Chuck Allen, Lead Pastor
John 8:31-36; Galatians 5:1, 13-15
William Wallace asked the right question. If you saw the movie Braveheart, you know the story of the Scottish patriot. Mel Gibson directed and starred in the 1995 movie about the Scottish revolt in the 1400’s. At one point in the movie, Wallace prepares a rag tag band of rebels for battle. They must face a larger and better-armed English army.
His says to his men-”I am William Wallace, and I see before me an army of my countrymen here in defiance of tyranny. You have come to fight as free men, and free men you are. You are free, free from badges, free from flesh and free to love. What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?”
A tall soldier near the front eyes the huge opposing forces arrayed across the valley and then answers, ”Fight against that? No, we will run, and we will live.”
Wallace responds, ”Ay, fight and you may die, run and you’ll live. At least a while! And dying in your beds many years from now, you would be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom.”
What will you do with your freedom? That’s a question to ask ourselves on the 4th of July. We often make terrible mistakes when we separate God from our freedom. Without God, our concept of freedom can easily degenerate into selfishness. Wise men have always known that real freedom can only exist hand in hand with responsibility. William Wallace asked the right question, ”What will you do with your freedom.”
The Scriptures teach us in Galatians 5 – So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.
2 Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. 4 For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.
5 But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us. 6 For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.
We naturally think of our national freedom on July 4th. We should. That’s the great legacy of our founding fathers. We live in a land blessed with freedom. Few nations have ever known such liberties. We are free to gather in worship. No government official tells when, or how, or what to worship.
We can speak our minds. A free press keeps us informed about our world. We choose where we live and what we do to make a living. We select our own leaders from dogcatcher to president. Many peoples around the world only dream of such privileges.
We celebrate July 4th because on that day our nation’s founders signed the Declaration of Independence on that date in 1776. Many call it our country’s Birth Certificate. Do you remember its opening words from your grade school social studies class?
”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 inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Did you hear that all-important line? ”Endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights! Thomas Jefferson and company rightly knew that our freedoms are a gift of God not a grant from the government.
Here’s the big question our country is wrestling with today. Is it possible to maintain the freedom without that conviction? Can a godless people remain a free people? The founding fathers didn’t think so.
I want to speak very clearly here for a moment! For the last forty years, national voices have tried to convince us that political freedom means freedom from religion. They have told us that references to God and faith have no place in political discussions. The founding fathers that authored the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, they say, were secular politicians who had neither time nor patience with such God talk.
We can continue their legacy only if we make God off limits in matters of politics. That, my friends, is a LIE! The pioneers of our political freedoms were not all Bible believing Christians. Most were. But to a man they anchored their convictions about liberty in a firm belief in the authority of the creator. That’s the truth!
They also believed something else. They believed that political freedom could not exist without moral freedom. Real freedom is not freedom to do anything and everything. Real freedom doesn’t last long without self-control. Over a hundred years ago historian Alexander Fraser Tytler conducted a study of ancient democracies. His book The Decline and Fall of the Athenian Republic contains a chilling warning. He wrote: ”The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through the following sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back to bondage.”
George Washington knew this. Listen to these words from Washington’s Farewell Address, ”Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
John Adams, the second president, said, ”It is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.” On another occasion Adams insisted, ‘We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . .. Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Ben Franklin, one of our country’s early leaders, wrote, ”Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” James Madison, the fourth president, known as ”The Father of Our Constitution” made the following statement. ”We have staked the whole of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”
You see, the laws of God lead to true freedom. Too many of us regard the Commandments as a ball and chain that hold us back. We may think God’s laws limit us from discovering the good things of life. But it’s the opposite!
God’s laws are not walls that confine, but fences that protect. Which provides more freedom? Driving a mountain road with or without guardrails? Imagine driving on a narrow bridge over the Mississippi without rails?
When you are driving down I-85 at 70 mph and you come upon a sign marking a curve with 40 mph limit, do you regard that speed as an infringement on your freedom? You could ignore it. But taking one of those curves at 70 mph will show you what really limits your freedom! Real freedom comes from living within the reality of God’s physical and moral design. Ignoring God’s limits is not freedom. It is self-destruction. What will you do with your freedom?
This brings us to the main point of our text from Galatians.Galatians is the Christian’s Declaration of Independence. It outlines the spiritual freedom that belongs to all who belong to Christ. Take a look beginning with verse 13 13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.
The Bible uses many word pictures to describe what Christ has done for us. He saves us. The ancients might have used that language to speak of a shepherd rescuing a sheep or a companion pulling a drowning sailor from the water. The Bible says Jesus justifies us. That term comes from the scene of a courtroom where the accused is declared not guilty. The Bible also speaks of redemption.
Among other things, redemption pictures a slave being set free. A man might become a slave by birth, from war, or from the result of debts. Running away was not an option. Even if he were successful, he would have to spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder. That wasn’t real freedom either. His only hope of freedom was to find enough money to buy himself free or for someone else to buy him and then release him.
Galatians insists that this is exactly what Jesus has done for us. Without Jesus we are enslaved to our own selfishness, to the whims of the society around us, to our own bad choices from the past, or to fear of future death and judgment.
What can set us free? Galatians says that when Jesus came into our lives he set us free from all of that. Jesus died on the cross for us. He paid the price for our sins. His righteous life takes the place of our unrighteous lives.
When we hear this Good News, we accept that fact. We decide we want to be free. Christ comes in. We become new creatures. We are forgiven. We are set free.
To return to sin and its slavery would be a terrible mistake. That’s the message of Galatians. In Christ we are spiritually free to serve God and our neighbor. What will you do with your freedom?
Arizona Senator John McCain tells this story from his days as a POW in Vietnam:
”In the final years of our imprisonment,” McCain recalls, ”the North Vietnamese moved us from small cells with one or two prisoners to large rooms with as many as 30-40 men to a room. We preferred this situation for the companionship and strength we could draw from our fellow prisoners.
In addition to moving us to new quarters, our captors also let us receive packages and letters from home. Many men received word from their families for the first time in several years. The improved conditions were a result of public pressure put on the North Vietnamese by the American public.
In our cell was one Navy officer, Lt. Commander Mike Christian. Over a period of time Mike had gathered bits and pieces of red and white cloth from various packages. Using a piece of bamboo he had fashioned into a needle, Mike sewed a United States flag on the inside of his shirt, one of the blue pajama tops we all wore.
Every night in our cell, Mike would put his shirt on the wall, and we would say the pledge of allegiance. I know that the pledge of allegiance may not be the most important aspect of our day now, but I can tell you that at the time it was the most important aspect of our lives.
This had been going on for some time until one of the guards came in as we were reciting our pledge. They ripped the flag off the wall and dragged Mike out. He was beaten for several hours and then thrown back into the cell.
Later that night, as we were settling down to sleep on the concrete slabs that were our beds, I looked over to the spot where the guards had thrown Mike. There, under the solitary light bulb hanging from the ceiling, I saw Mike. Still bloody and his face swollen beyond recognition, Mike was gathering bits and pieces of cloth together. He was sewing a new American flag!”
May we always thank God for all our freedoms-national, moral, and spiritual!
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