Today we celebrate our freedom as a nation. It was on this day in 1776 that we declared our independence. It was also exactly a year ago today that my family and I returned to the U.S. after spending five years in Florence, Italy. Living in Italy will provide you with a fresh perspective on time. Our house in Florence was over 800 years old. Living in Italy will also give you a new understanding of what rightly accompanies freedom.
Merriam-Webster defines freedom as “the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action.” I would quickly argue that the dictionary is only half right. This definition is incomplete. This definition of freedom only trumpets the notion of personal rights. This definition feeds our “do whatever we please” mentality. This definition holds sway over our republic in the 21st century. But it is not the definition our founding fathers had in mind and it is a definition that places us at the center of the universe. But if we believe that there is something greater, someone greater-who actually created the universe, created each one of us, and brought this nation into being by His sovereign choice, then there is another necessary piece to this definition. The Puritans who came to this country long before we actually became a nation understood this part of freedom as being our necessary responsibilities. To claim personal rights is to necessarily be claimed by personal and corporate responsibilities. Freedom is not simply to do what you want but it is also to do what you ought. This is implicit if we are created beings. If we are not, then by all means, there should be absolutely no constraints on our actions. But if we have created value then we are beholding to that Creator to live in such a way that brings respect and honor to Him.
The Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:1 says, For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. There is a freedom that is greater than national freedom-and that is freedom from slavery to sin and selfishness. Faith in Jesus Christ sets us free from “have to” that only leads to enslaved obligation. Paul goes on to say in verse 13, For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Not only through Christ are we set free from slavery to sin but we are given a new calling-a calling to serve. You can only truly serve others when you are free from preoccupation with self. This is a freedom that contains beautiful spiritual rights and holy, selfless “oughtness.” This kind of selfless love is meant for our neighbor, our community, and our nation. But it only flows from a deep spiritual freedom that can be found in Jesus Christ. Celebrate our nations birthday and contemplate what it truly means to be free!