July 4th is the day when America celebrates its freedom. It’s all about “independence”—being “free from outside control; not depending on another’s authority.” For a nation such as the United States, it’s about the freedom to govern itself without foreign interference. This is a good thing, something worth celebrating.
Yet, we also need to exercise prudence in our celebrations of freedom. For often, we tend to overvalue freedom and independence that we elevate it to a position of an idol. On the personal level, such idolatry leads to an unhealthy sense of individualism that eats away at the core of community life. Freedom then becomes a license to pursue my own desires without regard for how it affects the people around me, or the general well-being of the community of which I am a part.
The reality is that there is no such thing as absolute independence or freedom for finite created beings. At one level or another, we will need something from others. The things that we presume to possess “on our own” often exist because someone else made it available—the gadgets we use, utility services we enjoy, the clothes we wear. We are all interconnected.
Sadly, this extreme individualism tends to carry over even in the practice of the Christian faith. One can get so caught up in one’s own “do-it-yourself” spirituality that he or she fails to acknowledge the community of faith that Christ himself established. The truth is, scripture is quite clear that there is no such thing as independent spirituality. It is in the context of the community of faith that Christian discipleship is nurtured, even challenged, toward true maturity. As the writer to the Hebrews reminds us: “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10.24–25 NRSV).
What does this have to do with freedom? The apostle Paul instructs us: “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5.1 NET). “After all, brothers, you were called to be free; do not use your freedom as an opening for self-indulgence, but be servants to one another in love” (Galatians 5.13 NJB). Christian liberty is not about the freedom to pursue an individualistic spirituality but the freedom to do what is right, to pursue a righteousness and godliness that is best expressed in the context of community. This is the kind of freedom that followers of Christ celebrate.
—Keith Y. Jainga