It’s hard to approach the July 4 holiday without musing on the subject of freedom. I like to recall freedom songs, for example, whether patriotic or popular, religious or related to the Civil Rights movement.
I like to remember powerful speeches in defense of freedom, especially as it relates to religious liberty, and it’s gratifying to remember that Baptists played a central role in the founders’ establishment of a nation where the government plays no role in determining the religious beliefs of its citizens.
I like to think about the general idea of freedom and what it means to make one’s own choices, the kind of life valued by any except those who profit from holding others in thrall so they can exploit them.
My favorite freedom thoughts, however, derive from the Apostle Paul, whose fiery letter to the church in Galatia was sparked by an awareness that religious legalists were turning belief into bondage.
“For freedom Christ has set us free,” Paul told them (Gal. 5:1a). God’s purpose is not that we be enslaved to a complex system of laws, but free to choose lives of service to God and others. “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” (5:13-14)
Being free means that we can choose to practice negative behaviors that feed selfish desires (5:19-21) or we can choose to exhibit the spiritual fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (5:22-23).
There’s certainly no law against those things, Paul said – and we must note that there is no law requiring them, either. That’s what makes such living so special: it comes not from command or demand, but from a heart that is free to love, or not.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.