Today is the Fourth of July, a day on which Americans commemorate the independence of our nation and the freedom we enjoy as a result. Though our festivities are going to look different this year, and in some ways the very soul of our country is being tested, for those of us who have accepted Jesus as our Savior, liberty is always something to celebrate. As Christians, we understand that the source of true freedom is not the policy of any nation, but the liberating power of Jesus Christ at work within us. To this end, let’s continue looking at the story of the conversion of Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul. Yesterday, we learned that Saul, after being set free from Roman slavery, became a Pharisee and a student of Gamaliel, who was probably the most highly esteemed Rabbi of that day. Though he undoubtedly learned a lot from his wise teacher, Saul seemed to differ with him where it came to loving his neighbor. While Gamaliel taught that love of neighbor meant accepting Gentiles, Saul disagreed. In fact, he seemed to hate anyone who was not like him, and this caused him to despise the Christian church, which preached the equality of all people. The congregation in Damascus was especially known for its broad acceptance of Gentiles, and he was determined to cause terror to this body of believers in particular. Having pre-identified followers of the Way in that region, he was on a mission to arrest them and take them as prisoners when the Lord appeared to him on the road. He suddenly fell to the ground, was blinded by a bright light, and heard a voice from Heaven say, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul responded by saying, “Who are you, Lord?” and Jesus clearly identified Himself as the One whom he had been persecuting. Stopped in his tracks, this previously bitter and self-righteous Pharisee was suddenly set on a different course. Now blind and filled with the fear of God, he humbly received instruction and yielded to an alternate — and better — destiny for the remainder of his days. Free from enslavement to hatred and bigotry, his heart finally tasted true liberty and his life became an unstoppable force in the service of His Savior.
My friend, it’s wonderful and right to celebrate the freedom of a nation, but it’s even better to celebrate your heart’s liberty in the Lord Jesus Christ. Though you once walked as a slave to sin, fear, bitterness, and your own desires, your Savior called you by name and set you free to surrender to His good plan. While it has required you to change course and leave the wide path of self-righteousness to travel the narrow road to victory, the rewards of walking in His Way are felt most deeply in the depths of your spirit. You know what it is to rest in divine goodness, and because God’s love has been poured into your heart, you are empowered to love others graciously, compassionately, and without discrimination. As a result, your faith is bearing fruit and your appointment as an ambassador for divine freedom is changing the world around you!