As I write this entry I’m sitting on a chair in my driveway watching nearby neighbors set off some pretty extravagant fireworks. The children next door just came out to watch and one of them started jumping up and down, arms waving in delight. They plan to start their own display in a short while.
Earlier in the evening I preached on the sufferings of Job. I noted the irony that the ultimate problems of pain and suffering came through Adam’s original declaration of independence. While I don’t mean to connect Adam’s fall to the American declaration of independence from King George in the 18th century, it still allows us to think about what independence stands for as presented in the Bible.
It represents enslavement.
How’s that? Just this: God made us as dependent beings. Consider the analogy of our physical world: fish are made to live in water, and mammals are made to live in air. In the same fashion our spiritual being is made to live in God’s love. Or, better yet, in God’s Triune communion which consists as love. Apart from him we can do nothing. The imagery of John 15 affirms this with another metaphor: of Christ as the vine and his followers as branches that abide in him to receive his richness which, in turn, bears fruit that we offer back to him and also to others.
Here’s a crucial but often overlooked premise in what we just summarized: God made us to be responders—heart-based creatures—so that we love because of his love. We love him because he first loved us. We love him in a wonderful reciprocity in which he is the ongoing initiator and we the responders and counter-initiators. Picture a flowing waltz in which the partners move forward, then backward. The leader of the pair initiates the moves, and while he is not always moving forward, the beauty of the steps is in their shared movements. God made us as dancers for his Son—for us to be his collective bride. And in that dance we are actually partners in the greatest bond of mutual love that ever existed: God’s mutual love between the Father and the Son, a love facilitated by the Spirit’s work of communication (see 1 Corinthians 2 here).
But what does this have to do with enslavement? It speaks of the truth that we are captivated by whatever it is that we love. The Bible treats this truth as a baseline reality, yet it’s something we often overlook. Jesus, for instance, warned that “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other…” [Matt. 6:24] And in John 8 he promised his followers that by abiding in his words they would be set free from slavery to sin. When some in that particular audience rejected his teaching—claiming that they were already free—Jesus then charged them with actually being devoted to the “desires” of the devil. They soon confirmed that status by trying to kill Jesus (by the end of the chapter).
Paul, by the Spirit’s guidance, certainly caught the point. In Romans 6, for instance, he portrays our new state of faith as Christians to be a new form of slavery that replaces what had ruled our hearts before we met Christ:
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. … But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
If we—as people saturated in a world that elevates “free will”—can listen to this with open hearts, we’re on our way to full sanctification. But we will not get there without taking this truth to heart.
And I mean that literally: our hearts define us. Romantic literature gets it, even if we tend to dismiss such notions as emotional nonsense. Think, for instance, of a common description of a young couple who are moving towards marriage. We will say things like “He captured her heart” or “They’re really bonded to each other.” The fact is that our volition—the “will”—is simply an instrument of what we love most. That’s the way God made us, in his own image: he, as One who lives eternally in Triune love, also made us to be lovers.
Satan, however, offered Adam the opportunity to love himself. So the image in the mirror became Adam’s new delight. Which, in turn, allowed him to be manipulated by the one who gave him the mirror by promising him, “You can be like God.” By looking, then, to his own glory Adam turned away from God. And, with that, he became self-aware and self-centered: “he knew that he was naked” as he now had a new focus in life.
So the battle of slavery is not with some external enslavement, but with enslaving desires: of greed for wealth, status, wisdom, power, security, and so on. What deceives us is that because we “want” things we don’t see them as enslaving us. Think of drug addictions for a physical expression of what we all experienced spiritually until Christ set us free. They are blinded to their self-destruction by their appetite for what the drug offers. We, too, were once blinded by our desire to shape our own lives to selfish ends.
So here’s a bottom line for Christians on Independence Day: embrace your absolute dependence on God by enjoying him and his love. And share that holy, selfless love with those around you in acts of inter-dependence. And, on the other hand, leave independence to those who, although enslaved to the fireworks of their personal ambitions, still think of themselves as free. They are not free, nor are we. They love the figure they see in the mirror. And we get to love the One we were made for: the only true God who is truly and wonderfully captivating!