After 244 years, many of us continue the traditions of celebrating with food, friends, and fireworks to acknowledge the signing of the Declaration of Independence signaling our country’s freedom from King George III and British rule. I know that my family will be celebrating the 4th of July weekend with a cookout, hanging out with friends, and enjoying all of the colorful fireworks around us.
It is good and honorable to celebrate our nation's freedom. Our country (and every country) is a place and system that God is present in and works through. Indeed, we are citizens of our world, today.
As Christians, we value freedom and are able to express it in many ways. There aren't that many ways we can go wrong with celebrating freedom. And that’s a really great thing! Indeed, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).
However, national freedom (while important) is distinct from our spiritual freedom.
Let me explain (in brevity... this is not a complete explanation and I know there is so much more to this than a paragraph in a blog post. I'd love to talk more, if you'd like!).
National freedom is partially (perhaps, mostly) rooted in a love for a specific civic system. Typically, it’s because the system either benefits us or it seems to advance an agenda that we share with others. As a nation, the two seemingly most prominent (but not only) civic systems have historically been democracy and capitalism - though this ebbs and flows from time to time. Most conflicts that we experience on a wide social scale (and we certainly have them) can probably be linked to one of these two “loves”. Just study the events that have happened throughout US History and you'll see what I'm talking about.
Spiritual freedom is the freedom that the Apostle Paul is talking about in Galatians 5:1, is altogether different. It’s not rooted in a love for a specific civic system, rather, spiritual freedom is centered on a love of a specific person: Jesus Christ. Jesus is the One who sets us free from all which eternally holds us back from being the people God has created us to be. Our past sin can be forgiven (even while we don’t forget it). There is grace in our guilt and shame. There is respite from our grief. Ultimately, it’s because of the freedom that Jesus gives to the world and more specifically, to all people, we have “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” (Great is Thy Faithfulness, Verse 1).
As a naturalized citizen of the United States myself, both national freedom and spiritual freedom are very important to me. I believe they can coexist - but that doesn't mean that they are equal.
National freedom is not bad or inherently sinful in and of itself. It's just different than spiritual freedom.
The challenge for us as Christians is to distinguish between them. From Jesus being wrapped in American flags to prominent voices echoing that America is the “City on a Hill” (Matthew 5:14) throughout our media waves - it’s easy to understand and reasonable that Christians today are challenged in distinguishing between national and spiritual freedom. For sure, they are separate and distinct from each other. And, they are certainly not equal.
Here are two key distinctions:
National freedom tends to lead us toward greater individual autonomy. We are our own people with individual freedoms and rights - which I believe is to be true... and spiritually dangerous. It's not bad. . . just different than spiritual freedom.
Spiritual freedom invites deeper dependence on God.
National freedom often wins by fighting for or against ideals, issues, platforms, and systems. While important, what we tend to become emboldened for and passionate about are more or less ideas and models than real people. It's not bad. . . just different than spiritual freedom.
Spiritual freedom wins by fighting for people’s relationship with God, others, and the world around them.
This is what Jesus followers believe that has already done for us on the cross… Jesus fought the war for our hearts against our greatest enemies - the judgement of our sin, the threat of eternal death and punishment, and the root and author of all deception - the devil. And, Jesus won.
You are God’s treasure. You are so valuable that while we didn’t even know we were slaves to ourselves, our judgement, and others - Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8).
Earlier I said that national and spiritual freedom are not equal. The Bible points us to Jesus, not any one particular nation or civic system. And while it may be difficult to separate the two - especially in a climate where church and country seems so intertwined, we must remember this one thing:
Jesus followers love God more than their country. Compared to God, there is no equal. Indeed, the Apostle Paul says that all things are garbage (literally, poop) compared to Jesus and the freedom we have in and through Him (Philippians 3:8).
Anything and anyone that has equality with God becomes a covert idol that captures your heart and is relentless in requiring your loyalty to pay it back with everything you have.
God doesn't require or demand repayment or your loyalty at all. You're free! And if Jesus set you free, you are free, indeed! (John 8:36).
And what happens when we prioritize and celebrate God’s freedom over any one nation's freedom?
I’m taking a few weeks away from the blog to rest and plan the next season.
My next blog will be July 23.
Meet Pastor Tim
Tim Bayer has served as Our Savior's Lead Pastor since September 2019. He also serves as an Adjunct Instructor at Concordia University - Irvine, a National Leadership Facilitator and Resource, and a Community Mental Health First Aid Instructor. Tim studied sociology, psychology, and theology prior to earning his M.Div at Concordia Seminary - St. Louis. He has also is a candidate for an Ed.D (ABD) in Transformational Leadership. He is married to Beth and they have three young children. Together, they enjoy exploring the outdoors, experiencing culture, and pizza and movie nights.