This weekend, we are celebrating the liberty and freedom that we have in this great country of ours. We are truly blessed to live in America, aren’t we?
But what, exactly, is freedom? Is freedom just the ability to go where you want and do what you want whenever you want? But what if you are being manipulated every step of the way — is that freedom? What if you are being brainwashed to believe in all sort of lies — is that freedom? Doesn’t freedom have something to do with the truth?
Yes, it does, as Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, then you are truly disciples of mine, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
To show you how important truth is to freedom, let me share an example from a Romanian Christian woman. After World War II, Russian communists persecuting Christians in Romania heard about a woman who was converting many to Christ. Wanting to arrest her, they held off until her wedding day, knowing that it would have the greatest impact. Just after the young couple said their vows, the communists stormed into the room and arrested the bride.
How do you think she responded? Amazingly, she held her arms toward them to be shackled; then, looking at her husband, she kissed her chains and said, “I thank my heavenly bridegroom for this jewel he has presented to me on my wedding day. I thank him that I am worthy to suffer for him.”
How could this woman so joyfully go forth to suffer unspeakable torture at the hands of the communists? The only way is that she knew the truth of the Gospel, how “God demonstrated his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, enemies of God, Christ died for us.” And because of what God did for her, she loved her enemies and was even willing to die for them so that they could come to know Christ. She was rejoicing in advance of going through the process Paul talked about where, “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” No one in their right mind would ever say that this woman who was bound in chains was free, would they? But free she was — free to love her enemies and seek their good by leading them to the source of all freedom, Jesus Christ, “for if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
Now we jump to the present day, where this spirit of freedom is alive and well in Charleston, South Carolina, and at Emanuel AME Church. Although unspeakable evil was committed in their community, they, in freedom, proclaimed love, forgiveness and the Gospel message. I love what Bethane Middleton-Brown, sister of victim the Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor, said: “We are the family that love built. We have no room for hate, so we have to forgive.”
Loving your enemies and forgiving them is the ultimate form of freedom. So now I ask you: Are you really free?
Banks is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Hinesville and a member of the United Ministerial Alliance.