What is freedom?

The Fourth of July. Independence Day. A celebration of freedom.

But just what does that word “freedom” mean to us?

For those of us who don’t have to live under the constant shadow of injustice or oppression, I fear that “freedom” has become a shallow concept. It’s become something like, “the freedom to do whatever the heck I want as long as I don’t think I’m hurting anybody.” On the Fourth, that may translate to, “I can have fireworks in my backyard if I want to. Maybe there’s an ordinance against it, but it’s a stupid ordinance. It’s my backyard. Who are they to tell me what to do?”

That last phrase is the telling one. It expresses the kind of independence we first learned at the age of two: You’re not the boss of me. Freedom, in this sense, means the freedom from having anyone tell us what we can or can’t do.

In theory, we eventually grow up. And our understanding of freedom has to mature accordingly.

It’s one thing if our basic human rights are being violated. It’s another when we take those rights for granted, and want to be free of our responsibilities as well. Yes, Independence Day was meant to be a celebration of freedom. But it’s freedom of a positive kind: freedom of conscience, freedom of worship, freedom to do the right thing.

The idea of Christian freedom is essentially positive too. Yes, we are freed from having to suffer the ultimate penalty for our sin. Some early Christians thus took liberties with their freedom: under grace, I can do whatever I want!

But the apostle Paul had to nip that idea in the bud: You have been freed from the power of sin, so that you may be free to live as Christ did.

As Americans, we must never take for granted our freedom to worship as we please, a freedom that would be lost to us in many corners of the world. The question is: what will we then do with the freedom we have?