“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1
Today we celebrate Independence Day. There will be fireworks, ballgames, parades and family picnics. There will be many speeches about freedom, an ideal much treasured among us.
But we must acknowledge that many living in slavery in 1776 did not become free that July 4.
How many? The first U.S. census wasn’t until 1790, but in that year there were 3,929,326 people in the country, and 697,681, almost 18%, were slaves. It took nearly a century later and a bloody civil war for slavery to be abolished. Even then repressive laws and customs kept many in various forms of servitude. The struggle for real freedom for all continues to this day.
But what Paul calls “the yoke of slavery” is more than the chains of slavery. It is an attitude of heart and mind that accepts something less than the real freedom that God bestows. The Galatians had been freed from their bondage to their former religious rules and customs, but Paul warns them not to return. He reminds them that God in Christ had set them free and now “the only thing that counts is faith working through love.”
On this Independence Day what parts of our lives are not truly free? Are we slaves to certain customs, slaves to addiction, slaves to hatred, slaves to fear, slaves to prejudice and bigotry? Can we live out the real freedom for which Christ has set us free?
Set us free, O God, for love, for neighbor, and for you.
Richard L. Floyd is Pastor Emeritus of First Church of Christ (UCC) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. A writer and author, his most recent publications are Romans, Parts 1 and 2 (with Michael S. Bennett), new titles in the “Listen Up!” Bible Study Series. He blogs at richardlfloyd.com.