There is a Bible verse inscribed on the Liberty Bell: Proclaim liberty throughout all the land and to all the inhabitants of it (Leviticus 25:10). What is liberty? What is American freedom? What is Christian freedom? How do they relate to one another?
To know that absolute freedom is only available in Christ.
We will begin with John 8:31-39, explore various freedoms of this world and discover Christian freedom.
When will we know Truth?
Jesus makes a remarkable statement (John 8:31-39) claiming that if we hold to his teaching we will know the truth. Why is this omitted when people say that the truth will set you free? In Greek the word for truth also means reality. Could it be like Winston Churchill is reputed to have said, that people occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened? Do we feel a little uncomfortable with absolutes like truth? Do we prefer to live a lie, whether it be political, religious, scientific or societal? For example, sometimes an enemy speaks uncomfortable truths about us. If our enemy speaks, do we listen objectively, or do we not all tend to shut our ears? Is the truth still the truth when it is uncomfortable?
Faith & Tyrants
Freedom is a Christian value (John 8:31-39). But, did the American War of Independence violate Christian faith? Do we submit to government even when we would disobey God (Romans 13)? King George III had violated both Divine and British law. Jonathan Mayhew preached, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” Hebrews 11 praises heroes of faith. Some engaged in civil disobedience or overthrew oppressive governments. 1 Peter 2:13 says to “Submit … for the Lord's sake,” but not to obey evil laws. The Apostles (Acts 4-5) disobeyed tyrants to preach the Gospel. Scottish theologian Samuel Rutherford wrote Lex Rex, that the law is above the king. The Americans saw the war as defensive. They did not fire the first shot. The British fired first in the Boston Massacre, bombed Boston, burned Charlestown, and attacked Williamsburg, Concord, and Lexington.
Slavery & Freedom
In John 8:34-35 Jesus addresses slavery, not the slavery of African American history, not the slavery of the Roman history and not even the slavery of Israel in ancient Egypt. He addresses the slavery to sin. At its roots, slavery is a bondage to a stronger power. In many ways we are still slaves today to things like addictions, debt, corrupt business and government overreach. But Jesus was not even talking about that alone. He said that we are slaves to sin, and that reaches everywhere, even into our own hearts. What is the solution to sin in government, business and our own lives? Could holding to Jesus’ teaching be a beginning? Could it just be that the answer begins as disciples of Jesus? Could it be that then we would begin learning truths that would set us free?
What are we Slaves to?
If we are honest we are all slaves to something. What about television? My Dad used to call it the “idiot box.” Instead of using our minds, do we engage in mindless slavery to meaningless entertainment? What about our degenerate western diet? We have the best availability of food in the world, but have we been hood-winked, deceived and enslaved by the food industry to eat addictive disease-causing garbage? What about our jobs? Most people hate their jobs but are we enslaved to them by sheer economic necessity? Worst of all, Jesus says that we are enslaved to sin (John 8:31-39), doing and thinking things which only harm us and others. How can we be set free? Jesus claims that the Son can set us free by holding to what he teaches. Living that truth will set us free.
Freedom & Caesar
“We have no king but Ceasar” was what the chief priests cried when Pilate asked if he should crucify their king. “We have no king but Jesus” may have been a battle cry during the American Revolution, according to some sources, echoing a similar saying from the English Civil Wars a hundred years earlier. The tendency to see the solution to our problems in human governments was not the chief priests’ alone. Christians concerned for morality see salvation in the Republican Party and Christians concerned for the poor see salvation in the Democratic Party. Ronald Reagan said, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” Jesus said something different, that sin is the real problem and that only holding to the truth that he taught would set us free (John 8:34).
The Freedom of a Christian
Political freedom is good, but there is a greater freedom described by Martin Luther as The Freedom of a Christian. Paul said, “I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all” (1 Corinthians 9:19). Unlike the freedom that this world can offer, Jesus claims that if he makes us free, we are free indeed (John 8:34). What is this freedom? It is liberation from the yoke that sin creates in our world. The ultimate result of sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like is death. Yet, in Jesus we are freed from that penalty to live in the Spirit (Galatians 5), free to live in love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
When American Patriots turned their backs on a self-serving English king, they set up a government under the rule of law. It was a great improvement over rule by the whims of selfish monarchs. But even the best of human governments fail. They cannot eradicate sin and bring us what we are really looking for. Only in Jesus can we find ultimate freedom.