We hear the word liberty tossed about in American culture. But what is this liberty of which we speak? Liberty from what? Or for what? Or whom?
Some in the culture speak of liberty as a byzantine tyranny against the masses, the haves (those with lotsa cash) sticking it yet again to the have-nots. Others speak of liberty against another brand of tyranny, that is the haves (those with political power) sticking it to the other haves (those with lotsa cash) by redistributing their wealth so everybody can equally be haves (a politically correct term for have-nots, in this context) so that the haves (those with political power) can be the true elite. That is one simplistic example of two perspectives on liberty. Are there others? I think yes….
I think about my generation and those younger getting all tatted up. After all, it is now considered cool to do so, even in church circles. Personally, I don’t care if you get a tattoo. Just don’t ask me for sympathy if your body hurts the day after. Also, don’t call it liberty if you are doing it out of a sense of cultural pressure to be included. Just sayin’.
Same thing with drinking wine in moderation. Despite the incredulity I receive from some folks, I exercise my liberty not to touch the stuff. In part, because of personal conviction (I just don’t trust myself to be a good steward of my health in this area, so I opt out completely. Besides, it has never interested me and I have to believe there is good reason for that), but also in order not to be a stumbling block to others, such as those in the denomination who seem to view it as grounds for dismissal from ministerial licensure. I could write about irony and overeating here, but I won’t on account of my own need to be a better steward of my health and weight. Wouldn’t that be ironic, yes?
I could also talk about other issues, such as the way folks use abusive language and risque humor in their conversations, and so on. But Scripture already does a good job of that without my help. I just wish those of us whom God has chosen to provide spiritual leadership in the church would do a far better job of living out what liberty in Christ really looks like. You know, to set an example. But then, this is where is gets sticky. Jesus, himself, drank wine, drove out people from the temple rather violently, publicly rebuked highly esteemed religious officials (he apparently did not get the memo about religious ecumenism), shared meals with reviled sinners such as tax collectors (gasp), and even, yes even allowed a prostitute to wash his feet with expensive perfume and her tears! For shame! For liberty.
Jesus was in the culture but not of it. Indeed, he came into the world, but the world did not know him. He was missional, but he did not adopt the sins of the culture. Indeed, he enjoyed life to the full, yet without sin at all. He lived in liberty, yet in complete submission to his Father. And he did so for the benefit of the world for whom he came to live and die, and then rise to live again. Liberty extended to those who rejected it in the garden in place of bondage, and now are given a second chance.
Liberty is not simply about the surface issues of politics, apparel, altering the appearance of your body through tattoos, choosing to drink alcohol, and such. It goes far more deeply to the core of who we originally were intended to be before the fall, who we became as a result of the fall, who those in Christ are now despite the fall, and what God ultimately intends to do to bring the fullness of liberty to fruition.
The Apostle Paul spoke of liberty in this way. He wrote, (Galatians 5:1) “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (see also Romans 5-7, and Galatians 5).
So, what is this liberty of which we speak? Quite simply, it is liberty to live as followers of Jesus Christ as sons and daughters of the King, a royal priesthood, a chosen generation, preparing to take up our role for which he originally designed us at creation. In the meantime, it also means we do not have to become beholden to cultural expectations having nothing to do with obedience to Christ. We are given liberty to rebel against the popular trends of our day. In my case I rebel against getting tattoos, cussing because some evangelical pastors do, boycotting Disney because my denomination told me I should, and so on. Yet, I also try to use my liberty with discernment, considering the needs of others. If someone offers me wine, I politely decline, citing my personal custom. If a person lets a swear word slip, I don’t chastise them. Unless, of course, they are being abusive to someone else and it is in my power to do something about it. My point is, I try to keep it real with people, taking into account their needs, and Christ’s work in them.
What about you? What is this liberty you live out personally? Does it feel constrained by the expectations of others? Of the culture? Of the church? Assuming you are a follower of Jesus Christ, does the liberty which Christ has granted you manifest in life-giving ways to others? Or not so much?