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“Give me liberty or give me death.”

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America has always been about freedom. But then, so has every tyrant. Has there been a tyrant in the history of the world who has not promised freedom? Has there been an oppressive government that has not conceived of itself as letting “justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”? (Amos 5.24.) Indeed, was it not freedom that Satan promised in the Garden?

That a ruler or a government promises freedom means simply that they are what they claim to be—a ruler and a government. That people seek freedom means simply that they are what they claim to be—people. That freedom is good, and that the story of mankind ought to be the story of traveling from slavery to freedom, are instinctively known and agreed upon by every person. But what is freedom? What does it look like when one attains it? And how does a person or a people move from slavery to freedom? These are the real questions, and yet they are so rarely thought about. Politicians continue to promise “freedom,” and people continue to believe it, as though “freedom” were a magical word that delivers its own meaning—a meaning which so few think about until it is too late.

Never was a century so dominated by promises of freedom as the 20th century. And never was a century so dominated by bloodshed—over 100 million killed, and I am only counting those killed by their own governments. These killings were necessary, according to these governments, to bring freedom. “Give me liberty and give me death” would be an appropriate epitaph for the 20th century. While most will criticize the killings in retrospect, the fundamental faith in man’s ability to achieve his own freedom remains unshaken.

This fourth of July, it is high time for America to recover the meaning of freedom, which is to say it is high time for Americans to take up the Bible and read. There we find the true story of freedom. There we find our story, whomever we may be. It is the story of freedom given away by our own hand and given back by the hand of another. It is about the long road back from slavery, and how all along the way, every truth and every lie is spoken as freedom. It is about the realization that freedom means more than a change of circumstance, it means a change of heart. It is about the realization that freedom lies only in trusting the God who promised freedom but was accused of tyranny, and that slavery lies in every form of the freedom man believed he could attain on his own. It is about coming home to the fact that freedom is a fruit—a byproduct of worshiping the one true God through Jesus Christ, and that slavery is the fruit of worshiping anything else, including man himself (the prevailing faith of the 20th century).

It is high time we realize that any man-worship enthrones all man-worship. This is why a me-worshiping culture will invariably be a state-worshiping culture. There must be an overarching faith (in the central government) to sustain the peace and prosperity essential to every high order of me-worship. This is how the worship of the individual and the worship of the central government always end up scratching each other’s backs.

This is where America finds herself today. Individuals, whether happily or reluctantly, cede ever increasing power to the central government in exchange for promises of peace and prosperity so they can maintain their ever shrinking spheres of private entertainment. All the while, every intermediate institution—marriage, family, church, community—crumbles. Nothing must come between “god” and man—that is to say, between the power-seeking central government and the pleasure-seeking individual. Has there ever been such an amiable relationship between master and slave?

This is what Christ came to deliver us from—from every form of man-worship that wells up so naturally within us and so easily ushers us into every form of self-deceived slavery. Only when Christ is acknowledged as lord of all does every person and every institution—marriage, family, church, community—return home and find their resting place, each in their proper sphere, all working together with none either encroaching or shrinking from their proper responsibilities. “‘In that day,’ declares the Lord of hosts, ‘every one of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and under his fig tree.’” (Zech 3.9.) That is freedom.

Now that we understand what freedom is, let us each say, “Give me liberty or give me death.”

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