In America, we enjoy unprecedented freedom. We have the freedom to choose a career, to travel the world, to elect our leaders, to marry our love, to build a family, to worship in public, to open a business, and to seek our fortune. We have freedom from sea to shining sea, and we love it. We have a statue honoring it—shining her light in New York harbor. We have a declaration expressing it—"life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." We have a dream grounded in it—success, prosperity, and glory. It is good to be free. But how should we, as Christians, think about our freedom as Americans? In other words, how does our Christian dream differ from the American Dream?
As followers of Jesus, our Statue of Liberty is not a copper lady with a torch but a cross in Jerusalem.
DON'T TURN AWAY FROM THE GREATER GIFT
In many ways, the American Christian is doubly free. We are free by nature of our political system, but we are also free because of the work of Christ in our lives. In Galatians, Paul declares, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free" (Galatians 5:1). We are free from the weight and penalty of our sin. We are free from the burden of earning righteousness before God. We are free from the patterns and addictions that formerly ruled our lives. Christians are free. But Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, is concerned that these believers will leave their newfound freedom and return to the chains of slavery.
One way the Galatians were tempted to give up their freedom is by turning from the free gift of the cross to the self-made work of external righteousness. This is a temptation we can understand today. The cross is offensive to the American Dream. The American ideal is a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps success. Work hard; stay focused, and your dreams can come true. But the cross tells us, "You can't do it yourself." In the cross we find an end of ourselves and of our dreams. But in the cross, we also find our only source of righteousness and hope in this life.
Paul also warned the Galatians of a second path to slavery, one which disguises itself as an acceptable path on the journey to the Christian dream. In Galatians 5:13 Paul cautions, "You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love." There is a temptation to turn the unconditional love and forgiveness offered in the Gospel into a permission slip to sin. Many people, when first hearing the gracious offer of the Gospel respond, "That is too good to be true." Or, "If this is true, can't someone just place their faith in Christ and then do whatever they want?" Paul answers, "But why would you want to?" Christ set us free so we can be free! Why would we submit ourselves again to the slavery of sin, hatred, and selfishness?
THE CHRISTIAN DREAM IS HIGHER, WIDER, AND WEIGHTIER
Here is where we come back around to the American Dream. There is nothing wrong with pursuing success or earning a paycheck. However, many people are enslaved to the standards set out in the American Dream—a bigger house, a newer car, a faster computer, a better job, a higher position. American freedom used in pursuit of a selfish dream leads only to thicker chains. But the Christian dream leads to ever-increasing freedom. In Galatians 5, Paul lists the values of this Christ-centered dream: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).
Because of Christ, we are free to live for something higher than the American Dream. We are free to love our neighbor, to sacrifice for the Kingdom, to show kindness to our opponents, to be at peace in chaos, to rejoice in trials, and to declare the goodness of God to those far from Him. Plus, when we reject the yoke of the American Dream, our freedom as Americans increases our ability to be a Gospel light to the nations. Our freedom to travel allows missionaries to go to the ends of the earth. Our financial prosperity allows us to support Kingdom work around the globe. Our American freedom can support the Christian dream, as long as we do not give up our Christian freedom.
LIVE IN CHRIST'S FREEDOM
As followers of Jesus, our Statue of Liberty is not a copper lady with a torch but a cross in Jerusalem. As children of God, our declaration of independence is not the pursuit of happiness but the gracious goodness of the Gospel. We were set free not to take up a yoke of selfish passions and destructive desires but to live for the higher Christian dream. And so we dream of Christ-followers living and loving as lights in their communities, of freed people sharing a message of freedom to those in chains, and of Gospel transformation cascading from shore to shore around the globe.