One of the fundamental tenets of American society is independence. Our country was founded by a Declaration of Independence, fought a war to gain our independence, and has sacrificed much to protect our independence over the course of our nation’s brief history. Certainly freedom is a blessing, and something well worth fighting to protect. I would like to personally thank the men and women (including many who are my family members and friends) who sacrifice so much for our freedom!
And yet, when independence meets up with rugged individualism (another tenet of American culture), the result is often rebellion. We don’t want anyone telling us what to do. We define freedom as freedom from authority–being free to do whatever we want, rather than being free to do whatever we ought. I am my own master. I submit to no one. I will decide what is good or bad for me. I will decide what is right or wrong for me. I don’t need or want anyone telling me what is good and what is evil. I will do whatever seems right in my own eyes, and anyone who tells me different is stepping on my freedom. In fact, one of the quintessential American icons is the “rebel without a cause.”
It may not surprise you to learn that Americans are not the first culture to embrace the idea of each person deciding right and wrong for themselves. The Book of Judges 21:25 says, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The ancient Israelites, over a thousand years before Christ, held the very same fundamental value that Americans cling to with white-knuckled determination. No one is going to tell me what to do! But, while rebellion against political tyranny can be good, rebellion against a just and loving God is always bad.
This rebellious independence was disastrous for the nation of Israel. Throughout the Book of Judges, we learn about failure after failure on the part of Israel. There are some gut-wrenching stories that would fit in well in any Stephen King novel–like the story of the Levite and his concubine in Judges 19. An Israeli from the tribe of Levi is traveling across the country with his concubine (kind of like a wife/girlfriend). They stop in the city of Gibeah to spend the night, and an old man offers to host them overnight. After dark, the men of the city (Israelis) gather around the house because they want to rape the two guests. The Levite stays inside, but sends his concubine out to pacify the mob. They gang-rape her all night and kill her. The next morning, when the Levite comes out to leave, he finds her body there, takes out his knife, and cuts her into twelve pieces. He sends a piece of her corpse to the leader of each of the twelve tribes of Israel and ignites a civil war. This is a true story that shows the end result of a society where “everyone does what is right in his own eyes.”
And that’s not the only story in the book. There are many examples of atrocities committed by the Israelites, who were choosing for themselves what was right and what was wrong. Perhaps the best known story in the Book of Judges is the story of Samson. Even though Samson was supposed to be a holy man whose life was dedicated to God, he chose his own morality, and left a wake of destruction behind him. Samson’s sin caused his wife to be burned alive, put his own life at risk multiple times, put the people of Israel (whom he was supposed to protect) in danger, cost him his sight, cost him his freedom, cost him his reputation, and ultimately cost him his life. Doing what is right in your own eyes is sin, and sin has real consequences and causes real suffering.
The truth is, God designed us for freedom–not the “freedom” to do whatever we want, but the freedom to be who God created us to be. True freedom in life is not found through rebellion against God’s authority. That will only lead to slavery–slavery to sin, to addiction, to pride, to pleasure, to money, to work, to family… the list could go on forever. Shaking your fist at God and telling him that no one, including God, has the right to tell you what to do will only lead you down the same path Samson and the Israelites went down in the Book of Judges. It’s a downward spiral that leads to sadness, despair, suffering, and ultimately death. As an old pastor once said, “Sin will take you farther than you intended to go, keep you longer than you intended to stay, and cost you more than you intended to pay.”
The path to true freedom is found in surrendering to Jesus Christ. It’s not found in declaring your independence from God, but rather in making a Declaration of Dependence on Jesus! “For freedom, Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1a). Only in Christ will you find the freedom to be who God created you to be, to do what God created you to do. When you live in Christ, you discover what it means to truly live, and the freedom that I have found in Jesus has changed my life forever. Will you surrender to Christ and be set free?