So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered Him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
- John 8:31-36
In just a few days, we’re going to celebrate July 4 with BBQ and friends, flag waving and fireworks. There will be a variety of articles and opinion pieces written and television specials aired about individual freedom, most of which we won’t read and watch because we’ll be busy eating BBQ with our friends and waving our flags while watching fireworks. Everybody knows that we are free to do and to be whatever we wish in America. Is that what freedom is? Freedom to do whatever we want just as long as we don’t hurt anyone?
Interestingly, in the discussion between Jesus and the Jews in the passage above, the Jews claimed to be free people, Abraham’s offspring who had never been enslaved to anyone. One wonders if the Hebrews of the Exodus would have agreed. What an unusual defense of their status as free people. The reason the Jews were so eagerly watching for the Messiah was because they expected the reestablishment of the Davidic kingdom, meaning freedom from Roman rule.
Freedom from external rule, such as Jewish freedom from Rome or American freedom from Great Britain, are forms of political and economic freedom. However, the words of the Declaration of Independence, the appeal for political and economic freedom drew its authority from our Creator. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
I am not interested in engaging in a political or historical debate. Rather, I simply want to point out that our nation’s founders believed the truths by which we should live freely came from our Creator, implying both the existence of God and His authority in establishing truth. It’s that “T” word again – Truth. Many nations have constitutions, but the authority of the American Constitution is derived from God, and therefore, our freedoms as well. A political body can write a governing constitution, but if the authority is the governing body, the next governing body can rewrite the same.
The second thing we should note is that “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” are not traditionally associated with Christian life and Christian maturation. To the contrary, the closer we draw to Jesus Christ, the more likely we are to encounter the antagonism of the world in which we live. The level of hostility toward Christian faith and belief has been increasing for some time, but we’ve passed some unspecified tipping point in American life and culture. Open derision of Christian faith can be found in countless places and ways, large and small. Following the 2020 presidential election, the removal of children from Christian homes was floated by more the one national commentator or “influencer,” as they are now called. The reasoning was that these children needed to be freed from dangerous indoctrination into cult worship. Attendance and involvement in Christian churches has declined, but I’m not sure it’s reached cultic status.
Is this all discouraging for us? I hope not! One advantage of Christianity falling out of favor culturally is that we must think more seriously about what is truly important and what we really believe. Ultimately, what is at stake is ‘what is true?’ What is Truth? Peoples and civilizations have pursued that question from the beginning of time, in small ways and in metaphysical schemes.
The difficulty of Truth is that it does not change. Truth is the accurate depiction of reality – of what really is, not what we wish could be. If something is true, it is always true. In other words, if a fact or claim is true at all, it must be true for all, and if it is true for all, it must also be true for you and for me. Reality is what it is. In the long run, it is far easier to conform our lives to the truth – however unpleasant that may be in the moment, than it is to spend our lives seeking to conform truth to ourselves. Truth is accepted and understood, but it is not changed. It cannot be.
When Jesus told those around Him to “abide in His word” to be His disciple, He was essentially saying, “abide in Me – the Logos of God” who became flesh and lived among us (from John 1). When we abide in Christ – abide in the Word made flesh – we learn two undeniable truths. First, we are not anywhere near as important, smart, and good as we thought we were, and second, we are loved with a far greater love than we ever imagined, much less merited. In short, we see the truth about ourselves when we are seen in the light of the Logos of God.
The truth, however, is not limited to us. It also reveals the world in which we live. The competing mindset in contemporary American life is nihilism from the Latin nihil meaning nothing at all. Thus, Christian life lived in the Logos, where we discover how deeply flawed we are and how greatly loved we are, meets lives of nothingness, of contrived pleasures, and illusory imagined meaning. Can we not see the division and conflict more clearly now?
More importantly, we must prepare ourselves to meet this world of nothingness with the world of extraordinary Life that has been given to us. In some ways, we will almost be introducing so many to Christianity for the first time. If we begin by pointing fingers, nothingness will prevail. If we do as Jesus did, we will meet people with grace and truth, the hope of salvation from nothing to immeasurable abundance. This is our inheritance, and this is the generation in which we are called to be faithful disciples.
The one thing human beings will never be is autonomous. We will live as children of the Most High God, the Creator of all that is – visible and invisible. Or, we will live as captives to nothingness, our lives chained by the passions of meaninglessness and purposelessness. Those are the choices for this generation.
We, Christ’s own Body in this place and time, must trust our God enough to stand strong and refuse to compromise the truth. If we abide in the truth, we are free to tell the truth. I pray we will trust our Lord enough to be bearers of truth and freedom to a people enslaved.
In Christ -
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau