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Freedom’s Favor and Fundament | First Baptist Church at Conshohocken, Pennsylvania

Freedom’s Favor and Fundament

I love the scene from Peanuts in which Linus is marveling to Lucy that two holidays fall on the same day – Independence Day and the Fourth of July – Imagine that!

 

The blessings that have unfolded over time since that extraordinary “double” event have been manifold, variegated and legion.  Americans have known the favor of freedom, but the favor is grounded squarely in a fundament.  The former requires the latter, and the latter begets the former. 

 

The favor is our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as the Declaration so happily propounds.  It is freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of activity and, perhaps the most significant of them all, freedom of religion.

 

The fundament is our responsibility.  The founding fathers were men of responsibility.  The citizen-soldiers, yeoman-farmers and pioneers who liberated, settled and tilled this land were men and women of responsibility. 

 

One can’t have the one without the other.  It is that simple.  Two commodities:  the one needing while the other breeding the other.  Linus, in a sense, was on to something.

 

The Apostle Paul knew something of this.  He wrote in his letter to the Christians at Galatia that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5.1).

 

The great apostle was issuing a rallying cry against legalism.  Jewish persons who had received Christ were slowly and steadily returning to an observance of the Law rather than an appropriation of God’s grace in their desire for salvation.  Paul said, “No!”

 

The work of Jesus on the cross set us free from any and all encumbrance and gave allowance for us to freely follow the Lord and His way.  We do so out of a new-found personal love for our Lord and not out of mere moral obligation or sense of guilt and its attendant fear of punishment, let alone what modern-day psychologists would call a “perfectionist” drive. 

 

We are certainly not exempt from living properly or lawfully.  Jesus taught obedience, but with an important qualification:  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14.22).  Our lives of obedience are the product of our love for Him.

 

Two things happen if we lovingly obey our loving and beloved Lord.  First, God comes amongst us to live:  “If you obey me, my Father and I will come and we will make our home with you” (John 14.23).  God “feels” free to settle amongst us; prior to our obedience, He was constrained by our sin, but now He is free to bless us with His Presence.

 

Second, we are enabled to appropriate our freedom by way of our obedience:  “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8.31, 32).

 

We don’t set ourselves free, but; truth be told (no pun intended), it becomes evident that we are men, women and children who are living liberated and not enslaved lives.  The truth of the assertion is embodied by the truth of the reality of our new-found lives.

 

Jesus adds, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8.34, 35).

 

Just imagine:  You are free to belong to God’s family with all of its attendant privileges.  Now; do one better – Receive the gift and truly belong!

 

A little down the line of Paul’s letter he also develops the equation of freedom:  “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another in love” (Galatians 5.13).

 

Notice has already been given of the attendant privileges of our freedom as Christians; now, take cognizance of its attendant responsibilities.  We can’t use our freedom to “sin away,” so-to-speak. 

 

It’s not about us or about what we think or feel that we want.  It is a dictum of biblical faith that God takes care of us, yet we often act as if we need other or more than God gives to us.  Paul elsewhere cautions Christians, saying that, unlike his young protégé Timothy, “I have no one else like him.  Everyone else looks after there own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2).

 

Translation:  We want what we want.  But what does God want of us?

 

Our heavenly Father desires that His children look after one another.  Family IS important, and He is especially sensitive to the welfare of His children – all of whom are adopted into His familial lineage.  We have responsibilities that relate to one another. 

 

It is my experience that far too many Christians are irresponsible in their devotion to fellow believers, utilizing the guise of their responsibilities to their biological families.  The only distinction that I find in scripture betwixt them is the knowledge that we will definitively be sharing God’s unshakeable Kingdom with our Christian brothers and sisters, while it “fervently to be hoped” that we share the same with our biological lineage.  Ask God about this, and He will draw you more deeply into His familial fold while, at the same time, He will motivate and enable you to be a more fruitful witness to His saving love amongst your earthly family.

 

We see pictures of little children looking after one another.  I warmly remember the sight of my little congregant Eliana resting her head on my grand-daughter Amber’s head for comfort after being pinched by a bird’s beak – It was; truly, a beautiful sight!

 

Our heavenly Father loves to see His children tenderly tending to one another.  How beautiful is the sight of a young person reaching out to and caring for an elderly congregant.  How very exquisite is it to witness a middle-aged or older couple talking a young couple into their care.  And how lovely is it when a family received a single man or woman into their fold.  Our culture does not foster such relationships, but Christians are free to discover their value and benefit.

 

We are free in Christ to discover all sorts of things of which we would not otherwise know.  Rights, like blessings, are born of responsibility, and responsibility, far from being constricting and constraining, creates the conditions whereby the blessings of liberty flow.

 

Holocaust-surviving psychotherapist Victor Frankl, in his classic little text entitled Man’s Search for Meaning, proposed the erection of a Statue of Responsibility off the coast of San Francisco to rival and to complement the Statue of Liberty off the shore-line of New York.  It is; to my mind, a very grand idea!

 

It is; further, a fundamentally requisite idea.  It was not for nothing that Founding Father John Adams went on record that a religious people were necessary if our Constitution were to be maintained in good working order.  He understood all too well that, without a grounding of thought and action before the reality of God, human society would disintegrate into anarchy and dissipation – something that is strikingly apparent with what is playing out before our very eyes; that is, for anyone with eyes to see!

 

God’s Word reminds and encourages us that “The Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3.17).  The context of the verse speaks to the new-found capacity to see God’s glory; prior, the mind (in spiritual terms) was made dull, having been covered by a veil.  Now; one can truly see!

 

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4.4-6).

 

We are free to feast “our eyes” upon the beauty and light of Christ!  We weren’t so free before God’s liberating act in and through Jesus Christ.  We are now enabled to live our lives free from certain things and free for other things.

 

One of my very favorite passages from scripture speaks to my capacity to appropriate my freedom in order to resist unhelpful influences at-large and all around me, as well as to walk away from my less-than-edifying and inherent proclivities.  I can, to quote the classic quip (from Nancy Reagan; I believe?), “just say No!”

 

“The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2.11-14).

 

Yes; we are, free to say no to contemporary folly and personal inclinations, especially if and when they run counter to God’s benevolent plan, and; even more, if the Holy Spirit stands ready to assist and to empower us.  God’s grace both teaches and enables us.  He has not left us bereft of godly capacity.

 

We say “No” to sin and to the world because God has said “Yes” to us!  Another favorite text says this:  “As surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.”  For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No,’ but in him it has always been ‘Yes.’  For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.  And so through him the ‘Amen’ by us to the glory of God.  Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.  He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1.14-22).

 

There’s that Spirit again!  He enables us to say “No” to sin and worldly corruption, and He now enables us; also, to say “Yes” to Jesus and to the things of God.  We are free to look to Him and to receive from Him and to live for Him in the light of His love for us – and love; let it be known, and let it be distinguished from mere “like” or more overt lust, sets us free to love and to be loved, to know and to be fully known.

 

I quote fromRoman Catholic theologian Lorenzo Albacete’s fine volume of essays entitled, God at the Ritz:

 

“The fundamental value is the dignity of the human person … But this dignity comes from the human person’s link with transcendence, indeed with the human person’s vocation to transcendence , the vocation to establish a relation with infinite Mystery that defines the range of human possibilities for the fulfillment of our desire for happiness.  This vocation is the only secure basis for what we experience when we speak of freedom.”

 

I’ll take the package.  It’s a value that is unbeatable.  My rights are built upon my responsibilities, as my responsibilities give credence and substance to my rights.  I am free to serve God in all of the glorious freedom of one who is His very own – Praise Him!

 

Bradley E. Lacey

July 2, 2018