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The Path to Lasting Freedom
This July Fourth, there's only one thing that will actually quench our spiritual thirst for true freedom.
For more on freedom, see my post Juneteenth: A Fearless Call to Celebrate, Educate and Agitate.
On July Fourth, we remember the independence achieved when pilgrims left England and parts of Europe to come to what we now call America. At its heart, that pilgrimage was a multifaceted search for freedom. For some, freedom of religion. For others, freedom from monarchy. For still others, freedom from the state. Some pilgrims were motivated by freedom for improved economic potential. Others longed for the simple freedom of taking a journey.
Similar motives have propelled migration for all of human history. Often real benefit comes from it. But such freedom is always incomplete and thus not fully satisfying to the human soul. Even when settled in a new country, pilgrims still need a larger story to make sense of their new location.
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To the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus put it this way:
Everyone who drinks [that] water will get thirsty again and again.
Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever.
The water I give will be an artesian spring within,
gushing fountains of endless life.
John 4:13, 14 (MSG)
Jesus, among other things, was humanity as God intended. Taking his place in the God-story made him both highly unique and totally free. This is the kind of freedom followers of Jesus seek. Any other water is pseudo freedom at best, never able to actually quench our spiritual thirst for true freedom.
We might consider this on July Fourth: The independence we seek is not just from something, it is for something. We seek freedom from sin in order to be for God’s story. Such freedom enables us to be free actors in the Divine drama that is bringing freedom to the whole world. We can best observe Jesus’ manner of being in his desire to make meaning of life in and through the story of God.
For spiritual wisdom about living in that story, I turn to Eugene Peterson’s introduction to the book of Matthew in The Message translation. It reads in part:
Matthew opens the New Testament by setting the local story of Jesus in its world historical context. He makes sure that as we read his account of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we see the connections with everything that has gone before. Fulfilled is one of Matthew’s characteristic verbs: such and such happened “that it might be fulfilled.” Jesus is unique, but he is not odd.
Note the words connection and fulfilled. It is the connection to God’s story, seeking to find and fulfill our place in it, that yields complete freedom and perfect peace.
I comment on Eugene’s words in my new book, What Jesus Intended: Finding True Faith in the Rubble of Bad Religion (releasing July 18 through InterVarsity Press).
Fitting into the biblical story is not confining. It is not destructive to one’s personality. Story and one’s place in a story is liberating. God’s story is the specific place we are meant to find deliverance from all that binds, traps, and deceitfully snares human life. The story into which God invites us is like the gap in an otherwise closed window through which a trapped bird flies into freedom. God’s story does not make cookie-cutter automatons. The creativity of God, revealed in his story, is limitless. Living out your specialness does not have to include fighting against God. The personal uniqueness we experience can be embraced and lived with enthusiasm and joy:
For [God] created my inmost being;
[he] knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I am fearfully and wonderfully made…
I was made in the secret place…
I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
[God’s] eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in [God’s] book
before one of them came to be.
Every human being who will say “yes” to God’s story—and “no” to the story rooted in and flowing from our disordered desires—will find that in losing that life, they have found the true and lasting freedom God intends for his faithful friends.