When we Americans celebrate our independence, we mean it. According to the American Pyrotechnics Association in 2014, consumers spent about $675 million on fireworks to celebrate Independence Day. This kind of spectacular celebration seems to be what the Founding Fathers had in mind. In a letter to his wife, Abigail, John Adams wrote on July 3, 1776, about how he expected Independence Day to be celebrated in the future:
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
There’s no doubt that we excel at the “pomp and parade” aspects of our Independence Day celebrations, but what about the first part, the “solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty”?
Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to fit with many Americans’ view of freedom, liberty, and independence. Rather than celebrating freedom through “acts of devotion to God Almighty,” many revel in acts of devotion to self. This understanding of our American independence begins with the very words that announced on July 4, 1776. The Declaration of Independence states:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
From this starting point of American independence, our liberty has most often been defined very personally; that is, all of us, each of us has the right to pursue our own happiness. That’s what many people believe is the foundation of freedom. In fact, while we celebrate freedom for all, most are more focused on independence, even freedom from all.
But that’s not the freedom we received when we put our faith in Christ. Throughout Romans 6, Paul makes a clear argument that before our conversion, we were slaves to sin and death, but when we became Christians, we received a different kind of freedom. Paul writes in Romans 6:22, “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”
In our culture, freedom means “I can do what I want, as long as I don’t hurt anyone else.” In Christ, our freedom leads to holiness, a benefit of the Holy Spirit living within us. Self-control and holiness, being a slave to righteousness (Romans 6:19), these are benefits of our freedom in Christ, and they lead us to live not for ourselves but for others.
Our freedom in Christ is freedom to serve. Paul clarifies this in Galatians 5:13, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” This is what makes our Christian freedom superior to even our American freedom. Whereas American freedom for all leads to liberty for each individual, Christian freedom of each individual leads to service for all. Instead of living for “my” own happiness, each Christian lives in service to others that they may find not mere happiness but eternal life and freedom in Christ.
This is why we serve within the church; it’s a celebration of our freedom! We have a worship team that serves not because they have to but because they want to lead others to Christ. We have children’s ministry volunteers (and we need more!) who serve to lead others to Christ. We have volunteers who weed the flower beds, mow the grass, and do many other tasks, serving to lead others to Christ. As we celebrate our nation’s freedom with cookouts and fireworks, let us also celebrate our freedom in Christ by serving others.