Freedom


The saying is trustworthy, for if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him.

2 Timothy 2: 11

There are things that are really hard to give up. Some fall under that heading that we call “guilty pleasures”. These include such things as certain television programs, candy and ice cream, and buttered pop corn. Actions like smoking and driving too fast can actually cause harm. Other tenacious aspects of who we seem to be are more sinister. These might involve an addiction to pornography, habitual lying, out of control anger, and other forms of attitude and behavior that are rooted in sinful reliance on our selves as opposed to engaging in radical trust in and dependence upon Christ. All people are born into this world separated from God and His truth and darkened in our understanding of actual righteous living. These sinful aspects of our lives that continue on after we come to know Christ are the remnants of our birthright.

An even more challenging sort of change involves the attitudes that we hold toward our world and the people in it. Christ came into this world to bring an alienated humanity back into intimate relationship with our Creator, God. This salvation and reconciliation are for everyone. There are no exclusions, no exceptions, and there is absolutely no greater and lesser order to this acceptance of people by God. Most of us struggle with this idea. Even if we can readily say that we think that Christ came, suffered, died, and was raised for all, we simply don’t actually believe that this is true. There are always some people, either individuals or groups, who we do not like or trust. It is human nature to consider those who are different and who believe differently as being suspect. We tend to find that it is much easier to extend grace and reach out in loving embrace to people who we do not fear and who look, speak, and think essentially like us. Yet, Christ did all of these things for all of the people He encountered. God’s love, mercy, grace, and redemption are offered to each and every person on this earth.

Whatever it is that each of us is dealing with by way of unrighteous thought and action, big things and small, the foundation for change is ours to pursue. First off, we need to desire that change. Truth is God’s catalyst for change. His Word contains the narrative account of the way that our Lord desires for us to think and to live. Emersion in it is the starting place and the ongoing road to discovery of who God is and who He calls us to be. Time in God’s Word is best accompanied with prayer and meditation. These are times of speaking our hearts to God and of listening to His voice. Study of the word and prayer are inseparable, and these are times when the Holy Spirit speaks God’s deep truths into our hearts and minds. Additionally, God desires for us to live in community. Although real transformative work in us is done by God through His Spirit, He often uses the agency of His body, the church and its people, to support, counsel, and bring accountability to that journey. God has called us to join Christ in death, that is, the death of our birth-life of wastefulness and sin, and then the Lord takes us into the new life of freedom that comes in following our Savior through every step of the day.   

If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Galatians 5: 18 

There is an order to the way that the entire world functions. The rules and the controlling principles were embedded into its genetic coding by God in order to prevent chaos from ruling. What matters most for people is where we align our hearts and our minds in order to receive the direction and guidance that we all need to successfully make it through this complex life that we live. Although we are all born with hearts that are broken and controlled by sin, God grants us the gift of a choice that will completely change all of that. Christ brings all who choose Him into restoration and into righteousness. 

Once we have decided to leave behind the controlling influence of evil and turn our hearts toward God, we still need to take one more very important step. God designed a rule of law into Creation, and it will get us through the day with minimal missteps and wrong turns; however, the law demands perfection from us, and we are very imperfect beings. Errors, mistakes, and wrong choices are inevitable when we choose to orient our moral compass toward the law. Under the rule of the law, we will spend our days trying unsuccessfully to pay off the constantly growing fines that we receive for our various sins. Unfortunately, we will never possess enough emotional or spiritual currency to pay these debts.  

Christ offers us another choice, for He paid that debt in full for us, and He sent His Spirit to live in, among, and with us. We can choose to seek out a deep, personal, and powerful relationship with the Spirit of God that will profoundly change the way that we view life. When we seek to stay filled with the Spirit, our view of life and the vantage point from which we view it are changed. We gain a Heavenly perspective on life that allows us to live boldly, confidently, and in a form of freedom that does not exist outside of this intimate relationship with God. As I know Christ, so, I am filled with Christ’s Spirit, and there is lightness and buoyancy to my life that is without compare. 

By God’s doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1: 30, 31 

There has always been a plan. God was never confused, caught short, or had his balance disturbed by the thoughts, decisions, or actions of angels or of people. He created us in a way that we could and would reach our own conclusions about what was best for us, and He allows us the freedom to follow our own course through life. Everyone starts out with the potential to live in a close, intimate relationship with God, but we all also need to decide that this is what we truly want to do. Thus, we were given Jesus to serve as the point of connection and the focus of the eternal decision that we all get to make. 

When we accept that Jesus is God, our Lord and Savior from the evil that controlled our hearts and minds from birth until that moment of yielding to Him, we start a journey that is based on the sort of deep truths, wisdom, and understanding that can only come from God, Himself. Our nature is changed into one that is attuned to the character of perfect good that only exists in God and in those who, as His redeemed, are filled with the Spirit of Christ. The key for many of us is to recognize our need to actually let this new character and identity become the dominate one. So often we continue to seek to live just as we always have, and we find that our sense of worth and our concepts of success are defined by what we do and what we have rather than in who we serve. 

We can learn to accept God’s wisdom and let His Spirit point us toward Jesus and His wise truth about the important things in life. These are the things that have true, lasting, and eternal importance. These are the qualities and characteristics that bring love, grace, compassion, and integrity to the top of our daily priority list. When we define our achievement in life in terms of how well we have served Christ, and we understand that serving Christ means that we need to love the people of this world and sacrifice our selves to that service; then, heaven is given back another piece of this world. Then we are truly standing on God’s holy ground.

11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Hebrews 10: 11-14

The work of human priests was never done. They needed to be continually making sacrifices so that God would forgive the sins of the people and of the nation. Before Jesus, there was no other choice, and without Jesus there is still none to be found. We may attempt to accomplish His work on our own, but that will always be futile. There is simply nothing that we can do and no effort that we can exert that will accomplish forgiveness in the eyes of God. People may seek to follow a righteous and a holy path through life, we might even live with generosity and care for others as our mission, but Christ remains the singular and the sole way to gain access to the presence of God in this life and into eternity.

All of the work of perfecting salvation from sin and redemption from death’s hold upon all people has been completed. The cross was the point of that outworking, and Jesus was the sacrifice that stands in total sufficiency at that moment in time and for all of time to follow. Now time continues onward in its journey to its completion, for a day is coming when there will no more time. Then the ledger of life will be closed and counted and those that are found within it will stand before God in their forgiven and holy state while all others will be duly noted for their rejection of the Savior so that they will be separated from God’s presence and cast off to experience the outworking of that decision to turn away from Christ and His offer of redemption.

In Christ we can now rest from the work of achieving a position of acceptance before God, but that does not mean that the work of this life is done. For, in Christ, we are called to live out to the fullest that grace and forgiveness that we have been granted as the greatest gift that it is possible to receive. Now we are free to act in love without fear, to speak the gospel of Christ without hesitation, and to give all that we have without concern about tomorrow’s provision. The High Priest that we serve may be resting and waiting for the fullness of time in one sense, but He is also very active and involved in this world in many other ways. The Spirit is with and within us, and as we offer up ourselves without hold-back or reservation, He will lead us and implore us into taking actions that can, in God’s will, lead others into that same presence of Christ that has already saved us.

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

Ephesians 2: 17

There are separations, divisions, and animosities running wildly amok in our world today. This is not a profound revelation that has come to me; rather, it is the reality in which we all dwell. I submit that it is easier to identify conditions, situations, and identities that divide us than it is to do the same with those that bind people together. In part, this is true because we are more interested in the tensions than we are in their reconciliation, but it is also the continuing arch of the playing out of the fallen state of creation, itself. This world has been headed in this direction from its earliest days, and it continues to spiral downward; however, it does seem that the spiral is growing ever tighter and the rate of spin is continually increasing. Perhaps we are living in the midst of the death spiral of this world?

The saddest aspect of all of this is the fact that it doesn’t need to be so. God planned and established the way and the means for reconciliation of any and all differences. The Father does not want to see His people caught up in the animosities, hatred, and the violence that stems from them. He would have all of us learn to accept each other, take the risk inherent in peacemaking, and reach across all of our points of division with the hand of fellowship and grace. So, the means that God established for doing this is Jesus and the way is the cross. Christ’s love and grace serve to bring people into a relationship with God that ends our separation from all that is righteous and holy; thus, Christ reconciles people to our Creator. This is a part of what God intends to see happen. The other primary aspect of the Lord’s desire and will is carried out when we seek to reconcile with each other.

It is not easy to love people who are different, care for those who seem to be natural enemies, and enter into the stories of those who make us uncomfortable or who actually frighten us. Yet, Christ calls upon His people to do these things. He also goes with us as we seek to extend that hand of fellowship to others. For as we look upon the cross and consider what it means to join with Jesus in the sacrifice and the commitment to righteousness that is centered upon that torturous implement, all fear and concern should be left behind us. Christ experienced all of the pain, grief, and terror for us during those agonizing hours of hanging upon the cross. In Christ we are not only set free to love those who are different from us, but those differences are, in fact, made to disappear. They become meaningless in the context of God’s newly redeemed existence as citizens of His kingdom come to earth. In Christ and by the sacrifice of the cross, we can know the true peace that comes through loving all people as Christ loves them and from no longer seeing their difference but rather from looking upon them as fellow bearers of God’s beautiful and perfect image.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1: 14-16

The first thing that comes to mind with Peter’s words here is, “Holy? Who me, holy?” I know my mind, and its contents are nothing even remotely close to that standard. I also have an idea of how I live my life, and that is certainly not something that I would describe as holy. Yet, Christ seems to think that even I can be the sort of person that could be called into holiness as my way of going through life and as the description of who I have become because of Christ’s presence in me. Peter understood this dilemma, for he had lived in the center of it for many years. He was a passionate man, and he tended to speak and to act out of his emotions far before he considered the impact or the effect of what he was about to say or do. 

Now Christ reminds him that the redemptive work that was done on the cross has removed all of Peter’s obligation to his former life and has removed him from the need to obey the rule of this world. When he was called to Christ, he was also set free from the oppression of his former life, and the barriers that his disobedience had erected between himself and God were broken down and removed in their entirety. Now he could think, speak, and act in a manner that was contradictory to the methods and the manners of the world around him, and he was empowered to cast off the way of living that was grounded in fear, fueled by anger, and designed to gain control that had been what he was taught and encouraged in during the days before Christ. Christ brought Peter into the center of a new gospel of love, peacemaking, and restoration. In Christ he was now seen as holy by God, and he was to be known as holy by the world as well.

So too, are we to be known in our world, for, in Christ, we are all redeemed from that same form of captivity to the world’s approach to relating to others and to God. As it was with Peter, this is a work in progress at this time; although, Christ’s work is completed and perfect, the transformative work that the Spirit is doing within me is perfect but it will be complete beyond this life. Until then, I, like all followers of Christ, live in the tension of our calling to be holy that stands in contrast to the daily reality of the many ways that the heart and the mind prove to be something less than that. This is the place where grace stands as God’s healing potion. This gift of loving understanding and permission to continue on despite my failings and weakness is a part of God’s unending encouragement to each of His people to continue on in this journey of hopeful obedience. So, when Christ tells us to live as holy people, He is not calling us into failure or defeat, but rather, the Lord is leading us into His assured possibility of living in the world as His redeemed and transformed people.  

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

            “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,

                who was and is and is to come!”

                Revelation 4: 8

These words are at the center of the vision of God’s throne room that was given to John by Christ. John was allowed to see a part of the universe that most of us can only speculate about. He was taken, in this visionary state, into a reality that followers of Christ often dream about and desire to enter at the soonest possible moment. This is the place where death is no more, and the pain that accompanies life as does Noon follow dawn is far off in the past. In this longest part of existence, perfection and peace reign as strife and striving are left to wrestle in the dusty and temporary atmosphere of earth. We can dream of a time when we, too, will join these incredible creatures as we spend our hours, days, and eternity expressing worshipful praise to God.

This idea is a wonderful one. And the hope that its promise provides is useful for us as we face into the challenges of living in this world. However, it seems to me that looking ahead to the day when this heavenly escape will be my own is not what God wants me to focus my sight upon today. Instead of looking ahead to a time when I will be transported into an existence where praising the Lord is the singular focus and work of my days, Christ’s purpose in doing all that He did was to set me free from all that inhibits me from engaging in this same form of worship on an on-going basis during my time of living in this world. Although I do not have six wings, or any wings for that matter, am not all that gifted in sight, and my endurance tends to fail me, I can still spend my hours, days, and years in active and persistent praiseful worship of the Lord. 

As one who has been redeemed from sin and its death by Christ, I am called by my Lord into service to His kingdom come upon this earth. My life is no longer my own. I am given the singular task of worship to pursue for the rest of my life, and I am granted the gift of the capacity and the capability to do that very thing. Every thought that comes to my mind is to be formed out of the truth and the wisdom of God’s Word. Each word that I speak is to be formed out of a vocabulary of love, grace, and understanding, and all of the actions that I take are to be carried out with God’s holy and righteous purposes as their object and objective. This is the central point and purpose of being a follower of Christ. We are to make worship of the Lord the center of our being, and as we do this, God’s presence is made tangible and real to others as His redemption is poured out into a troubled and broken world. 

Next Page »