Mrs. Lubbers is a wife and mother in the Protestant Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois.

“Called unto liberty”

Galatians 5:13

Ranking right up there on any American’s priority list is freedom. Personal freedom, religious freedom, and societal freedom are considered to be not only a privilege but the right of each and every one of us.

Our nation was forged on the anvil of freedom. In an eloquent statement, memorized by schoolchildren throughout this land, the Declaration of Independence reads: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Throughout our two hundred year existence, the courts of this land have tested the extent of this liberty again and again. How high is freedom? How broad? How comprehensive? How loudly, or how softly, does the bell of liberty toll?

As a nation, we have never been subjected to any other country. No soldier with drawn bayonet has ever occupied our streets. The ominous tramp of military boots at corner or crossroads is as foreign to us as snow in July.

As a Reformed people in America, committed to a particular religious belief, we have been free all these many years to worship God in accordance with the Scriptures. Secretly meeting for worship, furtively reading a few verses from the Bible behind blackened blinds, baptizing our infants in the pastor’s study late at night without recording the child’s name in the church registry are all outside the pale of our experience.

In America it seems impossible, something dredged out of darkest fiction, even to imagine life without liberty. Bosnia and Croatia are just countries in ethnic turmoil, far, far away, not even remotely connected to the life and freedom we have come to enjoy. We are a free people. Complete liberty is ours. It is guaranteed to us in our Constitution. No government will ever tell us what to do, or how to do it, or when, or where. And every advertisement and jingle touts this message. “Just do it!” “Do your own thing.” “Do it your way.”

As the passionate, though somewhat addled, James Otis declared back in 1775 when the Sons of Liberty were meeting in a cramped and confining attic in Boston: “It is all so much simpler than you think,” he said. He lifted his hands and pushed against the rafters. “We give all we have, lives, property, safety, skills…we fight, we die, for a simple thing. Only that a man can stand up” (Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes).

That’s what freedom is all about – so a man can stand up!

These are stirring lines from our history’s record, and even the most indifferent student sits a little straighter upon hearing these patriotic, all-American sentiments.

Forged in freedom, but reared in revolution, is it any wonder that America has produced a society of rebels? In such a society, women are free to divorce their husbands, husbands are free to abandon their wives, parents are free to turn over the care of their children to day-care centers, children are free to sue their parents, the state is free to murder its unborn children, the homosexual is free to leave his closet, the employer is free to be a Simon Legree, the employee is free to be a Tom Sawyer, and the sexual pervert is free to publish his pornography. Everyone is free to express any deviant thought of his heart. And in the church women are free to be ministers, elders, and deacons. No one bends the knee to any other. Each of us has rights, and no one is reluctant to exercise them. One has only to “stand up” and claim them.

How different is Scripture’s interpretation of freedom. Here, freedom has bounds. It has limitations to excess. It has restraints. The Apostle Paul says in Galatians 5:13-14: “For brethren, ye have been called unto liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Not a life of license, then, but the life of love.

Just observe what has happened n biblical history to those who have stood up, to those who have used heir liberty to license. Eve stood up, and she was escorted out of Paradise; 9dam stood up, and he spent the rest of his days stooped over a hostile terrain of thorns and thistles; Miriam stood up, and she was smitten with leprosy; Moses stood up, calling God’s people “Ye rebels,” and he never set one foot on Canaan’s soil; Jonah stood up, and he was dropped into a howling, raging sea. All these stood up, and without divine restoration they would have perished. Standing up outside the liberty as prescribed for each of us in God’s Word has dreadful consequences, now and in the life to come.

Freedom, according to Scripture, has very little to do with “so that a man can stand up.” It has everything to do with a believer on his knees. Only prostrate, at the foot of the Cross, confessing my pride and perversity, do I enjoy complete liberating freedom. There I can say with Paul that though I am a slave or prisoner, yet am I free.

So much of Jesus’ teaching was by paradox: through poverty I am made rich; the least is the greatest; the last shall be first; out of weeping comes rejoicing; it is in giving that I receive. Paradoxically, then, it is in kneeling that I stand up.

The late Robert Frost defined freedom this way: Freedom consists of “moving easy in the harness.” The poet laureate from Vermont may not have been familiar with the teachings of the apostle Paul, but he knew horses well. And he knew mankind well. Horses and human beings need the harness.

God has laid down his declaration for perfect freedom in the Ten Commandments. His law is the harness in which each of us may live and move comfortably. All those 10 don’ts against which men of every culture and creed chafe – keep them perfectly, do them willingly, and you move easy in the harness. Defy them, strain all your life long against this harness, and you strangulate.

This is the simple truth about freedom.

Let freedom ring!