Having lived my entire life in the shadows of Philadelphia (the birthplace of American independence), the Revolutionary War left its mark on me. The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross and Benjamin Franklin have been recurring characters in my life’s scenery. And the concept of freedom was ingrained from an early age.
During the Fourth of July holiday, our country celebrated the freedom brought about by the historic signing of the Declaration of Independence. Flags flying, fireworks and patriotic hymns filled us with national pride.
But as the brouhaha fades, our collective attention turns from celebrating the wonderful story that binds us together and returns to the never-ending fight for self that separates us. The media tell myriad tales of those who battle to protect (or redefine) their rights—especially their First Amendment rights—even if the rights they hope to claim adversely affect someone else’s.
Watching from the sidelines, it can get confusing. What’s the right amount of personal freedom? How much is too much? What’s not enough?
While we have a civic responsibility to be involved in our government, as believers we need to remember we’re aliens on this earth, “longing for a better country—a heavenly one.” (Heb 11:16). God has prepared a city for us. Our time here is practice.
In the Bible, James gives a much different view of free speech than we’re taught in civics class or in the news.
The tongue is ”a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person…All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” (James 3:6-11)
The pen may be mightier than the sword, but the tongue can condemn us to hell.
James’ words convicted me. Too often I live a dual life. Sometimes my words praise God. But too often they criticize, judge, berate and belittle others. According to James, if a stream of fresh water is flowing within, this duality is not possible.
But I block the Spirit within because I forget my citizenship. I forget my struggle isn’t about protecting my personal rights; it’s about relinquishing them to others—in love. I forget my goal isn’t to keep it all for myself; it's to give it all away. It’s not about escaping authority, but submitting to a higher One.
I’m proud to be an American, but I know freedom isn’t determined solely by geography or a signed piece of paper. True freedom comes from above. Jesus paid the price that freed us from the tyranny of sin and death. Through Him we can claim our citizenship.
And when we do, then we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free. (Jn 8:32)