We kicked off our new series, Under God, this Independence Day weekend learning about Freedom. Here's some of what we covered...
Many of you will recognize the phrase “Under God” as the one added to the US Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. President Eisenhower thought this was a good idea because of the rise of The Communist threat at the time. Since then, the pledge has been recited in school, and most of us are very aware of it. Though lately, in some parts of our country, it is not recited as often. This series will look at how we live our lives “Under God.” It is not an attempt to say anything about how our country should or shouldn’t operate. But, I thought that if each of us individually strived to live “Under God,” then maybe we would see the changes in our communities that we’d like to see, regardless of whether or not this is a “Christian Nation.”
First up, what does it mean to have Freedom Under God? What does it mean to be free? Does it mean your the one in charge or in control? Probably not, if you're seriously committed to following Jesus, and yet Jesus says he "sets you free." How are you "free" when you are still "Under God" or under rules, laws, authorities and covenants? What does it mean to be free? The people listening to Jesus say these words in John 8 had to learn too because their first response was "What do you mean "set free"? Of course we're free, we've never been slaves of anyone!" Many of us say the same thing: "Of course I'm free! I live in a free country, The United States of America."
Why is this important? Because Relationships. While many of us may like being alone, we were not made to be lonely. We need human interaction. In order for us to operate freely without severely harming others, we need authorities, rules, laws, and covenants. Even if you’re not a Christian who follows Jesus, there’s still this question of “What does it really mean to be free?” It can’t be that each individual is free to do whatever. Because then there would be a lot of harm done to others, and other people would lose their freedom to do what someone else wants. In order for society to function, there must be some sort of authority, or agreed upon way to live together, a covenant. It's our social agreement, our morals and ethics, that we all agree to live by together. We follow these and are still free because it serves a greater good of peace and love. There are values that drive us more than individual liberty and personal freedom.
Jesus and The New Testament points us in this direction. We are encouraged to turn away from Sin (separation from God, harmful behaviors) and turn towards Love. We often get hung up on this idea of personal freedom because we like to have this sense that I am in control of my life. Then, we run into problems when things happen that are outside of our control, and we complain that we are now victims of someone or something taking away our freedom/control. As long as we are looking to obey something that is outside of us, then we will run into this time and time and time again. And we will complain about government, frivolous laws, speed traps, and the like. Or, we get stuck in other things and are the victims of our own choices, that we find a way to blame on others. Examples of this would be addictive behaviors and other bad habits. It was our choice, but we find a way to put responsibility somewhere else. And so we become "slaves to sin," separated from God, God's Kingdom, and the things of God (things like Peace, Love, Healing, Restoration, Rest).
To often, we think Obedience to something or someone is opposed to Freedom, but here is what sets Christianity and the Jesus Way apart. God says "I will put my Spirit within you." Through Christ, God places God's Law/Word/Teaching within You. So, becoming obedient to God is not an outside force imposed on you. Rather, following Jesus is an inward transformation of your heart and mind that then changes your life. You become free because all of the Law is summed up in this: "love one another as you love yourself," The Golden Rule. Even non-Christians know that one! When you are overflowing with the Love of Christ, you can't help but be obedient to God.
Paul sums it up well in Galatians chapter five. Specifically, he's been talking about making Gentiles (non-Jews) follow the Jewish Covenantal Laws (circumcision) in order to be Jesus Followers (Christians). I think it applies more generally to help us understand Freedom Under God. He says "For freedom, Christ has set you free," (verse 1) and "You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don't let this freedom be a an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love. All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (verses 13 & 14) He then encourages readers to follow The Spirit for "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against things like this." (verses 22 & 23)
I don't know what has you stuck, or what's holding you back, and you can't seem to make progress in your life. But, I don know the promise of Jesus Christ, that there is freedom, and the truth will set you free. You may not even know how you are being deceived, or you may not know that you're not truly free. But following Jesus directs us, calls us, guides us, to the truth and freedom. Let the Spirit take over and guide you, and you will see that true freedom brings more "Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." All things that you're really longing for more of, but haven't found yet. Find them in Jesus.