You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free, (John 8:32).
As we prepare to celebrate the signing of Declaration of Independence, and the heritage of freedom it represents, I am reminded of these iconic words of Jesus. I’m also reminded of the words of the old spiritual quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “I Have a Dream” speech: “Free at last, free at last, I thank God I’m free at last.”
The rest of the hymn informs us that the writer of the hymn looked forward to the day they would see Jesus face-to-face. It was the only hope of freedom many slaves had at the time the song was written.
But the freedom Jesus spoke of in today’s text is not the same freedom we celebrate on July 4. It is the freedom God works in our inner lives. Those that heard Jesus speak these words didn’t get it. They claimed they didn’t need liberation because they had always been free. (Given the history of Israel, I’ve always wondered how they could have made this statement.) But Jesus responded by talking about a different kind of bondage. He replied, “Whoever sins is a slave to sin.”
Tomorrow, millions of Americans will celebrate our political freedom. But many of those who celebrate will be in inner bondage as they affirm their outward liberty. Some will be slaves to alcohol or drugs. Some will be slaves to their uncontrolled sexual appetites. Many will be slaves to the materialistic bondage that confuses “free” with “more”. All of us fight our own inner wars that potentially keep us from being free in the sense Jesus spoke of.
But we can be free in our inner lives. It requires the inner transforming and liberating power of the Holy Spirit. It also involves learning the truth by “camping out” in God’s word. The combination of the Spirit using the Word is the path to true inner freedom. We can know the Truth, and the Truth will set us free. We can be free of the bondage of addiction. We can be free from the bondage to materialism reinforced by the bombardment of faulty cultural messages that not only don’t bring freedom, but actually manipulate and reinforce many of the faulty ideas that lead us into bondage in the first place.
One day, as the hymn goes on to say, we will walk and talk with Jesus and be free at last. It is a reference to death. But Jesus wants to walk and talk with us today, and by so doing help us tap into that inner freedom that we all long for. We can all be “free at last”. I’m putting a small “F” on my hand and keeping it there through tomorrow. As I celebrate and express my gratitude for the privilege of living in a country where I can be outwardly free, I want to remind myself to also be grateful for the work of Christ in my life that progressively makes me free in my inner being. The two make a great combination!