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With Liberty & Justice For All

Week Two: For Freedom Christ has Set Us Free”

We are in our second week of a three-part series called, “With Liberty and Justice for All.” Appropriately, we celebrated the anniversary our nation’s independence from foreign rulership of Great Britain on July 4, 1776 when our founding fathers penned these opening words:

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

After listing a number of reasons these “united states” declare their independence from tyrannical England, the document closes with these words: We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

This Grand Experiment that began on the premise that all people are created equal and entitled to life, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness was certainly NOT without its struggles. It took nearly 8 years to gain our independence from one of the world’s greatest superpowers. Think about it. 13 little colonies protest against a Goliath of a nation, pledging to each other their lives, fortunes, and their sacred honor for the cause of freedom.

They sacrificed everything SO THAT a people could be free to self-govern and create a society OF the people, BY the people, and FOR the people.

Let me interject something right here. Our founding fathers and mothers were flawed people. Many of the ideals proposed in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution were not realized by the framers. I wish they had.

I wish that, when declaring freedom from British oppression in 1776, they would have declared freedom from the oppressive injustice of slavery. But The 13th Amendment to the Bill of Rights was not added to our Constitution until 1865. And it would take another 100 years until true Civil Rights reforms would grant equality to our Black brothers and sisters.

While many framers, such as Jefferson, John and Samuel Adams, as well as Thomas Paine and Alexander Hamilton, opposed slavery, there was still not the political will to win a battle over the issue of slave trade and lose the war of unity as a young nation seeking a new way without foreign oppression. The ideal of liberty for all people—including slaves—would have to remain an “ideal” until a future generation could set the wrong aright.

Sadly, many folks want to erase history because of the sins of our fathers. They prefer to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. I heard a Christian historian recently say that to erase our history is to end our nation. We should know our history—the good and the bad—celebrating the parts where we got it right and condemning the parts that go against the ideal of offering the unalienable rights of every citizen to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Is it not true, my friends, that these grand ideals are fit for every human being, regardless of their country? That’s because they are NOT first and foremost American ideals, they are Bibilical!

Freedom is God’s idea. From creation, God has offered freedom to his children. Listen to Genesis 2:15-17à15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

With freedom and blessing comes choices and responsibility. God offers the entire Garden for our use and benefit…with ONE restriction: violating this command leads to death and separation. Sin then entered the heart of every man, woman, and child to ever be born!

A chronology of man’s rebellion against his creator are well documented in Scripture. The Bible is NOT just the story of Israel, or even Christians, it is humanity’s story! Genesis 7-9 records how the earth had become so corrupt that God would destroy it by a Great Flood, saving righteous Noah and his family and offering a covenant with him never to destroy the earth by water again and marking it with the rainbow as a sign.

Genesis 11 records God’s frustration with the whole world’s desire to make a name for themselves by reaching to the heights of God. We call this the Tower of Babel. So, he confuses their language and scatters the people.

But in Genesis 12 we see God begin to draw the nations and tribes back together again through the creation a special people through the seed of Abraham. He is to be the father of a great nation who are blessed to be a blessing. But they would go through many struggles before they would realize the covenant God made to Abraham. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the twelve tribes of Israel—would find themselves enslaved to the Pharaohs of Egypt for 400 years before God would rescue them.

Redemption is also God’s idea. In Exodus 6:6, listen to what God tells Mosesà “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. (Ex 6:6)

And through Moses, God gave this fledgling nation the Law and the Tabernacle. The Law was a holiness codex by which Israel was to relate to Yahweh, to themselves, and to the foreigner and alien among them. The Tabernacle represented the Presence of Yahweh. Moses and Joshua would meet Yahweh there and reflect His character and holiness to the people. Sacrifices would be offered by Aaron the priest and his descendants in the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) for the sins of Israel. In this way they were free from their sin, at least until they sinned again.

Still, the people grumbled against Yahweh and Moses. They doubted God’s instruction to enter the Promise Land and thus wandered in the wilderness until that generation had died away. They were imprisoned by their own fear. Freedom alluded them because of sin.

At last, Joshua and Caleb led the conquest into Canaan, where they nearly obeyed the commands of God to fully destroy its inhabitants. But close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. As a result, they were under constant temptation to follow the wicked ways of other nations. This led them away from living into their calling to be a light to all the other nations.

They wanted to be like the other nations. They wanted a king. So, God gave them what they asked for in King Saul. But that didn’t work out well. So, God chose a man after his own heart, David the shepherd-boy giant slayer. King David would lead Israel into a time when they followed the Lord more closely than about any other time in history. But even HE was flawed. He sinned against Bathsheba, her husband, Uriah the Hittite (whom he murdered) and most importantly, God. [This proves the point again that we cannot erase the history of a person because of their flaws.]

The longest of all the Psalms, 119, was likely written by King David. Listen to what he says about the value of having and keeping God’s Word: 44I will always obey your law, for ever and ever. 45 I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts. (Ps. 119:44-45) When we know and keep God’s Word we walk in FREEDOM. When we don’t, there is oppression.

After David and is son, Solomon, the nation of Israel was divided and much of their respective histories are stained with the wickedness of their kings, who continually were doing evil in the Lord’s sight. Time and again, they would find themselves being warned by the prophets of their sins and time and again they would fail to keep covenant with Yahweh.

So, the northern tribe was utterly destroyed and the southern tribe of Judah experienced devastation and exile in 587 BC, only to be allowed to rebuild Jerusalem and its walls in 70 years. Still, Israel would always find itself under some form of foreign oppression…just like the colonies of America.

With the judgment warnings of those prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Joel, and the like—also came promises of deliverance and hope. Listen to how Isaiah put it in one of his sermons found in chapter 61: 1The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God… Ever since the Fall, God has been in the process of redeeming his creation from the corruption and death brought about by our sin. That is why God had to send his Son, Jesus Christ, to liberate us from sin and death. Jesus became the fulfillment of Isaiah 61 and he says as much in Luke 4.

And Jesus brings freedom on every level of life. He brings physical healing as a sign of God’s kingdom coming to earth. To the woman who had a blood disorder, He said, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5:34)

Jesus is the Word becoming flesh. And the Word brings freedom. He speaks Truth and IS the way, the truth and the life. 31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Jesus transformed us from slaves to sin and death to sons and daughters of the Most High God. Listen to what Jesus goes on to say in John 8:35à 35 “Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:35)

The apostle Paul put it this way in Acts 13 when he was speaking one day in a synagogue in Antiochà38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:39)

I could go on; but I hope that through this quick walkabout (to borrow an Australian expression) through the Scriptures we can see that liberty is truly God’s idea. He wants us to be free…free from the power and effects of sin…free to worship God in Spirit and truth. As is says in 2 Corinthians 3:17, Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. If we are in Christ, we are free, even if we have struggles in this world!

To this point I would like to add one more. We’ve been set free NOT JUST for the sake of our own freedom, but for the sake of others. Liberty and license are not the same thing. I may be “free” to do or say something, but that doesn’t mean that I have the license to.

The world outside of the church is only acting according to its sin nature. But you, the body of Christ, set free from sin and its effects, have died to sin and are alive in Christ. How can we go on sinning? We are free but we cannot use our freedom to do as we please. We are bound together in the bonds of peace by the power of the Spirit. I’m accountable to you and you to me.

This permeates into every area of our lives. For instance, our tongues. James, the half-brother of Jesus, tells us that the tongue is like a small rudder of a large ship that can direct its path, whether good or bad. Just because I CAN say something doesn’t mean I SHOULD.

Families tend to speak more kindly to strangers than we do our own families. We will say “excuse me” when accidently bump into someone’s shopping cart, but have a hard time saying “I’m sorry” to our spouses, children, or siblings. Why is that?

Then there are our actions. Some of us think that saying we believe in “the man upstairs” is license to live our lives on our terms. We can indulge in watching anything we want so long as it doesn’t hurt others. We can drink and smoke, and curse a little, so long as church members aren’t around to see us. We can lust after someone else’s woman, or 4X4, or job, or retirement toys, etc.

Here’s what Galatians 5:13 says: You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. Paul had just made a compelling argument that the practice of circumcision as having no value one way or another, and that succumbing to agitators claiming circumcision was necessary to be Christian was a huge mistake. Galatians 5:13 begins a discourse on the significance of living according to the Holy Spirit rather than living according to the flesh. He lists many forms of indulging the flesh as well as what it looks like to walk by the Spirit. He calls this the “fruit of the Spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

But nestled in this passage is what Jesus called the Great Commandment, along with loving God: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In other words, what we do and say to others matters…A LOT!

Paul deals with this issue when writing to the church at Corinth. Their situation was food sacrificed to idols, something we have no appreciation of in 21st century America. We often substitute food with alcohol consumption. “If it causes your brother to stumble, don’t do it.” But there are so many more instances where this principle applies. Listen to this general statement Paul makes in 1 Cor. 10:23à “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

When we post on FB, are we building up or tearing down? Are we being beneficial and constructive, or hurtful and destructive? What we say to others matters. How we treat one another matters. It’s a kingdom principle that we not use our freedom as a license to get our way or impose our will. Does that mean we don’t try to win people to Christ? Absolutely not! But is it when we are weak, He is made strong. When we humble ourselves, Christ is exalted. When we lay down our lives for the sake of the other—even our enemies—that we truly live!

Jesus, our Messiah, is our great example and highest ideal. He was free to remain in the heavenly places. But he willingly humbled himself and became obedient to the Father, serving rather than being served. He allowed his body to be broken his blood to be spilled for our redemption…