Can we be free and Christian at the same time?
Many who equate Christianity as only moralism say no. Christianity forces its laws upon you, and this legalism takes away your freedom.
However, the Bible teaches that only in Christ is a person free. Peter writes, “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God” (I Peter 2:16). Jesus said, “If you hold to my teachings you are truly my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31). Paul writes, “For freedom, Christ has set you free” (Galatians 5:1).
Who is right Ð the Bible or those who say that Christianity robs you of the freedom you deserve? Can we be Christian and free at the same time?
Karl Barth, the well-known theologian of the last generation, said, “A Christian should read the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other.” His point was that God’s Word needs to be applied to what is happening around us. As I write this sermon, I sit with the Bible and the book, “Losing Our Virtues” before me. This book, written by David Wills, is presenting some thinking in our culture and what the Bible has to say about it. Dr. Wills is a professor of theology at the Gordon Cornwall Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. One question addressed in this book is, Who robs us of our freedom?
The political enemy is obviously a frightening enemy. The leaders of Communism and Nazism would have rejoiced to destroy democracy as we know it in the United States. From the days of the Revolutionary War with George Washington at Valley Forge to the present time with our pilots flying over Kosovo dropping their bombs for seventy-eight days, great sacrifices have been made so that people might be politically free.
Those of us who have lived through a good part of this twentieth century know well the price paid for the freedom we enjoy. I will never forget the last letter my childhood buddy, Christian, wrote to me only hours before he died in Italy during World War II. I will always remember Bob, the young man I had in my confirmation class, who was killed in Viet Nam. These are but two of the hundreds of thousands who have given their lives that we might live as free people. Americans are committed to defend this freedom, which we have enjoyed for more than two centuries.
Government regulations and bureaucracy also threaten us as people of the free world. “Once I could run my business as I thought best. Now the government is telling me what I can do.” This is a common statement heard in the coffee shops and service clubs. A good friend, who is trying to be successful in the business community, says that regulations put on him by Washington are forcing him to lock the doors of his little factory and go fishing. Yet we see the need for some regulations to protect society.
Forty-three years ago our congregation built a home for the aged. It was truly a home. If a resident wanted a particular food, she would ask the cook for it to be served. The cook promised to oblige if the woman wanting this food would help her in preparing it. What fun they had! How the residents enjoyed those efforts to make life as close as possible to the way it was at home. Then one government regulation after another was added and soon the home was an institution. I complained about these interferences until my daughter reminded me that, while we wanted to serve people to the best of our ability, many in the business were primarily concerned about the profit of caring for the elderly. Then came her punch line, “Remember that nursing home that had such a strong odor of urine we could hardly visit our neighbor who moved there? Those were days when there were no regulations.”
So we battle. Republicans criticize Democrats for too much government and Democrats say government is necessary to protect the rights of our people. The battle between political philosophies continues. Can we be free and be Christian?
Yet there are other enemies Ð and some people would list Christianity as one Ð that takes away some of our freedoms. A young person tells me that one day he will be more devout in his Christianity, but at the present there are things he wants to do. Being committed to Christ would not permit him to do these things. A businessperson is reluctant to become a committed Christian, because he would have to change some policies practiced in his operation that at the present are financially very profitable.
In his book, Dr. Will quotes James Lincoln Collier who writes, “Between the years of 1910 -1970 the United States turned from a social code, in which self restraint was a cardinal virtue, to one in which self gratification is a central idea.” Once we asked the question, “Is it right?” Today we ask, “Is it right for me or will it take away some of my freedom?” I will not allow anyone to take this freedom from me, not even Jesus Christ and His Church.
Because of this need to do our own thing, we have to acknowledge some statistics that are not easy to accept. In 1960 the illegitimacy rate in America was at 5%. Now it has increased 400% since 1960.
Pornography has blossomed to a four billion-dollar industry that accounts for a quarter of all the videos rented in shops, seen in thriving hotel business, or on cable. Only 2 percent experience guilt about watching it. Away with Christianity and its teachings about impure living, we are free to live as we please.
Since 1973 when we legalized abortion, an estimated 28 million, unborn children have lost their lives. Abortion was virtually unknown in the last century. Dr. Wills reminds us that once we had rules that automatically governed our behavior. Many of these rules existed because of our Christian heritage. This was our culture’s understanding of how life should be lived. This made much of our behavior automatic because these rules pointed out what was right and wrong. Today this traditional culture is dying. We have dismantled the former rules and the only rule left is, What is good for me? How do I want to live? This is a freedom that I cherish and it will not be taken from me.
All of this adds up to the sad truth that those who consider themselves free live in the midst of captivity being captive to their own selves, and the emotions that drive them farther and farther away from God, who is their only liberator.
God’s Word teaches that Christ is the one who makes us free. Through His death and resurrection our sins can be forgiven, which restores us into fellowship with God. It is in this relationship that we experience our greatest freedom. The selfishness that once dominated our souls, but never brought happiness, is replaced with a desire to live for others. As husbands and wives, we enjoy a faithfulness that never needs to be questioned, for we love each other. This has replaced the constant threat of sexual promiscuity. The minds captured by pornography are captured by a picture of Christ, who attends us daily. The hatred that made us miserable has given way to loving even those who were our worst enemies. Our anxieties are eased as we find peace in trusting Christ to see us through the worst difficulties of life.
Can we be free and Christian at the same time? Christ gives us a clear answer by telling us that we can not only be free and followers of his, but he also tells us that the only way we can be free in the true sense of the word is to become captives of Christ.
On this Independence Day, we thank God for our political freedom. Let us also realize that, even if this freedom were taken away, we are still free people of God in Christ.