As we celebrate the freedom our country enjoys, and as we reflect on the sacrifices to preserve the freedom that many men and women have made over the centuries, I also wanted to reflect on our own personal freedom. We are free people with the free will to do as we choose. We are especially blessed, because as Paul writes in Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” The good news of the gospel is that Jesus set us free! He offered himself as a perfect sacrifice to remedy the original sin with which we are all cursed. He opened a path to God and to righteousness for everyone with the free offering of Himself. What a blessing!
And yet, with all this freedom, we must freely choose to be servants and slaves to God’s will. This seems like a contradiction at first, but if we examine Romans 8:2 a little more closely, we can see that Paul makes the distinction that we are set free from “the law of sin and death” by “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” Paul makes it clear that not serving God binds us to the law of sin and death and that we are now free by the Spirit of God to serve God. He does not offer a third option, and I am not aware of one. Either we abide by the “law of the Spirit of life” or we abide by the “law of sin and death.” We freely choose to serve God’s will or someone else’s, most often our own.
I think a helpful analogy would be playing organized basketball. In team sports, one of the goals of any team is for its total performance to be greater than the sum of its parts. When I first began playing in high school and learning the rules of motion offense and help defense, I was frustrated by all the laws that I perceived as restrictive. In my ignorant opinion, I thought things would go much smoother if my teammates and I just had the freedom to go out and play and not worry so much about rules, or running an offense, or being in position on defense. But, whenever we rebelled and decided to play our way, chaos ensued. Teammates got in each other’s way, passing was difficult because no one knew where anyone else would be, and often multiple players would run to the same spot. We were left on an island on defense, with no help from any of our teammates if we got beat by our man. Ultimately, we created conflict within the team and made the opposing team’s path to beating us much easier. While we thought doing as each individual pleased would lead to the outcome we all desired, it actually brought the opposite result and bound us to the oppression of defeat, anger, bitterness, and discord.
However, once we committed to working together and following the offensive and defensive team concepts instituted by our coaches, we were liberated. When we “bought in,” we found that we had a better understanding of where each of our teammates would be at a given time and what they would be thinking and doing. We developed trust in each other that when one of us failed, a teammate would be there to have our backs. Once we knew how our offense and defense worked, we were freed to use our individual creativity and talents to more effectively reach our goal. We built unity, trust, faith, strong relationships, and it all led to success on the court. Of course, all this depends on the talent of the coach. I was blessed to have excellent coaches in high school who taught the principles and disciplines that led to success. Following them was not easy, ask any of my teammates, but the reward was great. This success, or any success for a team that buys into its coaching, is still dictated by the ability of its coaches, though, and every coach, no matter how great, is flawed in some way, even Tony Bennett.
I use this long analogy, not to opine on basketball (maybe I couldn’t help myself), but to illustrate that when it comes to leading our lives, we have the perfect “coach,” and He has shown us the importance of using our freedom to make the right choices. Those choices have consequences, not only in our lives, but for all those around us. Paul writes in Galatians 5:13-14, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” and in Romans 6:15-16, “What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
As we celebrate the many freedoms we enjoy, let’s focus on how we use our freedom. Let’s freely subject ourselves to God’s law, to His will, and to His grace, forgiveness, mercy, and love. Let’s be the citizens, neighbors, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters that we wish to have surrounding us. Happy 4th of July everyone and God bless!