Tuesday is the Fourth of July—Independence Day. On the Fourth of July, we celebrate our nation and its freedoms. I don’t know how much the Fourth of July means to you. It means quite a bit to me. I have been places where people were not free. I thank God for my freedom.
I remember especially the Fourth of July, 1986. We had been in Germany for a year, and were really homesick. It had been a very tough year—probably the toughest year of my adult life. We were facing two more years before we could go home, and those two years seemed like a lifetime.
We watched television that Fourth of July—the American Armed Forces station. They were broadcasting a concert by Lee Greenwood from the hanger deck of the aircraft carrier America. The carrier was in the Mediterranean. The sailors on board were probably as homesick as we were.
Just a couple of years before, I had gone to a chaplains’ workshop in Norfolk, Virginia, and the Navy chaplains had arranged for us to tour America, which was in port at the time. It had been great fun walking around that great ship. I had felt very privileged to be there. But now I was stuck in Germany, feeling very sorry for myself. As Lee Greenwood sang, “I’m proud to be an American!” I felt the tears well up in my eyes. I was proud to be an American, and I wanted to go home.
But, as difficult as it was to be away from home, I was also proud to be helping defend Western Europe against attack. It was a tough, disciplined life. We started the day before dawn, and got home after dark. We trained hard and we worked hard.
I heard another song, and it also brought tears to my eyes. It said, “Freedom Isn’t Free!” How true! The price of freedom is sweat—and blood—and tears. The price of freedom is being a particular kind of people living a particular kind of life.
I was reminded of all that when I saw this text from Galatians. Paul was writing to the Christians at Galatia. That little church had a problem. Paul had taught them about the saving power of the cross of Christ, but they had reverted to the old Jewish law. Paul wrote this letter to tell them about freedom. He says, “You have been called to freedom. He tells them that they no longer need to sacrifice animals at the Temple or keep a kosher kitchen. They are free from the Old Testament law.
But there was a danger in this teaching. If they were free from the law, they might be tempted to cast aside all moral restraints and “grab all the gusto they could get.” If God forgives all sins, why not walk on the wild side?
In Romans 6, Paul said that we should not walk on the wild side because, when we were baptized into Christ, we became new creatures. Sin is not consistent with our love for Christ.
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To the Galatians, Paul says:
“Walk by the Spirit,
and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh….
For the flesh lusts against the Spirit,
and the Spirit against the flesh” (5:16-17).
Then he says:
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious,
which are: adultery, sexual immorality,
hatred, strife, jealousies,
outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions,
murders, drunkenness, orgies,
and things like these” (5:19-20).
“Those who practice such things
will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (5:21).
That isn’t popular talk today. Thirty years ago, the Pill created a sexual revolution by promising sex without consequences. Young people, reacting against the Vietnam War, created a “do-your-own-thing” world. Today, morality is all a matter of opinion, and everyone has their own opinion. There are no absolutes.
The result is a world in which neither we nor our children are safe.
Our community is one of the safest communities in the nation. My family and I used to live in Washington, the murder-capital of the nation. The police blotter in this town is a joke by comparison. But parents here still tell me that they are afraid for their children. They say, “It isn’t like it was when I grew up.” They say, “We had our problems, but nothing like the drugs and sex and violence that our children face today.”
I picked up the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly magazine this week. The cover article is entitled, “The Crisis of Public Order.” The article quotes crime statistics from New Haven, Connecticut. It compares crime in 1960 with crime in 1992.
• In 1960, that city had six murders; in 1992, it had thirty-one.
• In 1960, it had four rapes; in 1992, it had 168—an increase of more than 4000 percent.
• In 1960, it had sixteen robberies; in 1992, it had 1,784—an increase of more than 10,000 percent.
You might say, well, the population of New Haven probably exploded during those years. In fact, it declined by 14 percent. The article went on to quote similar statistics from Milwaukee, New York, and other American cities.
Most frightening, it points to a dramatic increase in the number of young males that is coming, and predicts that crime will double in the next few years.
What happened? The article cites the breakdown of the family and the availability of guns as key problems. It proposes larger police forces as the immediate solution to the problem.
I can’t quarrel with any of that. But what caused the family breakdown? Why do we have assault rifles on the streets? A significant part of the problem lies with our unwillingness to say that anything is wrong. Ted Koppel, a particularly thoughtful news commentator, put it this way:
“We have convinced ourselves that slogans will save us.
‘Shoot up if you must, but use a clean needle.’
Or, ‘Enjoy sex whenever and with whomever you wish,
but protect yourself.’
No! The answer is no!
Not because it isn’t cool or smart
or because you might wind up in jail
or dying in the AIDS ward,
but because it’s wrong!
What Moses brought down from Mount Sinai
were not the Ten Suggestions,
but the Ten Commandments!”
If you don’t think we have a problem, just listen to rap music or go to the movies or read Time and Newsweek about hard-core porn on the Internet. William Bennett called Time-Warner to task for their violent music, and Time-Warner tried to turn it into a discussion about art. They talked about their rights. But having rights isn’t the same as being right.
I am reminded of a New Yorker cartoon. Satan is addressing newly-inducted souls who are standing in the flames. He says:
“You’ll find there’s no right or wrong here.
Just what works for you.”
Doesn’t that sound familiar? Isn’t that the modern creed! There’s nothing right or wrong here. Just what works for you.
And I ask, “Is it working for us? Have we created a better world for our children?” I think not! We have tried to create perfect freedom at any cost—and it has cost us our freedom.
We need to learn what Paul can teach us about freedom. He says, “You were called to freedom.” But that isn’t the end of his message. He calls us, in our freedom, to live by the Spirit —the Spirit of God—because only God can make us free.
Paul talks about some of the things that threaten to enslave us. He calls them works of the flesh. He tells us that sex outside of marriage enslaves us. He tells us that strife and jealousy and anger and quarrels and dissensions and factions enslave us. He tells us that drugs and alcohol enslave us. He tells us that carousing enslaves us.
Most of us know that Paul is right. In some cases, we have been enslaved by illicit sex or anger or jealousy or drugs or alcohol. In some cases, we still are. We have seen other people get their lives tangled up in illicit sex or anger or jealousy or drugs or alcohol. We have seen that Paul is right! The sins which he calls the works of the flesh are not the way to freedom; they are the way to enslavement.
Paul calls us to freedom. He calls us to the works of the Spirit, because the works of the Spirit will set us free—really free. He says that the works of the Spirit are:
“Love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness,
faith, gentleness, and self-control ” (5:22-23).
That sounds like a Sunday school lesson, doesn’t it. It sounds like something the Boy Scouts would recite at the beginning of their meeting. It sounds so simple as to be simplistic and so unsophisticated as to be trite. But it happens to be true. If we want to escape being slaves to sin, we have to become slaves to Christ.
This week—this Fourth of July week—commit yourself to the Christ who can set you free. Commit yourself to live by the works of the Spirit, which set you free—and separate yourself from the works of the flesh, which enslave.
And keep in mind that the same things that make us free also help to keep our nation free. Two centuries ago, Alexis de Tocqueville said:
“America is great because America is good,
and if America ever ceases to be good,
America will cease to be great.
He might also have said:
America is free because America is good,
and if America ever ceases to be good,
America will cease to be free.”
Let us commit ourselves to being good—so that we might also be great—and so that we might also be free.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan