Called to Freedom
Happy Fourth of July!
Today is the most quintessential of American holidays because it acknowledges and celebrates
the birth of the nation. Today is all about family, hamburgers and hot dogs (yuck), baked beans,
potato salad, corn on the cob, fireworks, patriotism, and freedom.
Personally, I have always found the Fourth of July to be an odd holiday. I struggle with the
myths and stories that we tell about the birth of our country and the cost and meaning of our
Over the past several days, I have spent some time reflecting on freedom. I have wrestled with
questions like: What is the source of our freedom? Are we truly free? Is there any such thing as
freedom? Is freedom an illusion and myth that we tell ourselves? What are we set free to do? Is
freedom about rights or is it about responsibility?
As I pondered those questions, I was reminded of the apostle Paul’s lengthy discussion about
freedom in his letter to his church friends in Galatia. It is a troubled and divided congregation. It
is a fellowship that has split into “us” and “them” factions over the practical and theological
issue of circumcision. While the question of circumcision may seem far removed and silly to us,
let me invite you to think about ordinary, everyday church folk dividing up into “us” and “them”
groups arguing over such weighty matters as abortion, race, gender identity, sexuality, the color
of the church’s carpet, and whether or not it is better to attend worship in-person or via live
stream in a post Covid world. Can you imagine church people splitting up into factions and
arguing over those theological and practical matters? I certainly can.
Paul cuts underneath the dispute about circumcision to remind these day-to-day Christians in
Galatia that Christ’s spirit has touched down concretely in their lives and set them free. Late in
his discussion, Paul writes:
For freedom, Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the
yolk of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
The point is so obvious that it is easily forgotten. The church keeps its life and lives its life in
Christ alone. Christ is the source of not only our life together, but our freedom too. As I
consider the source of our freedom in Christ, I am reminded of some of the cultural myths that
we tell about the source of our freedom. Culturally, politically, and socially, we believe that the
source of our freedom comes from such things as the Declaration of Independence, the
Constitution of the United States of America, a strong national military presence, the right to
carry a concealed weapon, the story of Manifest Destiny, etc.
But the truth is, the source of our freedom is not really found in any of those things. It is, rather,
found in Christ. And it is in the stories about the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of
Christ that we discover the source of our freedom. It is the reason why we tell our Jesus stories.
In the stories of Jesus, we see who God calls us to be and how we are summoned to live our
lives in the world as the people of Jesus. Christ is the decisive point of our lives and our life
As Paul continues to write to these day-to-day Christians about the freedom that they and we
have in Christ, he says something else that is important about freedom. Paul writes:
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an
opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the
whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as
yourself” (Galatians 5:13-14).
It occurs to me that much our talk about freedom in our contemporary U. S. cultural context is
about self-indulgence. Much our rhetoric about freedom is self-centered talk about personal,
individual rights: the right to carry a concealed handgun, the right to an abortion, the right to
same sex marriage, the right to use the bathroom of the gender with which I identify, and so
on. Many of our macro-conversations around freedom are about indulging our personal
Mostly in our culture, however, we associate freedom with consumer desire. We are shaped
deeply—whether we know it or not—by desiring new items that we can buy. We associate
freedom with the ability to buy and consume things: the freedom to buy the newest cell phone
or computer, the freedom to buy the most expensive home we can afford, the freedom to go
on an expensive and luxurious vacation, or the freedom to buy name brand and designer
clothes. We have this sense that freedom is, “If I get this thing, I’ll be okay. I’ll be pretty. I’ll be
smart. I’ll have it made. I’ll be free.”
But Paul tells his church friends and us that freedom is neither about individual, personal rights
nor is it about possessing unlimited consumer goods. Rather, it is about responsibility. We are
set free not for self-indulgence, but for responsibility to one another and to our neighbors. Paul
“…But through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a
single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
We have been set free to live in the ethic, meaning, and way of love, which, of course, is the
way of Christ. His life was an unending giving away of his life in freedom for the sake of the
other. He opened the eyes of the blind, unstopped the ears of the deaf, cleansed the skin of the
leper, forgave the sinners, welcomed strangers, ate with tax collectors and prostitutes,
proclaimed good news to the poor, set prisoners free, announced the God’s jubilee, and even
raised the dead. Christ was completely free, and he lived his freedom in love for the other.
As those who travel in his wake, we are summoned to live our lives—to live in freedom—as
Christ lives his life, always for the sake of the other. And so, my dear sisters and brothers, as
you eat your hamburgers and hot dogs and watch your fireworks, let me summon you to
ponder your freedom. Consider the true source of your freedom. And then, think about why
you have been set free.
“For freedom, Christ has set us free.”
Happy Fourth of July!
Rev. Kevin M. Campbell