Freedom-Flags-Fornication (Galatians 5:13-14)
Today’s Passage: Galatians 5:13-14
As the Fourth of July rolls around, our nation celebrates its founding. Flags will be flown. Much will be said about freedom.
The Founders desired to be free from a number of troublesome systems…including monarchs. They also desired that to be free to live with certain rights and responsibilities.
Consider the first amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
As I scan The Bill of Rights, my imagination begins to conjure up images of just how hard- pressed people in society were. Consider the amendment that prohibits the housing of troops in your home!
Yet, what is the aim of freedom? Today, we seem to be on a path for unfettered individual freedom. Is this our ultimate aim? There seems to be no talk of our responsibility as citizens. After all, the Founders were seeking to establish a “more perfect union”.
The title of this blog might cause you to furrow your brow, but to me it seems that we live in a world where this quest for ultimate human freedom is being most often expressed through how people use their physical bodies. Under the banner of freedom, there is an attack on long held norms. The norm of marriage being between one man and one woman. The norm that sexual relations be limited to inside the bonds of marriage (while it happens all too often outside of marriage, it was not the norm). The norm that the gender you were born, is the gender you are. The norm that you do not determine when you die.
Now, under the banner of freedom, people want to be free to marry who they want, and how many they want. People want to be free to fornicate with who they want. People want to be free to choose their gender. People want to be free to choose to kill themselves.
Is this the aim of freedom? Many people, perhaps you, say “It is my right!!!”
Which drives me to try and think more deeply. I was raised with the idea that with our rights come responsibilities. Our freedom has a cost. It is never free. I think those statements are true. How else can we strive to have a society that stands against prejudice and violence?
The tone of this age is therefore driving me to go deeper. It requires I examine the interplay between our rights and our responsibilities. Let’s consider what seems to be, at least to me, the freedom which is being loudly demanded: complete individualistic autonomy.
When a person is demanding to determine their own biological identity, or the freedom to end their own life, I can’t think of another two examples that go deeper in the realm of individualistic freedoms (we have long had the freedom to determine our own spiritual identity).
There is so much tied up in these situations. It is if people are wrapping a cocoon around themselves and saying “stay-out”, yet none of us live in isolation…we are linked as fellow humans.
Perhaps, to think this, we do not need to go to the “deep-end of the pool”. Because this idea, this question, that freedoms bring with them rights and responsibilities, needs to live in a cohesive manner.
What I am saying is that if we were to determine that these freedoms were in fact valid, we would do so not from emotion, but from logic. From some ordering principles that deal with both rights and responsibilities in any number of situations.
Therefore, to try and think through this tension, let’s consider another social situation, something more accepted, like drinking alcohol.
I am not talking about prohibiting alcohol consumption. Our country tried that once.
Rather, does society have a right to limit the amount of alcohol I drink? Does society have the right to oppress me and limit my individual freedom. I am not speaking about driving while intoxicated. I am simply asking- Can I practice some individual behavior, like drinking to excess, that “affects no one but myself”? Can I drink myself to death? Isn’t it my right?
How about other forms of behavior that we currently believe to be destructive, such as the current opioid epidemic?
I would observe we seem to instinctively cry out against such situations. In fact, we more than cry out. If we were to find someone in a coma, we would rush them to the hospital, and as a society pay the expense to save them from themselves. We would assert, “They don’t know better, it is the drink (or drug) speaking!”
All of this however means there is some implicit moral standard, some moral line, and we have decided their behavior is just too far. We step in, unwrap them from their cocoon, and limit their freedom…because we realize they may not be free after all.
The Scriptures have long cautioned against this excess idea of freedom.
+ Galatians 5:1 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.
+ 1 Corinthians 6:12 "Everything is permissible for me" - but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me" - but I will not be mastered by anything.
Being “mastered” by something is to be controlled by it—it is a loss of freedom.
Perhaps, at this moment, you are railing against my appeal to Scripture. Suspend my use of the Bible for a moment and revisit the question, “Is there something, some “freedom”, that indeed has boundaries, so that people should be saved from it, even if it does not affect anyone else?”
For if there is, then you have set a “moral line”. The Bible calls it “sin”. You can call it whatever you like, but you have set a moral line.
Perhaps you would cry out, but there is a cost to our family, and to our society…ah…if this is where our minds go, then that leads us back to that word, responsibility.
Responsibility has to do with our collective selves. It is the question of the type of family, the type of society, we are seeking to form. To raise this point, is to say that our individual behavior, collectively matters.
I would suggest our collective behavior does matter. From it flows good and evil, fairness and prejudice. Our Founders wrestled with this situation. They were well versed in the argument about the good of many to allow the suppression of a few—they had personally suffered under it knowing it often led to the exact opposite.
Yet at the end of the day, they understood that with rights, came responsibilities. We have a responsibility to ourselves, and to one-another…and if you believe in God…then ultimately a responsibility to God.
Perhaps the word responsibility strikes you as strong. Indeed it is. For to live with others, to be in relationship with others, including God, draws us into the others life. We impact them. We have an affect on them. And if we love them, then the stakes are even higher.
I am suggesting that if we are to live on this planet, with even the remotest concern for others, we will, at some point, be faced with limiting our individual freedoms.
+ Galatians 5:13-14 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Limiting our individual freedoms, without falling into tyranny, challenged our Founders. They themselves, while not perfect, understood this need to create a balance between rights and responsibilities.
Yet they knew more.
They understood the issue which lay at the heart of every human being. It wasn’t just monarchs, it was (and is) the human condition, the human heart. How could they create a system that did not rest on “human nature”? They knew all too well that human nature is not good, especially when it is given power.
They did a remarkable, albeit not perfect, job.
On this Fourth of July let’s celebrate this country, this system of government that has been created and sustained.
Let’s also reflect on their understanding of rights and responsibilities, on their understanding that all individual freedoms interact with society, and therefore will need limits. As I reflect, I am asking myself- Where have I gone too far in one direction of the other?
I wish I could remember which Founder said the following words, “Unless these people are governed by some higher moral authority, the freedoms they are given today, will be their undoing.” I have held this quote in my mind for many years, yet lost the source document.
My point in this rather long piece, is that at the end of the day, all our appeals for whatever freedoms are ultimately making their appeal to some higher ordering authority—and with that higher ordering authority will come responsibilities. Without such, everyone will simply do what they believe is right in their own mind—it will be a world where no one is responsible.
This is not a new situation. History is replete with similar moments.
Today we stand dangerously on the edge of throwing off any higher moral authority. We sit poised to repeat the history of many countries that have become too comfortable with themselves.
My prayer is that as a nation we will see that our demands for freedom have reached such ludicrousness, that the scales will fall from our eyes and we will turn back to God.
God, His existence and His revelation in the Bible has provided the bedrock for a most flourishing society…like it or not…I suggest the Bible has been the higher moral authority which our country was built upon…consider these verses on freedom as you enjoy this Fourth of July…and let’s pray that we all turn to Him.
+ John 8:36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
+ Ephesians 3:12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
+ Psalm 119:45 I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.
+ Romans 6:22 But now that you have been set free from sin and become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.
+ 1 Peter 2:16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom to cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.
+ Galatians 3:22 But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
+ 2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.