“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

As we celebrate our nation’s birthday, it is fitting to reflect on and acknowledge those who have given their strength, bravery and often their lives to keep our country free and full of the liberties we enjoy. We have much to be thankful for as a country and we should take the day to express our thanks. In that same vein, the Fourth of July can also serve another good purpose. As we reflect on what it means to be an American citizen, we can also reflect on what it means to be a citizen of Heaven.

The Bible tells us we are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20). Yet, we are also citizens of America -- we have a dual citizenship; living in the reality of both this world and the world unseen. With that, our citizenship in America can teach us a lot about our citizenship in heaven. Just as we follow certain rules and regulations in America to ensure the freedoms we have, so we also follow the commands of God in order to live freely in our faith. This might seem contradictory to some -- “So, I have to follow rules to be free? But that doesn’t sound like freedom! That sounds like someone ruling over me!” But when we think about why we follow the rules -- for our safety, for the safety of others, so that other people are treated equally and so that justice is served, etc., we find ourselves wanting to obey because we know good things come as a result. Just as our freedom in American requires us to follow the law, our freedom as Christians requires us to follow God’s law.

I want to share with you a story a guest pastor once shared with my church. Perhaps more than any other, this illustration has helped me understand how obedience to God’s commands gives us rich freedom in life.

There were two guys out in the park with their dogs. The first dog had no leash, but the owner never worried about him running off. He had been well-trained and was very obedient. As a result, the dog was having a blast -- playing fetch, running full speed, tongue out, tail wagging. He was having the time of his life.

The other dog wasn’t having it so good. His owner had him on a short leash, and it was obvious why: the dog was working with all his might to break free from the owner’s control. He whined, thrashed and barked, but because he never listened to the owners’ commands to “sit!” or “heel!” he never got any slack on the leash. He looked miserable, especially in contrast to the fun the other dog was having.

This story vividly illustrates for us that obedience begets freedom. Which dog was experiencing true freedom? The dog who listened and acted obediently and had the trust of his owner. He could run untethered, play and experience life as he was created to -- in total safety and joy, in a strong bond of trust with his owner. The disobedient, unyielding dog missed out because he was hell-bent on doing things his own way -- never realizing that if he’d only listened, he would have exactly that for which he yearned.

For Christians, our ultimate freedom doesn’t come from certain rights or liberties granted to us -- it comes from obediently listening to what God would have us do, knowing that the commands he gives are truly for our good. In the above illustration, the leash isn’t God’s law -- it’s our sin, chaining us to the ground, preventing us from the full, joyful life we so desire. This is what Paul was saying to the church in Galatia when he wrote, “Do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.” When we stop our sinful struggles, turn and do as God instructs, we feel the heavy chains of our sin fall slack, giving us the freedom to live in the life God has called us to.

Those who built and have served our country have paved the way, through their work and sacrifice, for us to have the freedoms we enjoy. In the same way, we would be incapable of freedom from our sins without the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. This Independence day, reflect on and thank the men and women who have given so much of themselves that we might enjoy a country full of freedom and rights. Just also remember to reflect and thank the God who has sacrificed everything to give us our ultimate freedom -- freedom from our sinfulness.

Kelly Givens is an editor at Salem Web Network. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband and enjoys reading, writing and spending time in the great outdoors.