Fireworks were shot, beef was grilled, and parties ran through the night...across our country, Americans were celebrating freedom. It was the Fourth of July.
237 years prior to this past Thursday, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, and other aspiring men inked a document proclaiming their freedom from the British. These Thirteen Colonies were now to be known as "America". This was actually an incredibly rebellious act as it was a key event during the American Revolution from Great Britain. No more extravagant taxes and outrageous laws...these men and women wanted the freedom to make their own! So, they revolted.
Imagine if these bold men hadn't stepped forward...what would our country look like today? Would there even be an America?
At the time, nobody knew if this would actually work. However, they stepped out and acted on their faith in the invisible: the future. For Christians, we are called to boldly step out in faith even when we cannot see what lies ahead. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. goes to great lengths to define faith by what is not seen in saying that, "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." This is one of those beautiful mysteries of Christianity. While we may not have the answers, we have the Protector. While we may not have the solutions, we have the Comforter. While we may not see the whole staircase, we are guided by the One who reigns and who sees and who knows all things.
These brave men took that first step towards bringing freedom to 13 colonies that would over time expand to 50 states. Americans today view it as worthy of celebration (and it is). Though they did nothing to deserve or earn it, they were granted freedom before they were even placed in this country. I find it astounding that the signing of a piece of paper roughly 250 years ago can cause millions upon millions of people to throw picnics, parades, and concerts to celebrate. Our relationship to America today is quite similar to our relationship to God in terms of freedom. Over 2,000 years ago, Jesus was flogged, beaten, and crucified on a cross for our freedom. Here's the kicker: Jesus didn't die for just His homeland...He died for every land and people: Christian/non-Christian, black/white/yellow/brown/purple/blue, male/female, gay/straight, slave owner/slave, etc.
I am heartbroken and angered by the fact that there are more Americans that openly support the freedom of our country rather than the freedom of ourselves from sin and its captivity.
It would be silly if the 13 colonies had still lived as if they were under the control of Great Britain after declaring their independence. What would the purpose of freedom then be? Correspondingly, far too many Christians proclaim their freedom yet live as if they are still slaves to sin. We tend to believe like Christians yet live like Sadducees. While we proclaim Christ, we act as if the resurrection never happened.
Mark the Evangelist documented an intriguing exchange between Jesus and the Sadducees in chapter 12. To give a little background, the Sadducees believed that there was no resurrection of Christ. They believed strictly in the Torah and stuck firmly to it. They were a very intellectual people. So, they questioned Jesus about a law concerning marriage. Here is the exchange:
“Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?" When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” (emphasis added)
Jesus' response to the Sadducees question can almost be viewed as a slap in the face. The Sadducees heavily studied and memorized scripture, but Jesus was correct. They were wrong. They did not truly know the scriptures or the power of God. He then continues to expose their faulty view to themselves by questioning their knowledge of the Torah. Jesus knew that when God spoke to Moses in Exodus, He said that He is the God of Abraham (who died 500 years before that point). Because of this knowledge, He points out that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Jesus was trying to tell them that the resurrection is real. It is reality.
If we do not believe that there is a better future to come or that God is strong enough to accomplish it, then all we believe in is this world. This mixup leads us in captivity to sin. It leads us to two lifestyles that both have dead ends:
1. Hedonism - Hedonism means "pleasure-seeking." This is the lifestyle that teaches, "If it feels good, do it." Another nuance of this saying is, "Well, it makes me happy." With this lifestyle, there is happiness, but no consequences.
2. Hopelessness - Hopelessness teaches, "If this world is all that there is, then there is absolutely no meaning or value to what I do." This is a popular area for philosophers and artists to dwell in. With this lifestyle, there is no assurance.
There are antidotes prescribed to both of these lifestyles...
To Hedonism: you are spending your life on trivial pleasures. It is like spending the day in a sandbox instead of on the world's nicest beach. While the sandbox may be fun, the beach will be the utmost amount of fun. The antidote is to long for the great joy that is coming for us. Seek happiness in a place where happiness can be found (in heaven and in Jesus).
To Hopelessness: life has a way of wearing all of us down. Instead, don't fall for the pitfall. There is hope ahead! We can truly believe the promises of God and that God is strong enough to achieve what he promises to achieve in His Word.
What will drive and motivate us to do good in this world is what our envisioning of what God has ahead for us is. Jesus is our prize, and heaven is our home.
Why would we live as hedonists and hopeless people when we could live as God's children? Truth is, while we are all "Children of God", not all of us are living and walking in a father-child relationship with Him. Your view of God and your relationship to Him will either make or break you in this world. So, what exactly is our relationship to God? If we were made free, then why are we in relationship with Him?
We are made to be independent from sin. That is God's plan for our lives. To be independent from sin and dependent on Him. C.S. Lewis once wrote, "If He who in Himself can lack nothing, chooses to need us, it is because we need to be needed." God sent Jesus to die and be resurrected when the world needed him the most - to set us free from sin. I significantly admire the apostle Paul's insight on our freedom from sin and slavery to righteousness. In Romans 5:8 he wrote, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." He then goes on to further explain Christ's purpose for dying in Romans 6:18 by writing, "You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness." This is our exact relationship to God. It is wholly His intention for us to be a people independent from sin and dependent on Him, for He is righteous and good.
So, because we are out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any way we desire to? Since we are free in the freedom of God, can we now do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called 'freedom' that utterly destroy the freedom that God intends for us to live in. If you offer yourselves to sin, for instance, it is your last free act. But if you offer yourselves to the ways of God, the freedom never quits. This is the point that Paul was getting to in Romans 6:18 by saying that we are slaves to righteousness. We are not in captivity again, but we are now free in the presence of God to enjoy, desire, and glorify Him. Thanks be to God!
For some of us, we feel as if we have travelled too far off the beaten path to truly experience the freedom that God has ahead for us. I'm here to tell you that (as you are reading this) it is NOT too late! The fullness of God is not something you figure out or achieve. It is not a matter of memorizing verses or a long list of laws. No, you are already in! You're an insider! Not through some secretive initiation rite, but rather through what Christ has already gone through for you - destroying the power of sin. You do not have to live in its grasp any longer. You CAN put aside your sinful ways. You CAN say "no" to temptation. Paul continued in Colossians 2:13-15 by saying, "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." Even when we were dead in our sins, God made us ALIVE with Him in Christ! How great is our God?!
I want to challenge you today to take up this freedom that we find in Christ..to become independent from sin and dependent on God..to rely on Him in your weakest times and to praise Him in your greatest moments.
Charles Spurgeon, a British preacher from the 1800s, once said, "If you take Christ to yourself, He will never be taken from you. Breathe the air, and the air is yours; receive Christ, and Christ is yours, and you have attained to righteousness." Let today be the day that you take up this blessed assurance and truly enjoy the freedom that Christ has made attainable to us through his death and resurrection.