‘Live as free people,’ but use your freedom well

Photo: Kristina V, Unsplash. Photo: Kristina V, Unsplash.

Freedom is a basic human need, socially and spiritually. It is something to celebrate.
Weeks after the Fourth of July — a national celebration of freedom — fireworks explosions still echoed in my southside Los Angeles neighborhood. I began to wonder if it would ever end.
As I jumped out of bed when a particularly loud explosion set off the car’s alarm, a thought came to me.

People want to continue to celebrate — to hold on to an idea of freedom being celebrated or reach for the freedom they want to experience.

The freedom Americans enjoy was not cheap. Men with strong convictions about freedom signed the Declaration of Independence, risking their lives and their assets, knowing the penalty would be death if they were captured.

Americans’ freedom was purchased at a high cost, and yes, we should be thankful for it.
And we should be aware of the limits of this freedom.

Is it possible to be American and not free? Yes. Some people in the “land of the free” are not free due to systemic racism, segregation, inequality and other forms of human oppression.
It is also possible to be free socially but bound spiritually. This is the human condition without salvation in Jesus Christ.

Humans have wanted freedom on our own terms ever since falling into sin in the Garden of Eden. We were truly free until we fell for Satan’s deception and into sin’s captivity. What we thought was freedom was actually bondage.

one definition of freedom is the ability to do whatever you please. One of my most outstanding Anabaptist teachers, Pastor Chuwang Pam, described this as “permissible freedom.”

There is human freedom, and there is spiritual freedom. Human freedom can be taken away — by slavery, by South African apartheid, by American segregation and minority oppression.
When human freedom is taken away, it is not given back without a struggle.

Though some try to measure the price of national freedom in dollars and blood, this is less significant than the cost of our spiritual freedom.

Spiritual freedom’s cost is so great that it is unaffordable in human terms. But a special kind of freedom fighter arrived on the scene 2,000 years ago. This Redeemer came with ultimate, absolute freedom. The cost of our spiritual freedom was the death of Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary.

While the world offers permissible freedom, Christians enjoy beneficial freedom. Our freedom’s purpose is the good of others, not personal advantage. We submit ourselves to family, church and society. We have freedom of choice, but we must not allow our freedom to be destructive.

“For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:15-17).

In other words, do not allow the freedom you gained to put you in bondage.

Unlike human freedom, for which some fight, our spiritual freedom was gained without mortal fighting. It was fought for us by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Because such a costly gift was given to us, we must fight spiritually to keep and defend it.

Freedom needs structure, hard work and order. It does not thrive in chaos.

To be free indeed, we must be subject to the righteous scrutiny of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word, made alive in us and through us. To be free indeed, we must allow Christ to oversee our spirit, mind and action.

Jesus said, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Has Jesus made you free? There is absolute freedom in Christ for you today.

Anthonia Onye

Anthonia Onye is regional minister for Southern California for Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference.

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