Our nation has long promoted a tradition of freedom and liberty. We find those two words inscribed in founding documents and American history books as well as bantered about on nightly news shows. Americans love bragging about their freedom. Some even refer to freedom as our greatest export. But what is freedom? Is freedom an end, a supreme good? Or is freedom a gift from God to human beings used as a tool for the pursuit of higher goods?
Increasingly, our national culture elevates freedom to the level of a supreme good; something to be pursued and guaranteed at the cost of all else; and many believe that freedom must equal perfect autonomy, with no restraints. In other words, the only way to be totally free is to establish moral norms on our own authority. This conception of freedom runs in opposition to the Biblical definition and use of freedom.
In Exodus 5, when Moses appears before Pharoah to demand he free the children of Israel from their slavery, notice that freedom isn’t the ultimate goal.
Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” (Ex. 5:1)
Why did God command and give freedom? He freed his people that they might obey and serve the Lord. The purpose of freedom is the ability to pursue obedience. Again, in Jeremiah 32, when God promises to free his people from the bondage of sin, the ultimate goal isn’t freedom:
39 I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. (Jer. 32:39)
We are not justified by obedience, but by grace through faith. (Eph. 2:8) We are not saved from obedience. But we are saved unto obedience. And the same basic truth can be said about the evangelistic ministry of the church. We are called to proclaim the saving work of Christ, but to what end?
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Mat. 28:19-20)
Whether in Exodus, Jeremiah, or Matthew’s gospel, the goal of freedom from political tyrants, or from the bondage of sin, is that we might serve and obey God. Freedom is not an ultimate or final goal. God gives freedom so that we might pursue virtue. Political tyranny prevents human beings from obeying their conscience before the Lord. Sin, by definition, is transgressing the laws of God.
Here’s why all this matters. As our culture pursues freedom as an end, rather than a means to virtue, we will have less true freedom. Our society and its norms will continue to decay. Crime will rise. Bitterness, anger, and resentment will continue to dominate our politics. As the church, we are tasked with teaching the surrounding culture that true freedom is not found in the elimination of moral boundaries and restraints. Freedom resides in acknowledging and living within the boundaries God has set up in nature and revealed in his Word. If a fish pursued total freedom by jumping out of the fish tank, he would soon find himself enslaved to death, not more enjoying more freedom. The fish tank serves as the boundary of his nature, and he experiences maximal freedom by living within that boundary. Similarly, God created us, male and female, in his own image to glorify him. Those are the divine boundaries of human existence, and we experience maximal freedom when we honor the design of the Maker.
BEGINNING WITH THE CHURCH
If the church is not using the freedom God has given for obedience, we are just as culpable for the moral decay of our culture as the most extreme leftist ideologues. You, Christian, were not freed from sin and born into a free country so that you might decide which of God’s laws you want to obey. If the church is sick of the moral rot in society, but church members refuse to obey God, we have no one to blame for our morally lax culture but ourselves. The gospel is not: “Trust Jesus and live how you want.” The church is to teach the nations obedience to Christ.
You who hate the lies and “fake news” that swirl around our nation like flies on cow stink; are you telling the truth to your family, your employees, and your clients? (Eph. 4:23) You who hate the bitter and acidic tone of our public discourse, are you speaking words that build up and give grace to the hearer? (Eph. 4:29) You who hate the moral decline of the family, are you pursuing Biblical roles as husbands who lead and love, wives who respect, parents who raise children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Before we grab our tweezers and try to remove the speck from the world’s eye, we must first examine ourselves. This is a call to regular and humble repentance of our own sin. We must lead the way first in confession before we can ever lead the way in holiness.
Lake Wylie Baptist family, we have an opportunity to model a better way for this sad and sinking world. We have life by the gift of the Holy Spirit. We have new hearts, freed by grace, and prepared to walk in good works. (Eph. 2:10) We are a counterculture of freedom leading to obedience. You are not free to do what you want. You are free to do what God requires.