Full Version: Freedom vs Liberty
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We had such a great service today, with several inferences to God’s gift of America to us, and what our forefathers provided for us. The songs, readings, and sermon were all peppered with references to freedom. Freedom is unfortunately one of my hot buttons. I don’t have anything against freedom, but when it’s not the right word or when it’s not used in a good context. Sometimes those sorts of things get me going. Like a pastor who didn’t know the difference between roughshod and slipshod. He kept telling his congregation that the Devil was being allowed to run slipshod over them. Makes me shake my head to this day. Smile

The English language is not always as precise as, say, computer languages or Greek or Hebrew, and with some words, they have even become accepted as interchangeable with other words, even though they are not really the same. Ask almost any woman to describe the sky and you’ll get words like azure, cyan, baby blue, light blue, cerulean, or powder blue. Ask a man and you’ll likely get “blue”. I’m not always interested in the technical, precise shade determination. It’s not orange or green, blue is enough for me. But I think that God cares about precision most of the time.

Today I was struck at how often I heard the word “freedom”. There was one verse that looped through my mind, from Luke where Jesus was in the synagogue at Nazareth and he told them about his ministry, “To proclaim liberty to the captives”. Another translation says deliverance. A few paraphrase style translations assign the word freedom instead of liberty. Is this a big deal? It might be!

Jesus has done a lot of things for us through His sacrificial death on the cross. He saved us. He redeemed us and reconciled us to the Father. He proclaimed liberty to us when we were captive to sin. Did He really “free” us? Are we “free”? Am I free??

Not really. I am freed from the captivity of sin, but I’m not “free”. I was chosen, I was redeemed. Freedom means that I can do whatever I want to do and not do whatever I don’t. Freedom from rules, freedom from responsibility. That’s what freedom means. Anarchy is true freedom. No rules, no boundaries. I don’t want to go there! I want to be near the One Who freed me from sin. I want to serve Him. The One who redeems, redeems for cause, generally not to pat the redeemed on the head and say goodbye, or as Mork would say to the egg, “Fly and be free!”. The Redeemer purchases the life of the one who was enslaved to sin because of love. We have freedom of choice and we can choose to serve the One Who saved and redeemed, or we can walk away. Walking away from the Redeemer means exercising one’s freedom. Do I really want to do that? No. Paul described himself as a bond servant of the Lord. Doulos is the Greek and it’s an interesting term. It was usually used to describe an indentured slave/servant whose debt was paid in full and was free to leave, but who chose to remain in service to that master. Paul was a slave of sin and of a bad case of Pharisee-ism. He knew it. Now he was freed from those bonds, and at liberty to pursue a relationship with Messiah. There is freedom of a sort within the liberty, a freedom to do anything within the guidelines and rules laid out by my Savior.

Patrick Henry did not say, “Give me freedom or give me death,” and it wasn’t because of the prose police. Pat knew a thing or two about rules and laws. He knew that we needed rules to serve as fences and guidelines—not to restrict, but to guide and instruct. If I place no expectations on myself, I will never disappoint myself, and I will never meet those expectations. Because I have committed myself to Christ, I want to abide by His rules because I know them to be the very best possible way of life for me. Those rules are not a burden, they are a very low fence. Maybe even just a line on the ground. It’s pretty clear where the boundaries are. I want to keep the boundaries. I want His smile of approval and love. I don’t want to sin any more, or to be controlled by sin.

The Apostles Creed says that Jesus descended into hell, to those dead in their sins. Jesus proclaimed liberty to the captives and we’re told that Jesus led them out of hell and into Paradise (Ephesians 4:8, Paul citing the fulfillment of Psalm 68:18, “You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives”). Were they forced to go with Him? Did they still have a choice? I believe they did. They could believe and follow Him out or not believe and stay. Lip service would not work. Jesus wasn’t going to take yes-men with Him! Real belief meant real redemption.

George Barna was on a talk show on the 4th, talking a little about his new book, but mostly he was there to answer one question for the host, “What is religion or faith going to look like in ten years?” His answer was very revealing. Barna makes his living asking people questions and analyzing the answers. He sees bad things if we continue on our current path. He talked about the eclectic religious practices of Americans in general. They pick and choose what they will or won’t believe. A little Christian truth, a little Buddhist truth, some Jewish, some Islamic thought, a little yoga, maybe some astrology, and a bit of pantheistic practice to round things out. A long time ago, I actually heard a Presbyterian pastor say, “Well, there are a lot of ways to God, you know.” Last month someone in the Christian community quipped, “Allah is just their name for the same God, right?” This is what freedom brings. There are and have to be absolutes, things on which we cannot compromise, things without any gray. Good and evil are black and white issues. A small tinge of evil and is Good still good? Yes, we have “free” choice and a “free” will, but we also have heard that with “freedom” comes responsibility. If freedom is exercised correctly, it is tempered with responsibility. That’s no longer freedom. It’s liberty! Barna addressed (Dean’s paraphrase here) the need for Christians to quit shopping at the religion buffet. He compared it to the loss of “brand loyalty” that used to be passed down from one generation to the next. Dad owned a Buick, son often bought a Buick. Mom believed and lived XYZ, daughter believed and lived XYZ. Nah, maybe we’ll try a Kia. And Mom’s old time religion just isn’t hip enough. And when the kids don’t buy Mom and Dad’s “brands”, well, they’re “just being independent.” Independence is another name for freedom, not liberty. Freedom and independence go well together, but not in a Christian context, frankly. Liberty and individual go together nicely. While at liberty, we can stand alone because we stand together. Heard that before?

We’ve also heard recently that while we can be diverse in some practices, we need to be united and clear on the basics. The hard part is to decide what goes in the basics column and not turn into a cult or an extremist, conservative, uber-radical. Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man. Jesus, virgin-born, crucified as a sinless sacrifice, dead, buried, resurrected, ascended, and coming again. That’s the core and the rock solid foundation. What else is basic? For us as liturgical types, we have creeds and canons to which to say, “Amen.” If we read what we’re supposed to believe in the Creeds and can’t really believe the statements, what DO we believe and why are we still in a place with beliefs to which we can’t adhere? Again, as we’ve heard before, are we in the boat or not? It’s not a social club!

I’ve been part of congregations that actually were more social club than belief based. You could believe nearly anything and not be held accountable. Freedom says things like, “Religion is a personal matter and frankly none of your business.” Think that man was “in the boat”? He was third generation in the congregation and a regular attender. He had no idea who Jesus was or what He did for him through the cross, and worse, he didn’t care. Church was vital to his grandparents, life-giving. Church was important to his parents, a weighty component of their community life. Church was what he did on Sundays because it was expected so his mother wouldn’t nag him. His kids did not attend at all. “Well, everyone has to make up their own minds about religion and morals and stuff like that.” NOT in the boat!

I’m at liberty because I am in Christ. I have certain freedoms within the canons and creeds. If, through baptism, confession of faith, confirmation, I say that I’m part of the family, and if this family takes me in after telling me the tenets of faith and life here, we’re now family together and moving forward in one faith and belief system. If I begin to stray in my walk forward, looking at the religious buffet and the “good” things that might tempt me away from the “best” things, my family is here to remind me of the right thinking that needs to prevail. Religion is not a private issue. I do have a responsibility to my brothers and sisters, both for my own religious practice and for theirs. That’s why we do this together. That’s why I don’t get to keep my own private rulebook. One body, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all… There are areas where diversity is good. Jobs, ministries, hobbies, hair color, maybe some political views, cars, shampoo, the Rapture, and lots of other stuff large and small. God’s interested in the details, though, so don’t count Him out in any of those areas either. When it comes to the foundations of the expressions of faith, not so much. Is the Bible the inspired word of God or not? Is Jesus Who He says He is or not? Did He tell me how He expected me to live or not? Will I obey…or not? Is He God? Is He my God? Will I allow Him to be Lord in my life and of my life? What does that look like?