For most people in the United States, the words, "It’s a free country" are a statement of fact, and not a question. We citizens of the US treasure our freedom and we use that sense of freedom, for better or for worse, to justify all kinds of thoughts, words and actions.
I myself am a lifelong resident of the United States, the country I was born in and the country in whose military I served for four years. But I find myself living in a part of it where there are a number of caveats to the idea of freedom, leading to the question that makes the title for this post.
For a little more than three years my family and I have lived on the reservation of the Jicarilla Apache Nation (The Nation). The Nation is sovereign but not quite in the sense of other nations that we consider sovereign in their relationships with the United States. For example, Canada has its own government, issues its own money and exchanges ambassadors with the United States. Canadian citizens don't vote in the elections within the United States. The Nation also has its own government but it uses the same money as the United States and is represented in Congress as a part of the delegation from New Mexico.
The election season highlights some of the unique things about living on the reservation. The reservation sits within two counties and I'm registered to vote in Rio Arriba county. So last week I could cast my vote for president, congress and a number of other offices and issues relevant to New Mexico and Rio Arriba county. But I live on the reservation as a non-tribal member and so I was not able to vote in the recent election for the Nation's president, vice president or legislative council.
Going a step farther, as a non-tribal member there are rules and restrictions as to where I can go on the reservation. I have no explicit rights to any kind of housing or the other benefits that are available to members of the Nation. There is also a sense of restriction to what might be called "freedom of speech," in that there are a variety of things which I feel are "off limits" for me to express an opinion on. For me to do could easily result in my being told to leave the reservation, which actually happened to a pastor here once. I don’t write this as if I feel suppressed in any way but merely as a statement of fact. I live here, and serve God here, so long as the Nation allows. This fact is basically true of all the non-tribal members living on the reservation.
So I live as a citizen of the United States within the boundaries of land belonging to the Jicarilla Apache Nation, voluntarily surrendering some of those things I might ordinarily claim as within my rights as an American. But I do so knowing that there is yet one other place to which I hold citizenship. In Philippians 3:20 the Apostle Paul writes,
"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…"
No matter where believers in Jesus live on this earth, they all hold in common the fact that their true citizenship lies elsewhere. There are Christians living all over the world with restrictions that citizens of the United States would never accept.
You see, there is only one place where there is a truly free country. The freedom there is not based on its geographic location but is grounded in the nature of its ruler, the Lord Jesus Christ. Non-citizens may look toward it and shake their heads. In so many ways it seems a country like any other, with rules and boundaries. Give up the ability to live as I choose in order to live in ways that look more and more like the ruler's? I don’t think so.
But from the inside the perspective is completely different. In the presence of true freedom in Jesus the "freedom" given up in order to follow Jesus shows itself as just so much slavery.
The United States is truly a great nation and there is none like it in the world. But it doesn’t compare in the least to the freedom that comes in living as a citizen of heaven under the rule of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.