Yesterday 238 years ago, 56 men signed a document that changed everything. The world became a very different place because of their sacrificial act.
Today I am wondering what they were thinking 238 years ago the day after they scratched their signatures on parchment. Did each one spend extra time with wives and children, worried for their safety and lives? Did any take a walk through his estate, knowing it would soon be seized or destroyed? Did they meet together, grim yet resolved? Did they rejoice that a new direction had begun? Did the gravity of what they had done weigh heavier than the oppression they had experienced as subjects of the British Crown?
Their freedom had been eroded by a despot, but all of the 56 did very well for themselves under King George’s tyranny. Their pledge to the new Republic, one another, and their descendants was total, all-in, sold-out, and no-turning back. The last sentence of their Declaration states: [F]or the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor. It is followed by the signatures of 56 men who had much to lose, and little to gain personally.
Watch the ever-eloquent Paul Harvey tell “The Rest of the Story”.
Can you imagine any of our current politicians acting this way?
Can you imagine followers of Jesus doing the same?
What if we signed away the rights to our future– to our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor? Is liberty more important than security? Before we can answer that, another question must be answered: What is liberty?
As Nelson Mandela was freed from South African prison after 28 years of incarceration, he had a moment to think about the turning point for his life. “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew that if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
In Galatians 5 Paul describes ultimate liberty – freedom in Christ. Freedom from the law. Freedom from the tyranny of our own self-centeredness.
The Galatians were relying on circumcision to be the saving act for followers of Jesus. Paul, in his harshest letter to believers, wishes they would emasculate themselves (verse 12)! Paul was extreme and caustic because of what is at stake – their salvation and freedom in Christ! Nothing saves except the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. No human act will ever translate us from darkness to the Kingdom of Light. Trusting in anything other than what Jesus did for us is the highest form of slavery because it tricks us into a false hope, keeping us from true freedom. This is the worst form of oppression.
Toward the end of the chapter (5:22-23) Paul shares what true freedom looks like: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Imagine a world in which this is all that exists. Imagining that world is to have a vision of true freedom. “Against such things there is no law,” there is only total freedom. This was the vision of 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. This was Nelson Mandela’s vision.*
Living under the fruit of the Spirit is not about restriction. The signers of the Declaration of Independence knew they faced a tough journey filled with hardship and struggle, yet they were freer after signing than they had been the moment before. Nelson Mandela could have lashed out against the injustice he and many others suffered under despotic tyranny, but he chose the way of freedom. In both cases the world changed forever for the better. What would have transpired if these men and their families had given in to self-preservation and hate?
What can transpire if followers of Jesus turn away from self and pursue true freedom?
How will we be different? How will the church change? How will our cities, towns, and countries be different?
READY FOR SUNDAY
And how will our Sunday morning worship be different?
*I am not saying that the signers of the Declaration or Nelson Mandela were or were not hoping to establish a religious state, but that the ideals of the Gospel, specifically freedom and peace for all people, was their goal and motivation as they turned away from self-gratification.