Summary: Five ways to use our spiritual liberty in Christ to pursue love in our relationships.
On Wednesday our nation celebrates its national independence. As you well know, the fourth of July commemorates the day when representatives of the thirteen colonies signed The Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. By signing that Declaration, those thirteen colonies were announcing their independence from England. The Declaration of Independence affirms that certain truths are self-evident, namely "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these rights are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." So for the past 225 years, Americans have gathered on the fourth of July to celebrate these God given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Whether you celebrate by watching fireworks, having a BBQ, going to the beach, or working on your home, this is a time for us to reflect with gratitude on our nation’s freedom.
However, in recent years our celebration of individual rights has gotten a little out of control in American culture. Yale Law School professor Stephen Carter has observed that our emphasis on personal freedom has gotten out of control (Carter 219). As an example, Dr. Carter cites a legal case about a California university student who decided to attend all his classes naked. When challenged on his conduct, the student claimed his right to attend classes in the nude was protected by his right to freedom of speech. For that student, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness meant attending classes without clothing, even though his behavior was illegal and offensive to those around him. He claimed that forcing him to wear clothes to his classes was an infringement on this inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our culture has become so bound by radical individualism that our rights have eclipsed any sense of responsibility for the common good.
We’ve been in a series through the New Testament book of Romans called Good News For Our Times. And when I think about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I think the words "life" and "liberty" are a pretty good summary of what we’ve looked at in Romans so far. We’ve learned from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians living in the city of Rome that although the human race has joined in a mass rebellion against the creator, that by believing in the good news about Jesus Christ, we can experience new life. According to Rom 6:11, when we trust in the good news, we become dead to sin and alive to God. We receive new life as we’re made right with God through our faith in Jesus.
And the word "liberty" sums up our condition after we’re received this new life through Jesus. Back in chapter 6 of Romans, Paul said, "You have been liberated from sin" (6:18). Our condition is described in chapter 8 as "the glorious liberty of the children of God" (8:21). So life and liberty are key themes in Romans.
But is it happiness that this life and liberty frees us up to pursue? This is where the theme of Romans parts company with the vision of our Declaration of Independence. You see, it’s not the pursuit of happiness that’s to characterize the follower of Jesus, but the pursuit of love.