Faux Freedom and the American Dream
Freedom. Is there a word that stirs inside us more passion than this—more feelings of pride? I can scarce think of one. I know that for me, something comes alive when I hear William Wallace’s epic freedom speech in Braveheart. Or the President’s speech in Independence Day. And every Fourth of July I seem to get goose-bumps (and sometimes even a little teary eyed) as the words from Lee Greenwood’s classic “God Bless the USA” blast across the speakers in my car: “And I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free…” No, there’s nothing quite like the idea of freedom—especially to those of us in the United States.
Once again the Fourth of July is upon us, and the idea of freedom will be at the forefront of our minds. But freedom isn’t just an American concept, it’s a Christian one. The question, though, is whether the American concept of freedom and the Christian concept are the same? And if not, what are the dangers of treating them like they are?
John 8:34 tells us that everyone that sins is a slave to sin. Since we know that everyone has sinned and falls short of the glory of God, that means we are or were all once a slave to sin—slaves to unrighteousness and spiritually dead. We were controlled by every desire in an effort to gratify our sinful nature—led by those desires into further destruction. Enslaved in the truest since of the word.
But God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Though we chose our enslavement by rejecting God, God thought it worthwhile to rescue us, so he sent his Son to set us free. Galatians 5:1 tells us that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” For those that put their faith in Christ, the old, sinful nature is put to death—buried with Christ. We are born again—a new creation with a new nature—no longer a slave to sin. Jesus says, “So if the Son has set you free, you are free indeed” (John 8:36). This is freedom in the truest sense of the word: forgiven and redeemed by the blood of Christ—risen a new creation in Him.
But the Bible doesn’t stop there. Romans 6:16-18 reads:
“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”
How does that make sense? How can we be both free and a slave at the same time? The answer is that biblical freedom—true freedom bought for you on the cross by the blood of Jesus—looks a lot different from our Americanized version of it. Jesus tells us that true freedom comes from tethering yourself to him and following after him. He says that true freedom comes when you surrender control of your life and let him lead—when you become a slave to Christ.
But this doesn’t sound like the type of freedom we’ve come to celebrate in America.
According to the Declaration of Independence, we are born with certain unalienable rights afforded to us by our Creator: The right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. It is these rights perhaps that best embody what freedom means in the United States. We believe we have ownership over our lives—our actions and our futures. We have a right to do and to pursue that which we think will make us happy. We have the right to total autonomy. I have a right to self-gain, self-promotion, self-gratification, self-provision, and self-preservation. It is from this ideal that the American Dream was born
The American Dream says that given the right political structure, freedoms, and opportunities, you can build for yourself the life that you believe will make you happy, keep you safe, and bring you joy and contentment. With the right resources, if you work hard, you can meet all your perceived needs and desires.
It sounds great, doesn’t it? But the problem is this isn’t what the Bible means when it talks about freedom. And we have an enemy in Satan that wants nothing more than to destroy and devour us. He will use any means necessary to do so, even using our culture to alter our basic understanding of the word freedom.
We are under attack—personally and corporately. And we are in danger of allowing syncretism (creating a hybrid Christianity of what the Bible says and what the world says in a way that compromises Biblical truth) to drastically impact our spiritual health, our witness to the world, and threaten the very freedom Christ died to secure. We have traded Biblical freedom for our Americanized version, and in doing so have re-enslaved ourselves all over again. We have bought the lie that the American Dream and our Christian faith can co-exist, but in reality, we have divided our hearts as we seek to serve two masters.
This isn’t a new problem. It’s not unique to us. It’s human nature to prioritize meeting our perceived needs over the mission of God, and it’s been happening pretty much since the beginning of time.
We see this in the book of Haggai. The Israelites have returned from exile and the Temple has been destroyed. God tells the people to rebuild the Temple, but they put it off for years, making excuses about why they need to take care of other things first. Starting in Haggai 1:2 it reads:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord. Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, ‘Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. …You looked for much and, and behold it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? Declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.”
Do you see it?
“Because my house lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.”
That’s the American dream right there. That’s what’s happening now—in the world, in our country, in our church, and in our own hearts. People’s lives are falling apart. People are broken, hurting, hanging on by a thread, and desperately lonely. Some of them are sitting in our church, and they’re at our jobs, and they’re in our neighborhoods. But we’re too busy with our own “house”—building the nice comfortable lives we want for ourselves—to even notice. We’re too busy worrying about how we’re going to entertain ourselves, or what Netflix show we’re going to watch, or how we’re going to renovate our house. There are people dying out there and they don’t know Jesus. There are people taking their own lives because they’re in so much pain. We don’t have a temple anymore, but it’s safe to say we’re neglecting the mission of God for the same reason the people in Haggai were neglecting the temple.
True freedom is when we surrender to Jesus and make him the Lord of our lives. Click To Tweet
I first came across this passage about 7 years ago. Those of you that know me (or have read my other articles on Deadmenstuff.com) have heard about my struggles with depression and anxiety. Well, this was the peak of those dark times. I was a Christian but I had major idolatry problems. I was seeking contentment and fulfillment from things other than God. I was certainly focusing on my own “house”. And just like the passage, no matter what I did, I was never satisfied. I just drove into a deeper and deeper depression. I was trying so hard to meet my own perceived needs, but when we do that “we eat but never have enough, and drink but never have our fill”.
Jesus says in Matthew 6 “Do not worry about what clothes you will wear and what food you will eat and what you will drink. The Pagans run after these things and your father in heaven knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of heaven and all these things will be given to us.” Juxtapose that with the people in Haggai. It’s the exact opposite. The answer to what we actually need lies in dying to ourselves and surrendering to the mission of God—taking up our cross and following Him.
The issue isn’t that the people in Haggai had paneled houses. It’s that they prioritized their own houses and their own needs above the call and commands of God. It was a heart issue and it still is. Freedom that is used to turn inward and focus on ourselves is no freedom at all. Freedom that is used to chase worldly comfort and security is not either. Jesus tells us that we cannot serve two masters—we will love one and hate the other.
Freedom isn’t doing whatever we want to. It’s not found in having personal autonomy. True freedom is when we surrender to Jesus and make him the Lord of our lives. True freedom is when we repent of our self-obsession and start to live for Christ and for others. True freedom is found in Christ alone. “If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed” (John 8:36).
This Fourth of July, by all means, celebrate the freedoms that we are so blessed to have in America—freedom from oppression, tyranny, and persecution. Celebrate and be thankful. But this Fourth of July, give further thought to that word: freedom. How are you stewarding it? Are you using your freedom to serve the Lord? Or are you using it to serve yourself? Have you traded Biblical freedom for an Americanized version—re-enslaving yourself all over again? By all means, celebrate this year, but if the Lord is leading you to repentance, make haste to heed this call…and then celebrate all the more. For freedom is not just stars and stripes and amber waves of grain. It’s a bruised and bloodied savior and his streams of unceasing grace.