming to us through his word and spirit, moving in us and opening our eyes to his will, then his love overflowing from our hearts into the lives of those around us through our freedom.
I believe it was these gifts of the Spirit described in Galatians 5 that Dr. King Jr. was truly promoting when in that same speech, he described what freedom was for as he declared we will be able to “work together, pray together, struggle together…”
Together, may we see and exercise our freedom, freedom in this country and in Christ, to serve others instead of being enslaved to self.
May we live as one nation under God instead of a nation of individuals who worship themselves as God.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Dr. Patrick Lovejoy is pastor at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Port Angeles. He can be contacted at 360-457-4122 or pastorlovejoy @rocketmail.com.