Not Secular Freedom
I can remember the first time the Fourth of July fell on a Sunday after my conversion to Christianity. We were visiting family in Indiana, and we attended services at a small congregation in the countryside. The church didn’t have a “located preacher”, and the men in the congregation shared the obligation of teaching among themselves. I’m sure they normally do a great job, but on this particular day, they didn’t.
They, like many people across the great country of the United States, got caught up in the patriotic fervor surrounding the Fourth of July. The man who preached that morning gave an impassioned presentation about freedom based on Galatians 5:1. “It was for freedom,” his voice bellowed in the small country church, “that Christ set us free – freedom that we now enjoy in this great country, the best country. The only country in the world that truly has the freedom God desires for all people is the United States.” I still remember his words; the raw emotion and dramatic intonations would have been inspiring if he weren’t so completely and totally wrong. In fact, it is his wrongness that made him memorable.
There have only been a handful of times since I became interested in Christianity that I felt like someone totally missed the boat in a sermon I heard. This was one of the times. Usually, I can find some grain of biblical teaching that I agree with, but not this time. I learned a valuable lesson that day: well-intentioned and intelligent people can make terrible mistakes when it comes to the Bible.
Not Temporal Freedom
The problem with the sermon laid in at least two parts. First, God expects Christians to live and work in any country. There isn’t one in particular that he has planned for them and, from that perspective, there really isn’t one that’s better than any other. Certainly, the United States provides a great deal of freedom, for which I am truly grateful, but that doesn’t mean that God especially favors that nation of the Christians who live in it.
Second, our freedom in Christ isn’t physical, national, or political. Some of the greatest people of faith in the Bible lived under oppressive and harsh governments. Many of the people who became Christians in the first century died or lost everything because of their faith. In both 2015 and 2016, Christians were the most persecuted group of people on the planet. If Christianity were supposed to usher in great physical freedoms, then so far it’s failed pretty dramatically.
Free in Christ
Jesus didn’t die to set us free from tyranny or to grant special rights. He didn’t die to make a better nation or a better government. Jesus died to set us free spiritually and bring us home safely, to live with him, the Father and the Spirit for all eternity. Let’s look briefly at some of the freedom Jesus died to give us.
Freedom from the Law
First, we need to understand that the Law is holy, righteous and good (Romans 7.12). We needed freedom from the Law because of our own failings and weaknesses, not because God’s law had something wrong with it (Romans 8.3). Since we are unable to approach God through good works and commandment keeping, we needed a different way to come to him.
Jesus died to make it possible for all people to be justified by faith in him (Romans 3.26). Christians do not approach God based on the things they do (Romans 3.28). Our identity is not in works of the Law or commandments we keep but in the Savior who redeemed us from our transgressions.
For this reason, it is written, “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15.6). Additionally, “the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations of the earth be blessed'” (Galatians 3.8).
Freedom from Death
Jesus came to destroy the work of Satan (1 John 3.8). Satan is a liar and murderer from the beginning (John 8.44). There is no good in him and there is nothing good about him. Satan’s work is to stand as our adversary, laying traps and snares to steal away our devotion to God.
When we fall into one of the traps that Satan sets, the result is our death (Romans 3.23). Unlike God, who has our best interests at heart in everything he commands, Satan has our death and destruction as his aim. The Devil would have all people “follow the course of this world” with the ultimate aim that all would become “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2.1-3). He does this by ensnaring our hearts and making us captive to sin.
When we choose to follow the path of Satan, we find ourselves deserving death (Romans 6.23). Thankfully, God sent his son, Jesus, so that through him we might have an everlasting life instead. It is through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross that we can have forgiveness, and, with that forgiveness, we can have the hope of eternal life. We escape the death we all deserve because of the life Christ gave on the cross.
Freedom from Sin
Jesus didn’t only come to save us from the results of our sin, death, but he came to save us from sin itself. Only in Christ can we find the strength to overcome and defeat sin in the flesh. We can not only have forgiveness when we sin, we can also have the strength to avoid sins completely.
This idea of overcoming sin can be described in one word: sanctification. This is our complete dedication to God. The Bible makes it clear that we are “being sanctified” (Hebrews 10.14). Every day we should grow closer to God and further from sin; every day we should understand more spiritually and think less physically. We should not only stop sinning but begin to overcome sin in our lives as we grow in these ways.
This power only exists in the Jesus Christ. We cannot overcome sin in the flesh any other way since only Christ was able to completely and fully condemn it (Romans 8.3). The more we become like Jesus and his Spirit fills us, the less we will be tempted to sin.
I don’t mean to say this is an easy process or that we’ll finish it before we die. Thankfully, we aren’t required to fully overcome sin in the flesh – that is why Jesus saved us. God does require us, however, to fight against sin every day. Choose to sin less and to see sin as less desirable. As we come to understand the terrible things sin does, it will become more and more detestable in our sight.
Freedom from Fear
The idea of eternal death is terrifying. The idea of a being capable of inflicting such punishment is even more so. No wonder many people would rather disbelieve in God that face the terrifying thought of judgment (cf Acts 24.25). God is a consuming fire, and it is a fearful thing to fall into his hands (Hebrews 10.31).
Jesus sets us free from this fear. There is no fear for those who have learned about God’s perfect love and are working to bring their own to the same perfection (1 John 4.18). The love that Christ shows and shares with us triumphs over judgment, covers a multitude of sins and makes us welcome in the eternal dwelling place of God (James 2.13, 5.20).
Since God no longer terrifies us, we can approach him reverently as our Father. We come to him boldly, as his children, entering into his presence, and offering him praise for all eternity. Christians who die have nothing to fear, for we are free from all the works and terrors of the Devil. We have nothing to look forward to but the blessing of an eternity spent with the most amazing father in the universe.
A Heavenly Citizenship
I love the United States. I hope God continues allowing this nation to grow and prosper, becoming better every day. However, as much as I love the US, I have a heavenly citizenship I love more. In fact, I’m really just a visitor in the US. Every Christian, no matter where they live, is just a visitor. We have a heavenly home, a heavenly citizenship, and a heavenly hope (Philippians 3.20-21). We can never forget that.
Christians should not live for this world or the country of our birth; we should be those who desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one (Hebrews 11.16). Everything we do should store up spiritual treasure, glorify God, and help others to join us on the way home (Matthew 6.19-21). Our goal isn’t to live well here, but to honor God here so as many people as possible can be with us in heaven.
We will not find true freedom in earthly governments or political groups. Our freedom is only in Christ. He has set us free from so many terrible things and given us such wonderful gifts. Let’s be those who use the gifts of God to bring Christ glory and share the truth of God’s gospel with as many people as possible.