“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1 NKJV
Happy Independence Day! Tomorrow we get to celebrate 242 years of the United States of America as an independent, sovereign nation.
Many of us will celebrate the holiday in one form or another. A lot of us will be at a cookout. Camping, spending time on the lake, or visiting one of Utah’s state or national parks sounds like a lot of fun, too. As the sun-drenched sky gives way to dusk, we look forward to watching fireworks displays while listening to patriotic music. Some of us may look forward to setting off our own fireworks. I hope that, whatever you do, your Fourth of July festivities go over with a bang — but please be careful and safe.
This week we’ll hear words like free (or freedom), liberty, and independence used a lot as reminders that we are Americans and bask in these basic principles of our nation. We have a constitution in place, complete with a Bill of Rights. As a pastor in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, I am grateful for these words of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”
This means that I get to, Sunday in and Sunday out, preach the fullness of God’s Word to the flock He has entrusted to my care; this includes all the sternness of His Law (that we are all sinners who deserve to die and need to repent) and all the sweetness of His Gospel (that Jesus Christ died on the cross to win forgiveness for sinners like you and me). This means I get to call sin what it is, and I also get to proclaim that God loves us so much that He sent His only-begotten Son Jesus to die on the cross for us, rendering us free from the curse of sin — eternal death.
This brings us back to the Bible verse at the beginning of this week’s column: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” The blessed apostle St. Paul was not speaking of political freedom but of spiritual freedom. We are free from slavery to sin and its curse because Jesus has set us free by His death on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday.
This, however, does not mean we are free to sin; that would be turning God’s free grace into cheap grace, thinking it’s all right to sin because God will forgive us, anyway. No, what this means is that God still calls us to holiness — for He is holy — and to repent of our sins, whether we’re conscious of them or not.
Paul summed it up best as he wrote, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in Romans 6:
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
“For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:1-11
As Americans, our nation’s forefathers gained our freedom from British tyranny; they had to fight for it. Many of them bled and died to win our freedom. In the wars our nation has fought since, many fought for our freedom as well, and again many gave their all to protect our liberty.
But as Christians our freedom has already been won — by an army of One — by our Lord and Savior Jesus, who Himself gave His own life for us by giving His body and shedding His blood on the cross to free us from the tyranny of sin and its curse: eternal condemnation.
And then the greatest miracle of all happened: Jesus rose from the dead. He is our Victor over sin, death, and the devil. Jesus paid the price we owed for our sins … totally and completely. It is finished; your salvation is made perfect by the blood of Jesus.
Happy Independence Day — every day. Thanks be to God!
Mark Schlamann is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Tooele.