I hope all of you enjoyed yourselves celebrating Independence Day, having had good times and good food with friends and family. And, of course, I hope you were able to blow some things up! (or at least watch others do so)
As we celebrate this momentous step of declaring our freedom as independent states from Great Britain, it’s fitting to reflect on the nature of freedom and what it’s for. The Declaration of Independence is a beautiful expression of the values of freedom and liberty that Americans hold dear. Our Founding Fathers were expressing the value of a people for self-government in their collective best interests and the right to revolution when government is oppressive. But as we think about freedom at a personal level, I suspect the popular understanding of freedom has become “the ability and right to do what I want.” Freedom means, to many, “I am independent. Autonomous. Master of my own reality.”
If this is true, friends, it reflects a shift in the way “freedom” has been classically understood. Christian philosophy professor, J. P. Mooreland, explains that from the times of the Old Testament throughout most of Western Civilization, the “good life” was defined in terms of living a life of virtue, which was understood has living according to the way God designed us to live. “Freedom” was understood as the power or ability to do what you ought to do; the ability to live the good life. Both of these concepts were God-centered. To use the words of our Catechism, the purpose of life was to glorify God and enjoy him forever. For modern people, the purpose of life has become me-centered: the right to freely and autonomously choose for myself how to be happy.
Similarly, as we think about the freedom that is given us in the Gospel, some modern Christians have the tendency to conclude from the beautiful truth that because “there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1), it doesn’t matter if we continue to sin. In fact, we’re free to go on sinning. As Paul himself said two chapters earlier: “May it never be!” (Rom 6:2). We are not to go on sinning that grace may increase (see Rom 6:1). To conclude this is to miss the point of our Christian freedom. We are not free in the gospel to sin; we are free from sin so that we can live our lives to God.
Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 20 (“On Christian Liberty, and Liberty of Conscience”) explains: “The liberty which Christ has purchased for believers under the Gospel consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, and condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law; and, in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin; from the evil of afflictions, the sting of death, the victory of the grace, and everlasting damnation; as also, in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto Him, not out of slavish fear, but a child-like love and willing mind.”
What a beautiful expression of freedom! Whereas before we were in bondage to sin; now, through the Gospel, we have freedom to obey God out of love as his dearly-loved children. We are free from sin in order to live for the glory of God. May that be increasingly true of each of us as we grow in our understanding and application of the Gospel in our lives!
Steve Sage is our Pastor of Discipleship. He’s old enough now that most of the scars on his body, from his brainless and juvenile fireworks fights with his high school friends, have finally faded.