Free

Free Indeed

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (Gal. 5:1)

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32)

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We have a particular kind of cultural view of freedom:

  • “No matter what they say, I’m doing to do whatever I want.”
  • “Break the rules. Find your freedom. Live your life.”
  • “Walk where your heart leads you.”
  • “Run without a destination, and you’ll finally see what freedom can be.”

I think of it as a fish jumping out of a fishbowl that it considers to be this horrible confinement…and goes nowhere. All it wants to do is leave, but it has no destination.  It does what it wants, it finds its freedom, it jumps where its heart leads it, and it jumps without a destination.  But it doesn’t jump to freedom. It doesn’t realize it is leaving behind the very thing that brings it life. We know this principle is true. We see it everywhere.

  • A train needs to run on tracks
  • Drivers need rules for driving
  • Our diet needs restraint
  • Fireworks need guidelines
  • A band needs to be in agreement about the constraints of the song in order to make music to which anyone wants to listen.

At the heart of the culture is the idea that freedom is simply having choices or being able to do what we want.  Yet that clearly is not true. A book called The Paradox of Choice pointed out that too many choices often immobilize us or make us unhappy. When we have too much in front of us, we don’t want to choose out of fear that we will choose something that is not the best, and when we do choose we are unhappy because we assume we are missing out.

Even worse, there are freedoms that bring bondage.  Paul said he did not want to become enslaved by permissible things that were not beneficial (1 Corinthians 6).

  • I am free to eat what I want – but I will probably gravitate toward unhealthy foods made to hook me and then hurt me.
  • I am free to use social media – but I can easily become addicted or narcissistic.
  • I am free to spend money to enjoy life – but I can become greedy and materialistic if I’m not careful.

There must be more to freedom than merely the license of choice.[1]

Let’s go back to the fish imagery. Mere choice says the fish is free if it jumps anywhere it wants to jump. But the choice that brings life and real freedom is the jump from a bowl into a lake or the ocean. That’s still not a life without limits: even the ocean has boundaries. But it’s life with the kind of limits that allow us to flourish. The fish can now live a fully life – whatever that means to a fish – because it’s in an environment where it was made to live.

At the heart of the gospel is the idea that true freedom is not freedom to do whatever we want; it’s the ability to become what God intends us to be.

“Freedom, then, is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us.”—Tim Keller

This is a principle we hear repeated a lot of places.

“There are two freedoms - the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought.” Charles Kingsley

“Order without liberty and liberty without order are equally destructive.”  Theodore Roosevelt

“What is this liberty that must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not the freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check on their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few — as we have learned to our sorrow.” –U.S. judge Learned Hand, in his speech "The Spirit of Liberty"

This is a universally recognized truth: genuine freedom is not the license to do what we want. It’s the ability to do what we should – and as Christians we would add a very important point: so that we can flourish in God’s design. This is a biblical principle that God in his grace has made clear outside of His Word.

  • You are free to eat what you want or watch what you eat. The first will liberate your choices and hurt your health, the second will constrain your choices and liberate your health.
  • You are free to be lazy or productive. The first will liberate your time and hurt you, the second will constrain your uses of time and free you economically.
  • You are free to be greedy or generous. The first will liberate you from the burden of self-sacrifice and enslave you in the rat race; the second will constrain a self-centered use of your time, energy, and priorities and free you from the power of money.
  • You are free to be resentful or to forgive. The first will constrain your peace, your health, your understanding of grace. The second will constrain your selfish desire to be right and hold a grudge, but it will free you and bring you peace and a better understanding of God’s grace and forgiveness for you.

We are free from the bondage of the law of sin and death to serve God and in so doing, truly live. But we will have to live within the constraints of that new freedom.

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.  The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Galatians 5:13-14

“Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.” 1 Peter 2:16

There is the paradox of Christian freedom.[i] Jesus said:

 "Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." (Matt. 16:25)

The love of God, as seen in Christ, demands that we lay down our lives so that we can truly be alive as we are continually molded into the image of Christ. The more we sacrifice ourselves for the sake of Christ and in the service of others, the more we are free to bless those who persecute us, to love those who hate us, to forgive those who hurt us.

This kind of love constrains us, but it liberates us as well.

 “When we obey God, we become more, not less, free, in the same sense that your automobile will run more freely if you obey the owner's manual sent with the car by its manufacturer, and thus take good care of it.  The car has a given nature which can be abused and damaged. 

Human beings likewise have a given nature which can be abused and damaged, thus eroding our freedom, or destroying it all together.  God gives us a Manufacturer's manual by which we can maximize our ability to act, and pursue our rightful and most joyful life -- the ‘pursuit of happiness’”. [2] (F. Earle Fox)[ii]

Christian freedom is a directed, purposeful pursuit of the life given and empowered by God that allows us to increasingly participate in the character of Christ.[iii]

We are created in the image of God; genuine freedom, then, is found in conforming to that image, not rejecting it. 

When we say, “I am a Christian,” what we say, what we do, what we post, what and how we picket, what we laugh and cry at, how we show Christ’s love, how we balance justice and mercy, how we balance law and grace, how we prioritize our life, how we engage in relationships, the kind of person we commit to becoming in our homes, our workplace, at church, in sports leagues…. These all matter. Every moment leads us further away from or further into the likeness of Christ, and with it the freedom Christ offers.

We must stop fixating on ‘my freedom’ as though it were not bound up with everyone else’s. We realize that our lives are intertwined with the lives of others, and we “put on” a commitment to live like Christ, and we sacrifice ourselves for others. We give up our pride, our greed, our selfishness, our lust, our pettiness, our jealousy and bitterness.  We use our freedom to serve others.

Christian freedom shows us what to “put on,” and promises that God will help us accomplish this in ways we never could on our own. We are free to become what God created us to be: children and ambassadors who are constantly being transformed into the image of Christ. (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18)

Don’t be discouraged if the path of freedom is a struggle. God will help you. You have been given the Holy Spirit, God’s word, and God’s people which will all work together to transform you into the image of Jesus. God has begin a good work in you; he will be faithful.

Remember: you are a child of God. He is the perfect Father who will love and chastise and encourage and prune and build. God will work faithfully on you for your good and His glory so that we can experience not just life, but the abundant life (John 10:10)offered in the Kingdom of Heaven.

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[1] Check out this most excellent article at Christianity Today online called “The Bonds Of Freedom.” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/october/bonds-of-freedom.html

[2] http://theroadtoemmaus.org/RdLb/21PbAr/Eth/Freedm.htm

[i] Martin Luther wrote in On Christian Liberty: "A Christian… is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian… is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone."

[ii] C.S. Lewis noted, “The lost enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded.” The opposite is that the saved can forever enjoy the freedom that have been graciously given.

[iii]The Word of God teaches that the Christian is a free man and should “stand in the freedom which Christ has made him free.” What is meant by Christian freedom? What is freedom in general? We answer: it is not the right and the ability to do as one pleases, but the ability to move without constraint in the sphere for which God made us. Freedom therefore is not inconsistent with limitation and law. The bird is free only when it can move in the air unhindered. A worm is free when it is not prevented from moving in the ground–in a sphere which would mean bondage and death for many other creatures. A locomotive is not free unless its motion is confined to the two rails on which it was made to run. Man was made in the image of God to be like Him and to reflect his holiness. Consequently he is free only when he moves without constraint in the sphere of holiness and obedience to God’s law.” –“Christian Liberty,” in “Report of the Committee on Worldly Amusements,” Agenda: Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, To convene June 13, 1928 at Holland, Mich., p. 22.

 

Free - From Saving Ourselves

We talked last week about being set free from the eternal penalty and the power of sin because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. When we give our lives to following and serving Jesus, we are no longer slaves to sin, chained to our vices and doomed to patterns or lifestyles of sinful failure.

But, even as Christians, there are still ways in which God is working in us to bring freedom. We didn’t get saved in a vacuum of history; there are a lot of things that have shaped the way we think and live: family, culture, school, friends, etc. We are going to revisit some dynamics in the early church to talk about how after salvation God continues to free us from slavery to false and destructive things.

Greek converts in the early church came from a particular kind of culture. Virtually all of them were coming from pagan temple worship and a Greek or Roman conception of how the gods worked. There are three things that stand out about how they lived and worshipped.

  1. Votive offerings. The people gave gifts to the gods who then gave them gifts in return. Everything received was earned. There were sacrifices, feasts, festivals, games, etc. but the fundamental idea was that if you were nice to the god, the god was nice to you. To get something, you had to give. The gods were cosmic slot machines; you put your spiritual money in, pulled the lever, and hoped you won. If things went badly, you had clearly failed the gods in some fashion, and you just tried harder.
  2. Competitions. The Olympics and other games weren’t just about athletics. They were staged for the gods. First place wasn’t just about fame and money; there was divine favor involved. Competition was the norm.In some ways, the most important distinction in that culture was between those who had power and those who did not. Life was a contest as people competed for the eye and the favor of the gods.
  3. Processions. You showed off how much you were willing to give the gods, how far you were willing to go, etc. You had to dress extravagantly, spend extravagantly, and act passionately. You had to show up for every event and festival, and front and center was better. Image and involvement mattered. You had to be noticed. And if you were noticed by others, the gods were probably noticing too.

Add to that the converts from Judaism. The NT makes clear time and again that they had come to rely on following the law of Moses to be righteous and holy, and by this time the rabbis had added tons of new laws. Keeping the law had brought pride, spiritual elitism, and a belief that if they were just good enough God would bless them.

Paul is addressing this kind of audience of Christians in Galatians 4:

 During the time before you knew God, you were slaves to powers that are not gods at all. But now, when you are just beginning to know the one True God—actually, He is showing how completely He knows you—how can you turn back to weak and worthless idols made by men, icons of these spiritual powers? Haven’t you endured enough bondage to these breathless idols? You are observing particular days [Sabbath], months [new moons], festival seasons, and years [Passover, feasts]… This letter is really harsh, yet I am really perplexed by you. Now it’s your turn to instruct me. All of you who want to live by the rules of the law, are you really listening to and heeding what the law teaches?

In other words, they weren’t yet free. Here’s a short summary based on the many commentaries at biblehub.com:

 The outword worship of rites and ceremonies of the Jewish law imposed a servitude no less severe than the customs of paganism, in which they thought their work would justify them. These rules were "weak" because they had no power to save the soul; no power to justify or sanctify the sinner because that can only come from God’s grace and Spirit. They could not give life, righteousness, peace, joy, comfort, and salvation. They were "worthless" because they could not impart spiritual gifts and graces (which Paul writes about in Galatians 5). They were only shadows of the riches of grace and glory, which come by Christ.

How had this happened? To understand, we have to go with Paul back to Genesis.[1] God had promised that Abraham’s descendants would be the means by which God would bless the earth (Genesis 12:1-4; 15:4-5), which is typically seen as bring God’s salvation to the world. But Abraham was old, his wife Sarah was barren, and that presented what looked like an insurmountable problem.

So Sarah suggested that Abraham sleep with her servant, Hagar, so they could “build a family through her” (Genesis16:1-2). It was customary and legal in the ANE – though not good - to have a son through a servant. Abraham decided not to wait on the fulfillment of God’s promise to get his son. Instead, he decided to get his son through his own effort. Hagar conceived, and Ishmael was born. Fourteen years later…

“The Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age … Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him” (Genesis 21:1-3)

Ishmael is traditionally the father of the Arab peoples; Isaac is the father of the Jews. The Jewish people didn't like the heirs of Ishmael at all. (If you are wondering when the tensions in the Middle East started, here you go).

Apparently, when the Galatians were becoming followers of Christ, they were being told that in order to enter into the line of promise (Isaac) they had to adopt all the Old Testament Mosaic law, because Moses was clearly part of the line too (Galatians 5 and 6 add circumcision to the list of ‘rituals’ being addressed). So Paul knows that the following is going to be hard to hear:

“Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman [Ishmael] was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman [Isaac] was born as the result of a divine promise.” (Galatians 4:22-23)

So far so good. Isaac good; Ishmael bad. His Jewish converts are tracking with him.

These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.

By associating Ishmael with Mt. Sinai – the law of Moses - Paul just said that the traditional Jewish understanding of what it meant to live in the line of promise was entirely wrong. Abraham chose to rely on his own power to make God’s promises come to pass, and it backfired. The Jews were relying on the law of Moses to make themselves righteous, but that’s relying on their own effort to gain the promise of salvation. So the more observant they were of the law as a means of earning God’s favor or blessing by their own power, the more they were actually in the tradition of Ishmael, not Isaac.

But the Jerusalem that is above is free…So, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but sons and daughters of the free.

It’s a Jewish example, but I’m sure the Gentiles understood the application. In other words, if you want to keep relying on your ability to ‘do work’ to save you, you are in spiritual slavery and outside of God’s promise. You are meant to be free – and that freedom comes from Heaven. Heaven will fulfill the promise in God’s power, not yours.

This is a hard concept for me. I understand earning or not earning things. You do a job, you get paid or fired. If you lift, you build muscles. If you practice, you can be a good musician. If I do good things, I expect people will be happy with me, and I feel really good about myself. If I don’t and they aren’t, I can always eat my feelings and watch Netflix. It’s a cause and effect world that makes sense to me. It’s one reason that this post-heart attack life is taking some getting used to. I’m just not as productive as I once was. I can’t ‘earn’ like I used to. I don’t like it, but it feels…normal? Isn’t that life?

What’s worse is that I tend to apply this same principle to my faith. I become like a kid with a flower, plucking petals and muttering, “God loves me, God loves me not” depending on how well I am doing or how well my life is going.

  • I have devotions and answer all my emails and remember everybody’s name and spend quality time with the family: “He loves me.”
  • I am grumpy and forgetful and waste time and avoid my family because they wear me out and I yell at that stupid driver who cuts me off: “He loves me not.”
  • I get good feeback on a sermon: “He loves me.”
  • I don’t. “He loves me not.”
  • I navigate a touchy subject on Facebook with grace, truth, and class…I don’t…
  • I start my day with prayer…I don’t…
  • I get a new job…I get fired…
  • My marriage is amazing…my marriage is hard…
  • People think I’m an excellent Christian…people don’t…

Do you see the trap? We are the Galatians, thinking that we can earn God’s love or favor by our power.

We give votive offerings. If we are nice to God, God will be nice to us. We have more devotional time, tithe more, pray louder, impress everybody at church with our exuberant faith, we volunteer more in hopes that we can force God’s hand. We can avoid poverty, illness, unhappiness, wayward children. Any ordinary and even good thing — morality, family life, church attendance, Bible-reading, prayer, witnessing, commitment to social justice—can be turned into a votive offering that is no better than what the pagans offered.

Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people and good things to bad? Because God is not a votive God. I hope this is comforting rather than discouraging. He gives and takes away according to His will and purpose, not because of our ability to perform. The Lord gives and takes away; His name is still blessed.

We Compete.  If we think God is a votive God, it should be clear who is winning and losing, right? We should be able to figure out who is the most rigorous in obeying the Law or having the most faith. We wonder what other people did or didn’t do force God’s hand in a particular direction – and we assume others judge us through the same lenses. The one who is most obviously, outwardly successful – by our measure of success – must be the one whom God favors. And we return to the bondage of competition.

But there are no Christian Olympian Games in which I have to outperform others for God to love me. Paul said that he ran his spiritual race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1) and care (1 Corinthians 9:27), so it’s not like he coasted. He lived purposefully so that he could spread the good news of the gospel without detracting from it (Colossians 1:29). But he wasn’t competing with others to be a church superstar.

Here’s the reality: There are lots of pastors who preach better than I do.There are better husbands and fathers and friends. There are people who are wiser, more healthy, better users of social media, better managers of their time, better evangelists… the list is endless. That’s okay. I am not in competition with others. Maybe they can motivate and encourage me, but that’s only to become that best I can be in Christ, not so I can become them.

We Parade (Processions).  Living well has its own reward – if I spend time in the Bible, I am absorbing God’s truth. If I spend time in focused prayer, I am purposefully humbling myself to God’s will and power. If I volunteer and help others and watch every word I say and give my money freely – good things happen all around me and within me.

But I don’t want to be zealous to earn God’s favor be noticed by others. I want to be zealous because I want to participate in the character of Christ and the Kingdom of God. I don’t need a processional. I don’t have to impress others. There is no Mr. or Mrs. Kingdom of Heaven contest. I don’t have to impress a panel of earthly judges in order to be righteous before God. I am free to live without the need to self-promote or be noticed. My identity comes from Christ. By the grace of God, I am what I am. (1 Corinthians 15:10). I am free to relax because Christ in me is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27)

So this sets US free, but it sets others free as well. If my goal is to reflect the image of God, to be an ambassador that embodies God’s presence in the world, there are some implications here.

  1. Others shouldn’t have to earn our offering of God’s love. My relationship with you should be characterized by a godly love that honors and values you regardless of what you bring to the table. The church should be the place where “the tired, the poor, and huddled masses yearning to be spiritually free” can show up and be embraced with the sincerity that people created in God’s image deserve.
  2. We shouldn’t have to compete with other Christians. Your value, worth, and dignity have nothing to do with how you compare. In the Kingdom of God, you are free to be the ‘you’ God created you to be. I spent years trying to be other preachers. I finally had to give that up. I have to be the best preacher God made me to be. I try to learn from my heroes, but I’m not them, and I was not intended to be. Don’t look around the Kingdom of God and be envious or jealous. Embrace the gifts, talents and opportunities God has given you, learn and be inspired by others, and then be you to the glory of God and the good of His people.
  3. You don’t need to parade in front of God’s people. There is no need to impress in the Kingdom of God. You can get the applause of people or the applause of God. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:2). Why? Because they did it to be noticed by people, and they were, so end of story. Jesus goes on to say that God rewards that which is done out of love and worship for Him.

Be free of from the obligation of saving and sanctifying yourself, of impressing God and others. Rest in the Grace of the Kingdom of God.

 

[1] https://mymorningmeditations.com/2013/09/01/pauls-hagar-and-sarah-midrash/

 

Free - From The Penalty And Power Of Sin

Over and over in the opening of Genesis, we read that God created and declared  the world ‘good’ (towb, good in the widest sense; some would say it meant the world was prepared or completed,). As opposed to other ancient creation stories where everything was created by an act of violence, this was an act of artistry, care, and design.

This was a world where ‘shalom’ characterized life. Shalom is a Hebrew word found throughout the Old Testament that means peace, interconnectedness, wholeness, fullness of life. It’s life as it ought to be in a world without sin, brokenness or despair. 

There is a problem.

Adam and Eve are given a choice – to be obedient to God and live within God’s design or choose their own way. God said, “You can have all these things, but there is one thing here that I don’t want you to have.  You don’t need to know why, it’s just not good for you. There are some things that will make life worse.” 

But of course, Adam and Eve focused on that one thing they couldn’t have in the midst of all they could.  And being people with free will – the means and the capacity to do what they choose – they did what any of us would have done.

They chose their own way, and immediately the world began to break apart in what we call The Fall.  God said to them, “What have you done? (Literally, “Why did you make/craft this?”)  Now they have to live in a world in which the blessing of God is distorted; now they have to live in a world that they broke.

Now, a life that was supposed to be characterized by harmony and wholeness would be full of chaos and brokenness.  Now, there would be violence instead of gentleness, deception instead of truth, rebellion instead of obedience.

As Genesis unfolds, we see the original version of “that escalated quickly.” Cain kills Abel; soon men are bragging that they’ve killed a ton of people; before long, the whole world is evil in God’s sight. It really doesn’t get any better as you read the Old Testament. Paul would eventually write to the church in Rome that all of creation groans as it waits for redemption. We are in ‘bondage to decay’ and ‘subject to futility’ (Romans 8). A modern writer put it this way:

Countries like ours are full of people who have all the material comforts they desire, together with such non-material blessings as a happy family, and yet lead lives of quiet, and at times noisy, desperation, understanding nothing but the fact that there is a hole inside them and that however much food and drink they pour into it, however many motor cars and television sets they stuff it with, however many well balanced children and loyal friends they parade around the edges of it…it aches.” (Bernard Levin, British columnist)

We know the source of the problem: sin.

For all the criticism we have of Adam and Eve, we would have made the same choice they did. They are what we call archetypes, real people who in a broader sense are all of us. Their story would have been our story. We default to sin.

  • All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23)
  • Apart from God, we are enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6, 16-17)
  • The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
  • We have bodies of death in need of deliverance (Romans 7:24)

The Bible doesn’t use the word ‘sin’ in the original language. The word sin comes from the Old 
English word synn, which is from the Germanic sunta or the Latin word sons, both of which mean guilty.[1] The Biblical writers were pretty creative with how many ways they expressed the many reasons we are guilty:

  1. hamartia; to miss the mark. “We all fall short of (or “miss”) the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) The devil has done this from the beginning (1 John 3:8)
  2. Paraptoma; trespass. A blunder.  (Matthew 6:14-15)
  3. Parabasos; crossing a specific line.  Think of an athletic field in which there are boundaries you cannot cross without penalty (Galatians 3:19)
  4. chatta’ah : willful going against what one knows is right and accidentally going 
against the divine order of things (Leviticus 4:14; Exodus 32:34)
  5. pasha: rebel; breaking a rule that has been established (Jeremiah 3:13)
  6. avon: willful 
or continuing sin (Genesis 15:16)
  7. adikia; injustice (Luke 18:6; 1 John 5;17).  Action that causes visible harm to another person in violation of divine standard
  8. Anomia; lawlessness.  When we read, “Whoever commits sin (hamartia) also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23; 1 John 3:4), we see that even the most accidental of well-intentioned moments of sin are like the worst.

Eskimo and Inuit cultures have around 50 words for snow. [2] There is a lot of snow and a lot of different conditions, so they want to be very precise. Apparently, the biblical writers saw a lot of sin, and they wanted to be precise. 

We look around at all the atrocities around us and think, “How can this be? Why do people fly planes into building, and wipe out entire tribes?  Why do people abuse other people?  Why do so many people exploit others sexually and financially? Why are people mean?

Is it poverty?  Then economic wealth should fix everything.

Lack of education?  Then we can throw more money at our schools and all will be well.

Lack of information? Free internet for all.

Corrupt political parties?  We can elect a new president and resolve the problem.

Greedy corporation and people?  We can picket and boycott.

But have any of those responses ever offered a long-term, lasting solution to the problem? No. The problem lies in sinful human hearts.  Or as G.K. Chesterton famously said when asked what the problem with the world was: “I am.”

It is important to humbly embrace this harsh fact of the world.

  • I embrace behaviors and make lifestyle choices that destroy me and hurt those around me. Others do the same to me, but at the end of the day I make my own choices.
  • I decide my way is better than God’s way.
  • I say mean things, and lose my temper, and gossip, and lie, and cheat, and feel jealous when other people succeed, and wish the world revolved around me, and view people as things, and treat things better than I treat people?

We don’t fail our spouses, or badly raise our children, or hurt our friends because we can’t get Dr. Phil on our cable. Our core lack of inner peace is not because our health care provider does not give us enough coverage, or Big Oil makes a lot of money, or the stock market is out of our control, or politics is corrupt, or fake news is fake.

This sickness is within us. We must own up to this or whatever diagnosis and treatment we choose will not make us well.

But this is where the story makes an important turn. It does not have to be this way. God is not stumped by the human capacity to undermine ourselves. God did not forsake Adam and Eve  - he covered them and promised them an ultimate victory over the very thing that tempted them. We fall, and there are consequences to that fall, but God does not forsake us. 

Like God covered up the shame and nakedness of Adam and Eve and showed them the role of sacrifice as a means of redemption, Jesus covers up our shame, our spiritual nakedness, and offers us Himself as the means to triumph over the power and destructiveness of sin.

“People who believe in me, though they are dead, they can still live.” - Jesus, in John 11:25

“When the Son has made you free, you are free indeed.” (John 8:36) Literally: “When Jesus has set you free from the restrictions of sin, you will be truly free to live.”

So sin is a problem, but there is a solution. The only way we can be saved is through Jesus Christ.

The objective basis and means of salvation is God's sovereign and gracious choice to be "God with us" in the person of Jesus Christ, who is described as both author and mediator of salvation ( Heb 2:10 ; 7:25 ). But the movement of Jesus' life goes through the cross and resurrection. It is therefore "Christ crucified" that is of central importance for salvation ( 1 Cor 1:23 ), for "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" ( 1 Cor 15:3 ) and was handed to death for our trespasses ( Rom 4:25 ). What Jesus did in our name he also did in our place, giving "his life as a ransom for many" ( Matt 20:28 ). And if Christ demonstrated his love by dying when we were still sinners, how much more shall we now be saved by his life? ( Rom 5:8-10 ). So critical is the resurrection to the future hope of salvation that ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins’ ( 1 Cor 15:17 ).  (“Salvation,” http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/salvation/)

We are meant to be free from the wages and power of sin. We are meant to be free to pursue shalom once again. The death and resurrection of Jesus is proof that we who are dead can be raised to new life spiritually in this life and physically for eternity.

So freedom - yay! – but let’s not forget the cost.

We observe Memorial Day to honor those who gave their life so that others could live. It’s what we mean when we say, “Freedom isn’t free.” We must never forget to honor a Savior who gave his life so we could live and be free.

Forgiveness involves suffering on the part of the one forgiving. The greater the forgiveness, the greater the suffering. We experience this in small ways all the time. When we forgive people, we not only take the pain of the original hurt (against our happiness, reputation, self-image, etc), but we give up the right to inflict the same in return. We give up making them feel what we felt. True forgiveness will cost us something. And the greater the sin that needs to be forgiven, the greater the cost of forgiveness.

“God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself… this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us.” (Tim Keller)

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, we are freed from the eternal PENALTY of sin; a overwhelming debt we build all our lives will be covered because Jesus has gone to the Cross to take our just penalty upon himself. The wages or cost of sin is still death; it’s just that Jesus paid it for you.

Justice must be served because God is just; to save just one of us, it would have cost him a crucifixion. This should always humble us, because it reminds us that we are more sinful than we want to admit. 

But mercy must be offered because God is merciful. To save just one of us, Jesus was willing to do this. This should always encourage us, because it reminds us that God’s love for us is so much deeper than we can ever imagine. 

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, we are freed from the present POWER of sin. We were once dead in sin. We were incapable of bringing ourselves to life, and we were going to inevitably default to sin. Because the Holy Spirit is now in us, we have God’s power to break what the Bible calls “chains” of sin. We will struggle with temptation, but we are not doomed to failure. God will work in us (sanctification).

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, one day we will be freed from the very PRESENCE of sin. In heaven, shalom will be restored.  The New Heaven and New Earth will not be broken, and neither will we. This is the solution that frees us from a life of brokenness and sin and an eternity of despair.

 

[1]  (HT John Oakes, “What Are The Origins of the Word Sin?”)

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/there-really-are-50-eskimo-words-for-snow/2013/01/14/e0e3f4e0-59a0-11e2-beee-6e38f5215402_story.html?utm_term=.a0cbcb729310