Thursday, July 3, 2008

Children of freedom

by John D Ramsey

When I was a child, we spent Independence Day in Jamesport, Missouri. My cousins and I would light Black Cat® firecrackers and shoot cheap bottle rockets all day long. We would unravel the strands of firecrackers so that we could light one at a time. We then threw the lighted firecrackers at snakes or anything else we saw moving by the creek.

If we could drop a firecracker at the right moment, it would sink beneath the water before exploding. The hollow thunk sound followed by a splash was perhaps the most gratifying moment of the whole day. A close second might have been using firecrackers to launch tin cans skyward. At night, the adults lit illuminations, and they were okay. However, the noise of firecrackers and bottle rockets were my favorite.

In our exercise of freedom, we earned sprained thumbs and minor burns. These occurred when we held firecrackers too long or rather when the fuses burned too fast. Adults warned us that children had suffered major injuries abusing fireworks, but the risks only added to the exhilaration. For a day or two, we celebrated freedom. Occasionally, we had freedom ringing in our ears after an untimely detonation.

When Daniel was a boy, he loved July 4, too. I did not permit him the same freedom that I had enjoyed, but he probably found it when I was not looking.

Moving to Minnesota put an end to firecrackers for a few years until former Governor Jesse Ventura managed to get fireworks legalized. Still, many Minnesotans marched faithfully to public displays and personally shied away from anything hotter than a glow stick. There were fantastic displays, but on balance, the holiday was suffocating. I do not fault anyone for disliking fireworks. They do not thrill Cara. Likewise, sometimes I find them to be annoying. Nevertheless, I strongly object to a society that abridges my personal freedoms.

One year we came down to my brother-in-law’s house in Raymore, Missouri for the Fourth. Gabby was almost two years old. The neighborhood barricaded the street and each family barbequed and enjoyed a fireworks free-for-all. One neighbor fired his miniature cannon. It shook the windows in houses. Others fired their muzzleloaders (without bullets) into the air. They were almost as loud as the cannon. Of course, there were rockets and firecrackers all day long. In the evening, we walked to the end of the block to watch the public display. Some of us carried canvas chairs; some carried blankets to upon which to sit.

We waited until dark. When it finally started, it was a bit difficult to discern the public display because the sky was awash with red, white, and blue from the eastern horizon to the west. Everywhere we looked people contributed to the scene. When we walked home, the street choked with the smell of black powder. Firecrackers detonated nearby, and rockets flew from one side of the street to the other. It looked like tracer fire from a war movie, but it was not directed at people in the street. The combatants politely paused to let the crowds pass.

This scene still frightened Gabby, so I wrapped her in a woven blanket and carried her over my shoulder. She was no safer in the blanket, but it calmed her. To my knowledge, no one’s behavior inflicted injury that day. When we arrived to my brother-in-law’s house, a little girl driving a golf cart came by to share ice cream treats with the entire neighborhood. God bless America.

Since moving back to the Kansas City area, both Claire and Gabby have enthusiastically embraced fireworks. I am mellower in my old age, and I limit their expenditure. Still, like their father and brother, they are children of freedom, and they like to celebrate.

By faith in Jesus Christ, we are all children of freedom. The New International Version of the Bible renders Galatians 5:1, saying, “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.” A group of rule makers and enforcers plagued the Galatians. Paul wrote to the church to tell them they were free from the law. He said that he wished that those who preached circumcision would instead emasculate themselves. That sounds harsh, but it proves how strongly Paul felt about the freedom we have in Christ.

When we read Galatians 5:1 alone, it sounds almost as if personal freedom is the primary objective of the Christian life, but before our imaginations start wandering Bohemian, we should take a closer look at what Paul was saying in context. Strangely enough, the King James Version renders a better translation than either the NIV or the venerable NASB. It says, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” A literal translation from the Greek reads, “In the freedom then in which Christ freed us, stand firmly, and do not again be pressed upon with the yoke of slavery.” With a better translation, we can observe a couple important ideas that the NIV and NASB ignore.

First of all, the subject of the initial phrase is not “it”, but rather the inferred, “you.” Paul is commanding, “You stand firmly!” In what are we to stand? “In the freedom then in which Christ freed us.” We are not to stand firmly in our own personal definition of freedom. Such is anarchy. Christ did not free us to walk according to whim. He freed us to walk with Him. The freedom to which we are called in Christ is a freedom to serve. Paul makes several points in Galatians 5 among which are these:

  1. You were called to freedom.
  2. Do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh.
  3. Through love, serve one another.
  4. The whole Law is fulfilled . . . in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
  5. Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
  6. If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.

Paul was angry with the legalists in Galatia not because they were dullards who had no fun, but because they substituted a credo for a relationship with Christ. Paul did not want believers to follow somebody else’s rulebook while thinking it was spirituality. Paul explained that sometimes we deferred to the conscience of others, but only for their sakes. He asked the Corinthians, “Why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience?” Paul instructed the Colossians similarly, saying,

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. Colossians 2:20-23 (NASB)

The Law focused the sinner upon his sin. Paul was saying, enough of that already! Our focus is upon Jesus Christ. The Law held the sinner in bondage whereas the blood of Jesus Christ set the sinner free. Looking again at Galatians 5:1, “In the freedom then in which Christ freed us, stand firmly,” we should take notice of the adverb “then.” In the Greek the word oun is sometimes translated therefore, so, then, so then, however, and now. It indicates that the action results because of something. We discussed in what we are to stand firmly. We discussed what our freedom is and what it is not. Now we ask, why are we to stand firmly in freedom? Because, Paul says, our mother is free.

These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. Galatians 4:24-26, 31 (NIV)

As we celebrate our freedom as a nation, those of us who name Christ Jesus as Savior should also remember that we are also residents of the heavenly Jerusalem. As we celebrate national independence, we should also give thanks . . .

. . . to the Father, who has qualified [us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:12-14 (NIV)

Celebrate! We are children of Freedom.

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