The American Christian’s Idol of Freedom

This week’s post will be shorter, as I’m busy with a few things at the moment, one of which is teaching a Sunday School class at my church about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was killed for his involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler. As I’ve read about this fascinating figure, I’ve grown to fall in love with his approach to theology, his unwavering commitment to Christ, and his demand for action on behalf of faith.

Before Hitler rose to power, Bonhoeffer visited America. The land of the free impressed upon him a number of contemplations. Here is one.

“Freedom as a possession is a doubtful thing for a church; freedom must be won under the compulsion of a necessity. Freedom for the church comes from the necessity of the Word of God. Otherwise it becomes arbitrariness and ends in a great many new ties. Whether the church in America is really ‘free,’ I doubt. They are lonely Sundays over here. Only the Word makes a true community.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

What I take from this is that Bonhoeffer was annoyed at how highly American churches valued the ethereal concept of “freedom.” The term carries with it the weight and potential of nationalism, for one. Such ties are not of Christ and can only lead away from the truth. As Americans, it’s all too easy to feel a holy sense of entitlement to freedom. But as Christians, the only freedom we are promised is freedom in Christ from the bondage of sin.

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free… So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.'”

John 8:31-32, 36 (ESV)

We can see that we’re offered spiritual freedom in Christ, but what does the Bible say about physical freedom? It’s important to remember our identity. To think of ourselves as “Americans” is earthly and temporary. We are truly citizens of the kingdom of heaven (Phil 3:20), and Christ tells us what to expect.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”

John 15:18-20 (ESV)

The idea that American Christians deserve physical freedom is undoubtedly extra-biblical. We are promised opposition, not freedom. We are promised God’s loving discipline and the shaping of character through hardships of all kinds, not comfort or safety.

“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33b (ESV)

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:10 (ESV)

It is a trap to pursue earthly freedom above the Word of God. Our chains are not physical. Many a red-blooded American lies upon their bed this night as free as any man has been in a thousand years on this earth, yet bound ever tighter to their pride, their lust, their gluttony, their greed, their adultery.

Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and hanged for his part in the conspiracy against Hitler. This is what was said of him at his end.

“I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

H. Fischer-Hüllstrung

When he saw the path God set before him, Bonhoeffer gave up his high status in Germany, his reputation in the church, and his personal safety to do what had to be done. He valued his usefulness to God far above his earthly freedom. Yet he was free.

Choose this day to look down at your wrists and see the cuffs keeping you captive. Back away from the bars and see just how small your cell is. Our only hope is to open our eyes to our sin and repent, lest we be lulled into a slumber where our flesh keeps us tied to the depths of hell.

“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

Romans 6:6-7 (ESV)

Let me know your thoughts on Bonhoeffer in the comments below. Enter your email if you want to be notified when my next post goes live. Thanks for reading. Godspeed.

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