Freedom. When you hear that word, what are some things that pop into your head…?
I know that most of the things that pop into my head when I hear “freedom” [like what you all said] are American patriotic-type things. Maybe it’s because the 4th of July is coming up! Like the Star Spangled Banner ending—LAND OF THE FREE, and HOME OF THE BRAVE. And what word has the show-stopping high note? Yeah, FREE. Sometimes the singer even goes higher on that word than what it technically written.
It’s no accident that our national anthem ends with that line, with FREE as the literal high-point of the song. Freedom is part of our DNA as Americans. From the start, our nation was founded on the concept of being free from the oppression that was happening at the time from our home country, Great Britain. And if you’ve been following the news at all, Great Britain has had a new taste of freedom as well. I guess we Americans come by it naturally!
The Declaration of Independence states that people are born with “unalienable rights”. Anyone know what they are…? “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Liberty, or freedom, is only second to life in this list. Freedom is a close second to being alive for us.
Which is pretty much what Patrick Henry said, when he cried his famous line (say it with me if you know it): “Give me liberty or give me death!” We take this to heart as Americans. We may not be fighting a revolutionary war against England like they were back then—but in a lot of ways, we would rather be dead than not be free.
And this freedom as Americans is taught to us at a very young age. I remember whenever a friend would get annoyed at me for doing something when I was a kid, I would retort, “It’s a free country!” How many have us have used that line before…?
And being a “free country” is a great thing. We can all agree on that. We are able to do things in our country that you can get jailed for or killed for in other countries. And that is a huge deal. That’s the great thing about being an American.
If you had to define the word “freedom” for someone, what would the definition be…? Most people would say something like, it’s the ability to do whatever you want. Older kids and teenagers constantly want more freedom—and when they use this word, it means that they want to do what they want, when they want, how they want. Can I get an amen on that, both family members and teens???
The things is, though, although we live in a “free country”, we are still not free to do whatever we want. Some examples: You are not free to kill someone. You are not free to be with someone else if you are legally married. You are not free to buy or sell illegal drugs. That doesn’t stop people from doing these things, of course—but it does mean that you have to deal with the consequences if you choose to do them.
Although we are a country based on freedom, we can all agree that freedom, despite what we may think, doesn’t mean doing whatever you want all the time. There are some limits to freedom, for the sake of good order and safety.
If anyone could do whatever they wanted all the time, it would be anarchy. It would be like those horror movies called The Purge, and The Purge: Anarchy, where all crime is legal for 12 hours, once a year. I don’t have to tell you that in those 12 hours, horrible and deadly things happen. There’s a new movie out in this series right now, called The Purge: Election Year. Why are these movies still being made? Because we know that if we were actually free to do whatever we wanted, this type of horror movie would be our reality.
In the Bible passage from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians that we read a few minutes ago, Paul starts by talking about freedom. He starts with “For freedom Christ has set us free.”
How has Christ set us free? Well, Jesus died on the cross. And when he died, all our sins died with him. That means anything we have done, thought, or said that was wrong, or any of the times we should have said, thought, or done something and didn’t-- all those sins are dead and gone, because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross. God doesn’t care about all that stuff anymore, because Jesus died for us. We get to have eternal life with Jesus, because all of our sins are gone and our slate is wiped clean.
And because of that, we don’t have to try to earn points with God or make God love us more. Because of what Jesus did for us, we don’t ever have to feel like we aren’t doing enough to earn our salvation. Jesus did it for us.
How does that make you feel…? Do you feel free? Lighter, even? Because Jesus died for you, you are free from your sins, and freed from having to earn God’s grace. You get all the good stuff that comes from God—love, mercy forgiveness, because Jesus freed you. You are freely loved by God because you are made free by Jesus Christ.
So what does this Christian freedom mean? Well, just like being in a “free country”, being free doesn’t mean that we are completely free to do whatever we want. Freedom never actually means that, as those horror movies show us.
What is DOES mean is that we are free to now live our lives as God intended. Because Jesus has freed us from guilt, shame, and having to earn points with God, we can now live a life of freedom in Christ. We are free to live our lives serving God and serving others—what God created us to be and to do.
Paul tells us in our reading from Galatians: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through becoming slaves to one another.”
Here’s the thing. When we define freedom as doing whatever we want, when we want, how we want—who is that all about..? Yeah, ourselves. It’s about our desires, and no one else’s.
But Paul tells us that Christian freedom is not about what we want. It’s about what others need. It’s about serving others. He says in the next line, “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Our Christian freedom is not about serving ourselves. It is about serving God and serving our neighbors. Sound familiar? It should. Our motto here at Zion, which we talk about all the time, is…? LOVE GOD, LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR. NOTHING ELSE MATTERS.
THAT is the key to what being a free Christian is all about. We are now free from only thinking of ourselves, of looking inward—we are now able to be about others, to look outward. Our freedom is about being free to love God and love others. It’s about serving in Jesus’ name without worrying about making mistakes, because Jesus died for those mistakes. It’s about being free to love everyone, no matter the color of their skin, their sexuality, their gender identity, their socio-economic level, because EVERYONE is our neighbor, not just people who are like us. We are free to love God and love neighbor, because…? NOTHING ELSE MATTERS.
Being FREE in Jesus means living our lives in a meaningful, spiritual, loving way—a way that we would never be able to do without Jesus. Jesus has made this possible for us. When people talk about Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, they mean that Jesus freed them from their sins and made them free to live for him. Jesus is YOUR personal Lord and Savior. Jesus loved you so much, and wanted you free so much, that he died for YOU.
And because we are free in Jesus, we are able to produce that famous fruit of the Spirit that Paul talks about in our reading. He talks about how, when our focus is inward and we only think of ourselves and what we want, it results in terrible things. But when our focus is outward, and we are truly living into our Christian freedom, loving God and loving others, we produce amazing fruit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
You could say that those are our “Freedom Fruit”. Because we are free because of what Jesus did for us, these fruit are part of our lives. It’s not about doing these things because it’s the right thing to do. It’s about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control flowing out of what Jesus has already done for us. We are free to live into this fruit because of Jesus.
And when we mess up (which we will, because we are broken human beings), we can know that because Jesus set us free, we can get back up and continue to live into the fruit of the Spirit. It’s never too late to live into your freedom in Christ.
Christ has freed YOU and made YOU free to love God and love your neighbor. Nothing else matters. How is God calling YOU to live out the fruit of the Spirit and share your freedom in Christ with someone else? Amen?