Today is America’s birthday. A glorious day in which we meditate on history and its leading towards what makes this country what it is—freedom. Have you ever thought about how much there is to learn from history? Not only does history repeat itself, but we can learn a lot about human behavior by looking back in time. I recently saw the movie “12 Years A Slave” (tough movie to watch!) and it naturally led me to think about the history of slavery, but moreover, the history of freedom.

As I thought about my own freedom, including how often I take it for granted, I was led to think about the Israelites back when God, through Moses, got them the heck out of Egypt. If you’ve seen the movie Exodus, or read the book in the Bible (book is highly recommended—like most novels-turned-films, the film isn’t very accurate), we are familiar with the unimaginable plagues God sent forth to show Pharaoh who’s Boss (literally).

After living in slavery for hundreds of years in Egypt, it was finally time for God’s chosen people, namely, the Israelites to be set free. 10 devastating plagues later, Moses’ request to “let my people go!” was granted, and the Jews were off to The Promised Land via the way of the desert—finally tasting sweet freedom. But something happened along the way—something that happens to each of us: they took the whole darn thing for granted. The Israelites walked out of Egypt praising God, but soon enough, their praising turned into complaining. “Yea, we’re free, but now we’re hungry… and hot…and tired.” Grumble. Grumble. Grumble. The Israelites were experiencing the dreaded disease of being discontent and ungrateful, consequently wanting more than what had already been given to them.

Ever experienced it? Ever got what you wanted, to then get tired or bored of that and want more?

After experiencing miracle after miracle from God—being able to walk through the Red Sea as it parted, being given fresh, clean water from a rock, being fed bread from the sky—the Israelites still weren’t pleased with God. So what’d they do? They put all their gold together and built a golden statue in the shape of a…cow. And then they worshipped it…hoping it would bring them what they wanted (which at this point, I don’t think they even knew what that was. I mean, they initially wanted freedom…but, now what?) Sound crazy? Well, it is. But how many times have we done the same?

We are a darn foolish folk chasing the wind day after day, aren’t we? Building our own golden cows and thinking they can satisfy and fulfill the ever-increasing craving that we have for more.

But, the story doesn’t end there. The Israelites were given a set of rules. Ever heard of the 10 Commandments? God laid down the Law…literally. He told them they weren’t allowed to worship other gods (ahem, golden cows), they mustn’t lie, steal, commit adultery, murder, or covet. I mean, these are pretty fair Laws, aren’t they? Who wants to be lied to, murdered, stolen from, or cheated on?

Well, they failed; maybe not in every category, but at least in a few of them. And don’t we all? The beautiful thing about these 10 Commandments is that it exposes how equally we all suck, I mean, lack. No, I’ve never murdered someone, but I’ve darn well told a lie. Let’s face it: we’re all guilty.

You see, God’s Law is perfect, but He knew the Israelites (and us) couldn’t/wouldn’t keep every single commandment. He knew we all would break the Law. And what happens when a law is broken? Punishment. Try stealing a car, lying to your parents, or cheating on your spouse. Punishment awaits. And just like punishment awaits from the government, your parents, or your spouse, it also awaits from God.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

But here’s where Jesus comes in:

God is perfect. His Law shows us how much we lack, yet also provides us with the very thing we need. (It’s a win/win for Him—after all, He is God—and the wisest Being in the Universe). What was Jesus’ purpose on Earth? Well, to be that one sinless person—you know, the embodiment of God Himself, that would live and die without breaking a single commandment. The only one. Perfection.

And what did Perfection do? He paid that punishment price for all of us. He took our place.

To that man that committed adultery against his wife—Jesus Christ paid the punishment for his error.

To the wife who was cheated on, left feeling neglected, betrayed, abused—Jesus Christ took her husband’s place, making Himself her perfect lover.

To the drugged up teen that stole that car—Jesus Christ paid the punishment.

To the daughter who’s been abandoned by her father—Jesus Christ took that father’s place, making Himself her perfect Father.

To the CEO who committed fraud—Jesus Christ paid the punishment.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21

Jesus paid the price for every error we’ve ever committed that deserves punishment. He also took the place of anyone who’s ever committed an error against us. It’s done. It’s all paid for. And what’s the result of all of this? Well, freedom. You see, He sets us free from all our short-comings. He sets us free from having to perform. He sets us free from having to be good enough, smart enough, worthy enough. He sets us free from creating unrealistic expectations from people and assuming fallible humans could meet our every need. He sets us free from chasing the wind in search of fulfillment, and He sets us free from having to build our own golden cows hoping they will satisfy us.

Will we ever live up to the 10 Commandments? No, but it’s okay because Jesus did. And when we believe and trust in Him, He exchanges our dirtiness with His perfection.

So back to my original question—what is freedom?

Well, freedom is Jesus. Freedom is trusting in Him. Freedom is accepting the free gift that He has to offer—Himself. Freedom is knowing that day after day we’re most likely going to mess up, but we have the ultimate Advocate who is on your side, guiding and leading us to be better, and forgiving us when we’ve fallen short.

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. Galatians 5:1