Happy birthday, America – you gorgeous young thing, you!
It’s probably just a bad case of World Cup Fever, but I’ve been feeling extra patriotic lately. Maybe there are times I get a little teary-eyed during the National Anthem. What of it?! I can’t help it – there’s something deep in my soul that loves this crazy country of ours. She’s beautiful, with her glorious baseball games, Grand Canyon, fireworks, tea parties in the harbor, bald eagles, and freedom.
We’re blessed to live in a country where we have real freedom – to elect our leaders, to practice our religion, to speak our minds without fear of persecution (and while we’re at it, let’s say a few prayers that these freedoms – now under close scrutiny – will continue). Obviously, we aren’t a perfect nation, but the reality is that we have a lot more freedom here than many of our other brothers and sisters around the globe.
Yeah, we’ve got our freedom, all right… but how are we doing with our free will?
FREEDOM VS. FREE WILL
These two concepts can be tricky to navigate. Contrary to popular belief, they aren’t the same. Free will means that we can do whatever we want to do, whenever we want to do it. But actual freedom… that looks a little bit different.
Check what Jesus says on the subject – head to John 8 and start around verse 31. Jesus tells His followers that if they remain in His word, they will know the truth and the truth will set them free (oh, and He calls Himself the Truth a bit later [John 14:6]). They don’t really get it, because they’ve never been enslaved – not like their ancestors who were slaves in Egypt, at least. But Christ tells them that anyone who sins becomes a slave of sin.
I’ve got good news and bad news. Want the bad news first? We’re all sinners (Romans 3:23). We all mess up and do really stupid stuff that separates us from God and other people.
But here’s the good news – Christ came to set us all free (Romans 6:18). And if we follow His commands, we can have real freedom.
FOLLOW THE LEADER
How is it that following a bunch of rules sets us free? Isn’t that just restrictive? Taking away our freedom to do whatever we want?
Think of it this way: if you’ve got your driver’s license and access to a car, then you’ve got the freedom to go wherever you’d like. But if you exercise your free will, as a driver, in such a way that you don’t obey the rules of the road (speed limits, for example, or traffic signals) then you’ll get pulled over and lose your freedom to drive in no time. Red, white, and blue represent freedom until they’re flashing in your rearview mirror, amiright?
The rules exist for a reason – they’re for our good, for our benefit. We cannot escape the reality that every action has consequences. I’m sure you’ve known people who have used their free will to make really bad decisions (drug use, alcohol abuse, sex outside of marriage, pornography, etc.) that cost them their freedom and enslaved them to sin, just like Christ warned. I’m sure you’ve even known people whose sin has, horribly, led to death.
And if that’s you… if you’re in a place where something is holding you captive and you feel like you’re heading down a really dark road, then I beg you to go to a trusted adult for help.
There is always, always, always help, and there is always hope. Since Christ came to rescue us, there’s no reason to stay a slave. Freedom is an option for us all. No one is beyond God’s saving hand.
GIVE ME LIBERTY. PERIOD.
St. John Paul II defined authentic freedom in Christ as having the right to do what we ought. Jesus doesn’t want to take away our freedom. He came to save us from sin and death (Romans 6:23). His death saved us from death, and now through Him we can live life to the fullest (John 10:10). And when we use our free will to do what we ought, in line with Christ’s teachings, we can experience real freedom.
Waaaaaay back in 1999, that same great St. John Paul II came to my hometown and said,
“Freedom is not the ability to do anything we want, whenever we want. Rather, freedom is the ability to live responsibly the truth of our relationship with God and one another.”
Truth is, you were created for a life of real freedom – love, peace, and joy in your relationships with Him and other people. And following His commands is the only way I know to find it.
For freedom, Christ has set you free (Galatians 5:1) – and so, from Calvary’s mountainside, let freedom ring.