20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:20-23) Titles are usually helpful, but sometimes titles can be misleading. For example, Iceland is really quite green and Greenland is really quite icy. The titles of these places mess with our expectations. Sometimes holiday titles can have the same effect, like “Independence Day.” I’m as much a patriot as the next guy; however, on this Independence Day, I don’t want to reflect on our independence—at least in the way that we typically think of independence. Independence Day is really meant to celebrate something more than our “liberty," because none of us have or will ever experience true independence. Instead, we live in the tension between slavery and freedom.
Understand, we all live in the tension of slavery and freedom. What I mean is that regardless of the “freedoms” we enjoy, there is always someone in charge. We always have a leader. None of us are sovereign. On July 4, 1776, the United States established its freedom from British rule, not its freedom from any rule. There’s another title that’s used to describe when people have absolute freedom or autonomy—anarchy! Citizens of the US still have to answer to somebody. The reason why we can celebrate this day is that now we get to answer to the authority that we feel like is looking after our best interests. We get to answer to the powers that we want to—the authority that we know will take care of us. If we have to answer to someone, at least let it be those who will work things out for our good.
We all had the same leader
The apostle Paul makes the same point about sin and righteousness. At one point, it is clear that we were slaves to sin, and by virtue of being slaves of sin we were free from righteousness (Romans 6:20). All that means was that we all marched to the beat of a different drum (as far as righteousness was concerned). It had no power over us. And what do we have to show for all the time of our slavery and “freedom?” Guilt. Shame. Frustration. Wishing we could go back and change the past. Really take some time today and look back on the “freedoms” you used to enjoy. Through the eyes of someone on this side of faith in Jesus, all I can do is cringe as I think about the things that I did. The reality is, one day you’re going to outgrow the things that you were once proud of and you’ll have nothing left but regret.
More than that, those things bring death. I talked with a good friend this past week that had gone through rehab for alcohol and drug abuse a few years back. He shared with me how he attended the funeral of a friend that relapsed. He had a firsthand encounter with the inevitable end of what our slavery to sin brings us. Indulging in a “freedom” led his friend to the grave.
Russell Brand put it best when he reflected on the death of his good friend Amy Winehouse:
When you love someone who suffers from the disease of addiction, you await the phone call. There will be a phone call. The sincere hope is that the call will be from the addict themselves telling you they’ve had enough—that they’re ready to stop, ready to try something new. Of course though, you fear the other call, the sad nocturnal chime from a friend or a relative telling you it’s too late, she’s gone. Frustratingly, it’s not a call you can ever make, it must be received. It is impossible to intervene.
This is the state that we all were in. In following our “freedoms”, there was one inevitable end—death.
Independence day isn’t about our liberty; it’s about our new leader
The answer isn’t freedom as much it is ensuring that we are following the right person. Paul doesn't celebrate liberty as much as he celebrates the fact that, as believers, we now have a new leader that's worthy of following. We have been set free, but at the heart of our liberty isn’t autonomy (freedom from having a leader). At the heart of our freedom is freedom from the wrong leader to the right One. We are free from sin. However, this freedom is only a good thing so long as we use that freedom to link ourselves to another leader. While our past “freedoms” earned us death (6:21), our new “slavery to God” provides us life (6:22). No regret, but hope for a better future.
At the end of the day, we all want a leader who is more concerned with giving to us than taking from us. Sin requires my life, but God gives me new life (6:23). This is a no-brainer. In celebrating my freedom, I’m forced to celebrate my new leader—the Lord Jesus. In doing so, I’m constantly reminded and overwhelmed by the fact that I serve a leader who has said, “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). He’s a leader who came, “not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Who doesn't want to celebrate a leader with this worldview? Who wouldn’t want to follow someone like that?
As you reflect on the ideal of independence today, remind yourself that liberty means nothing if you’re following the wrong leader. If you’re enjoying “freedoms” at the hand of the wrong leader, there are two choices: follow that path to death or embrace a new leader that’s ready and willing to lead you towards life.
If you are a follower of Jesus, the best way to celebrate this freedom is to imitate the way He led. Spend your time today reflecting on your responsibility and invite someone else to experience a life led by someone who was willing to give His life for us.