July 4 is America’s Independence Day celebration. It is a privilege to be a citizen of the United States of America. To pledge allegiance to our flag is an acknowledgement that we belong to a nation of liberty and justice for all. Liberty, of course, means freedom. We are not enslaved to anyone. We are free from despotism, that is, a ruler who has unlimited power. We are a self-governing nation. We the people decide what we want. It is a good system of government, provided the people are pretty much agreed on their values. Times change and so do people’s values. When values do not agree, so much so that they are opposite, then we face division. People fight for their values and do not like it when opposing values rule. Unfortunately, this can lead to anarchy if citizens can no longer get along. Dictatorship can then become one of the options needed to keep peace. If that happens, people’s sense of freedom will depend on the dictator’s values. People may no longer have a voice. Instead of freedom, a once free nation can end in slavery. Americans have fought wars to protect their freedoms; it seems to many Americans that we are now in another war, and who or what will save us from ourselves?
Americans have fought wars to protect their freedoms; it seems to many Americans that we are now in another war, and who or what will save us from ourselves?
There are many ways to be enslaved. Some slavery is imposed by others. In the Bible, we have the example of Egypt making slaves of the Hebrew people, imposing harsh and cruel forced labor on them. Another example is Joseph, an individual mentioned in the Bible who was taken captive and sold for money to become a slave for another man. Imposed slavery does not give persons freedom to live their lives as they would like, rather, they are forced to serve the wishes of their masters.
Freedom for enslaved people can mean different things. It can mean I am free from those masters that enslave me, free to leave and go live my own life. Or, as I have heard some imprisoned people say, “although I am locked in a cell, I am free.” What do they mean? Perhaps freedom for them means they have been forgiven for their crimes and feel free from guilt and shame. It can mean they have forgiven others who have hurt them and they are free from hatred and feelings of vengeance. Their freedom is an inner peace. Freedom can have different definitions. I once heard a person say, “Freedom is not being free to do whatever you want to do, rather freedom is the power to do what is the right and loving thing to do.” We all know there is no such thing as freedom without boundaries.
“Freedom is not being free to do whatever you want to do, rather freedom is the power to do what is the right and loving thing to do.”
Rather than imposed by others, some kinds of slavery can be self-imposed. An individual sent me this note and gave me permission to share it if it would help someone else. The note said, “Though I believed in God, I was living with addictions. Mine was alcohol, but there are many others we addictive people can be trapped in, it could be greed, gambling, drugs, pornography, anything. Our addictions take us away from the Lord. Our family suffers, our friendships suffer, and our livelihood suffers. Our ability to love and care as Jesus wants is non existent. Our human relationships end with some sort of pain, maybe poor health, no security, lack of self-worth, even mental illness. Why? Because we stop caring for others to live for that which is evil, believing it makes us feel good. Ultimately, we hate what we’ve become. This causes those who love us great pain and suffering”. Persons with addictions know what it is like to be a slave to their addictions.
Jesus came from another world into our world. He said that his kingdom was not of this world, but he came into this world to testify to the truth (John 18:36-37). He said that he was a good shepherd who came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10-11). He came into our world to set enslaved people free. He once said, “If you continue in my word, you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Some said to him, “We have never been enslaved to anyone; how is it that you say we will become free?” Jesus replied, “I tell you truly, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin, so if the son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:31-36). When he frees us from the evils that enslave and destroy us, although we still live in this world and are subject to our nation’s laws (Romans 13:1-7), as members of his realm, we learn to live by his truth and love. In his kingdom, freedom from slavery is a privilege enjoyed by all. Opportunity to become citizens in the kingdom of God means that any day can become Independence Day for you and me.