In July, freedom will be much celebrated and little understood. July 4 is Independence Day, the anniversary of the date in 1776 when 13 colonies declared themselves free from British rule.

Many of our Founding Fathers were Christians, and they were speaking to a populace that was Christian by heritage. They drew from a common Christian vocabulary, even if they sometimes chose to neutralize it by speaking of “nature and nature’s God.”

Their words echoed biblical themes. They spoke often of “freedom” from servitude — and they evoked the story of the Exodus.

America’s social order has not always been welcoming to Catholics or congenial to Catholic thought, but we too can celebrate. We feel no less a thrill at words that echo St. Paul: “because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

Freedom is the stuff of our salvation, and liberty from bondage can enable us to flourish in Christ. St. Paul urged the early Christians to seize such chances: “Were you a slave when called? Never mind. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity” (1 Corinthians 7:21).

Still, it’s not simply from human overlords that Christ would have us set free. And it’s not just better business and lower taxes that we should be celebrating. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). We should not equate true freedom with free enterprise and democratic process. For even the pagan Greeks knew in their hearts that a slave could be more free than a king.

We celebrate because we’re not just free from something. We’re free for something. We’re free from the bondage to sin. We’re free for a holy life with God in heaven — but begun in holiness even on earth. What are we free for? We are free to live the lives of the saints.

Liberty is a condition of possibility. God uses it as an occasion of grace. It’s up to us to correspond to that grace. “For freedom Christ has set us free,” said St. Paul. “Stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, 13).

It’s a storyline that’s compatible with the American founding, but not quite identical with it.

For we cannot doubt that the biblical language has been abused; and freedom has been used as a pretext for license, and even — in an instance of demonic irony — for slavery.

Today, we find people enslaved as they follow promises of sexual freedom. Their masters promise them unbridled access to the objects of their desires. “They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19).

St. Peter said it well: “Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16).

Our liberation, like Israel’s, should be not so much a declaration of independence from foreign bondage as a declaration of dependence upon God.