Freedom to Love by Steve Bezner

Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. -Philippians 2:3

Let’s get this out of the way now: I once cried at 4th of July fireworks.

On that particular Independence Day, I stood behind my (then young) family as fireworks were bursting in perfectly-timed coordination with “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and “1812 Overture.” I thought of my grandfathers and their service in World War II. I thought of the beauty and power of free speech. And, being a pastor, I thought of how grateful I was for religious liberty.

So, yes, I shed a tear. What can I say? I’m thankful for America.

Lately, however, I’ve been thinking more—and a little bit differently—about my rights. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how the gospel calls me in very clear terms to surrender them. To be clear: I’m not talking about legalities here. I’m not talking about elections or the Constitution. I’m talking instead about something deeper.

If I could preach a sermon to every single American today, it would be that the freedoms and rights we remember and celebrate today become stronger when they are seen as a freedom and a right to love and help others. When I think of the freedom I have in Christ, I know that I have not only been set free from an old life, but I have been set free to live in a new way. I have been set free to live the Jesus Way in the midst of a world eagerly awaiting remaking.

What does such a freedom look like?

Humans were made to live in complete freedom, fashioned in the image of God (Genesis 1:28). Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). In other words: If you want to know what it means to live up to the image of God that has been placed within you, then live like Jesus. He is the image of the invisible God. As you live like Jesus, you’ll experience a freedom that far surpasses anything you could find in the Bill of Rights.

Rights are about self; the gospel, on the other hand, is all about self-giving love. The cross is our reminder: God gave Himself in a loving way so that He might bring healing and wholeness to each of us, to bring about the redemption and remaking of all things.

Simply put: When I focus on my rights, I think primarily of myself. When I focus on Jesus, I find myself thinking of others.

The earliest Christians were enslaved by Rome, but they talked incessantly of their freedom in Christ. They had been set free from sin and death. And, in turn, they were set free from the thing hardest for most humans to escape—thinking first and foremost of themselves. When we are able to forget ourselves, to truly practice humility, we enter a new level of freedom. No longer are we simply free in a spiritual sense, but we are able to walk freely in the world, experiencing a relational freedom of which most only dream. We are not attempting to impress others. We are not worried about appearances. We are operating from a freedom of being fully known and simultaneously fully accepted. This freedom flows as we find our identity in Christ. As such, we are able to share our possessions, to serve others, to give.

We are finally freed to love others the way we have been loved. The way we would want to be loved.

This is the greatest freedom of all—the freedom of Christ.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”—Galatians 5:1

Jesus set you free so that you could actually live free. And that freedom is so that you can be free to relate to your neighbors, to your family, to your enemies—as if you are embodying the very image of the invisible God among them. You become Jesus in their midst. You live freely.

Today reminds me that I am free to worship the One who allows me to think less of myself. I am free to worship the One who gave of himself so that all things might be new. I am free in humility to consider others more important than myself. (Philippians 2:3)

I am free to love.

I’ll celebrate that.

Hopefully without tears.

Image: Subsplash, OC Gonzalez