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Free To Do What?
July 1, 2001

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Free to do what? As a nation, we celebrate our independence this week; we celebrate freedom. Our ancestors fought bravely, with sword and pen, for freedom. How indebted we are to them for freedom of movement, free to live where we like, freedom of speech, freedom of the press; but today our nation is not sure what freedom means. There is much confusion about freedom. Does freedom mean we are free to do as we like, when we like, and where we like? Does freedom mean we can say and publish anything we please? If so, how can a country function if everybody does what they want to do when they want to do it?

When are we free and when are we not free? As a nation, don't we sometimes bend over backwards guaranteeing freedom for some, and in the process deny freedom for others?

Where is the line between freedom of the press and a person's right to privacy (like the Bush girls)? Where is the line between the freedom to print or televise so-called news, and the right of an individual to defend him/herself and maintain a good reputation?

Where is the line between the freedom to disseminate pornography, and the right of a child to enjoy his/her childhood without being sexually exploited?

The Internet, with access by children in many homes, further exacerbates the question.

Where is the line between the freedom to own and carry weapons and the right of citizens to live in relative safety?

Where is the line between the freedom of a gang to display their symbols, and the right of a property owner to keep his/her property clean, and the right of citizens to not have to look at graffiti?

In Sunday School, Preschool, Bible School, youth groups, where is the line between the freedom of a child to show disrespect, and the right of a teacher to be treated with respect? Where is the line between the freedom of a child to say whatever he/she likes, and the right of other children to participate in a church group where he/she is not called names or teased or abused?

The line begins with recognizing that we are not free to do what we want when we want! America needs to hear that! Did you hear the Scripture lesson? Paul had it figured out centuries ago. Evidently the church in Galatia was also struggling with what freedom means. Paul wrote, Galatians 5:13, "For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence." Freedom in Christ does not mean the freedom to do what we want when we want.

I learned a great lesson about freedom one afternoon in Santa Cruz, California, one of my favorite places. On this particular afternoon, the sun was shining brightly. It was an unusual day for Santa Cruz-- shorts and T-shirt weather, warm and pleasant. A rock just off the shore was covered with seals. They were barking and playing. It looked to me like they were playing! The waves were just right for surfing. I counted 42 surfers all in the same area, and I saw no accidents. There were close encounters, but it looked like they were dancing with one another. Flying through the surf, turning circles, dancing with joy and freedom. What a thrill it must be the first time you stand up and stay up! The onlookers were enjoying the event. They were pointing, cheering and laughing.

This is freedom, I thought, but then I saw a redwood sign, and carved on the sign were the rules for surfing! They were free to soar only when they obeyed the rules! Surfers are not free to do what they want when they want, and where they want. Freedom is possible because there are rules. Joyfully, freely flying through the water, dancing on the waves is possible when there is common courtesy and practice of the rules. Here are the rules for surfing:

First surfer on wave has right-of-way

Paddle around wave not through it (so you don't get hit by an oncoming surfer)

Hang on to your board

Help other surfers

The rules are basic, like the Ten Commandments. Have you realized that we don't break the Ten Commandments; we break ourselves on the Ten Commandments? When you disregard the rules of surfing, you break yourself by running into someone, or by being run into because you are in the wrong place.

We Americans who are confused about freedom, let me give you the rule (there's only one!) this morning. We are not free until we follow God's rule. We are not free to do what we want when we want and where we want. We are free to do what?

Galatians 5:13-14, Paul wrote, "Through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." There is the rule! There is where the line is drawn between individual freedom and the well being of the community. As a Christian, I love my neighbor as myself. Christian freedom begins with a good feeling about myself. I have self-respect, I have an appreciation of my uniqueness, my talents, my goodness because the Creator made me, Jesus loves me, and the Holy Spirit powers me. Therefore, I treat others as I would like to be treated, with respect and appreciation. Jesus gave us what we call the golden rule: Matthew 7.12, "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Treat others as you would like to be treated.

Eric Hoffer wrote, "The basic test of freedom is perhaps less in what we are free to do than in what we are free not to do." I am not free to hurt my neighbor, insult my neighbor, steal from my neighbor, say or print or televise hurtful, harmful lies or half-truths about my neighbor. I am not free to destroy or deface my neighbor's property. Why? Because I don't want anyone harming my family, my property, or me. I am not free to display or engage in public sexual behavior that hurts children. Why? Because I don't want anyone sexually abusing or sexually exploiting my granddaughters. Jesus taught us to be not only concerned about children, but to be responsible to children.

Morris Dees, founder and chief attorney of the Southern Poverty Law Center has won numerous court cases against the Ku Klux Klan and White Citizen Councils. The case he argues, his basic tenet is, "You are free to hate, but you are not free to hurt."

In the preceding chapters in Galatians, Paul makes the point that Christians are free from the Jewish law. Obeying legalistic laws is not God's way of salvation for humankind. We are called to be free. Galatians 5.1, "For freedom Christ has set us free." The essence of freedom is self-control rather than control by external forces. Paul also makes the point that we are enslaved to the desires of the flesh, but Christ frees us, not only from the necessity of external control, but also Christ frees us from the works of the flesh: jealousy, anger, quarrels, envy, drunkenness, carousing, etc.

In Christ we are free from being bad, not because of external controls, but because of inner controls. In Christ we are free not to indulge our sinful natures. In Christ we are free to live by the Spirit with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In Christ we are free not to hurt or harm our neighbors. In Christ, we are free to be responsible. We are free to be good and do good. We are free to love our neighbors as ourselves.

"For freedom Christ has set us free." Free to do what? Free to do to others as you would have them do to you!

© 2001 Douglas I. Norris