In many ways, the festival of Juneteenth can be seen as an analogy to the process of salvation. Although I have written about the festival before , it has gotten a lot more attention as of late as a celebration of the freedom of blacks from slavery. To summarize the origin of the festival, Juneteenth is a celebration of the anniversary of June 19, 1865 when saves in Texas were informed of their freedom by Union soldiers who were coming to mop up the last remnants of the Civil War and begin the painful process of reconstruction and reconciliation. In many ways, this process remains to this day. In looking at the questions of agency that involve Juneteenth, it is also worthwhile to reflect upon the question of agency as it relates to our salvation, for we are not freed by our own will or our own efforts, but by the grace and mercy and power of God.
The slaves of the American south and those who have been called by God into His Church both started out in slavery. Paul, in particular, makes it very clear that all people are slaves whether they like it or not. Romans 6:15-23 makes this particularly plain: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Scripture is plain–we are either the slaves of sin leading to death or slaves of God receiving the gift of eternal life. Those who cheer on sin and lawlessness remain slaves to sin and death and have not been freed.
In both Juneteenth and personal salvation, freedom was something that came from outside. For the slaves in Texas, they did not know they were free until they were informed by soldiers who were the agents of their freedom and who had the power to enforce that freedom by the legal power of the state to coerce those who would contradict it. Similarly, we have been set free not by ourselves, but by God. As Paul reminds us, “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” Regardless of the sort of freedom we have received, being set free does not mean that we are irresponsible, but rather that we are more responsible than we were before. Those who were set free from slavery had the responsibility to live in obedience with the law and to achieve what was possible given their own gifts and talents and abilities, and that responsibility remains for believers as well. Those who have not been set free from their lusts and desires and their hatreds and bitterness remain slaves, even if they have no physical chains.
Yet this freedom is not entirely without our agency either. The fact that we are responsible for how we live indicates the agency that we have as believers. The Bible consistently urges people to walk in righteousness (see, for example, Psalm 15:2, Proverbs 2:20, 1 Kings 3:6). Peter reminds us, for example, that since Christ suffered for us, we should follow His example (1 Peter 2:21), and tells us elsewhere that he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin (1 Peter 4:1). So too freed slaves had their own agency to deal with in a hostile world. Some of them exhibited considerable agency in seeking their own freedom by becoming “contraband of war” whenever a Union army was close enough, and seeking wages there, or even becoming soldiers and sailors themselves. Some were born free and others escaped to freedom, seeking a safe places from those who would kidnap them back into slavery. Yet however they were free, they were free to walk in obedience to the law and to seek their own best lives, which they were now responsible for.
We should celebrate the freedom we have from sin, to the extent that we have it, in part by walking in righteousness and love. Likewise it is entirely proper for people to celebrate the freedom of their ancestors from physical slavery, so long as it is remembered that those who are set free from slavery have been made responsible and are expected to live righteous and well-ordered lives. Those who cannot handle this responsibly well end up losing their freedom in one fashion or another, in being imprisoned or enslaved to debt or addiction. To be free is by no means something to be taken for granted, and however one has obtained that freedom, it is to be remembered that we remain responsible to God for how we use the freedom that we possess. All too often this has been forgotten by those who fancy themselves to be free of all restraint and all obligations to others.
 See, for example: