Freedom is the sujet du jour. Not the kind of freedom we have in ‘Merica, although I am grateful for my ‘Merican freedoms. I’ve had John 8:36 rattling in my head this morning: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Free from what? The bondage of sin, of course! Well, what does that mean? It means you don’t have to do the things you once did. Ok, how does that work? It works by God giving you a new heart and new desires. Yeah, but the old desires are still there and wanting my attention. How do I stop the voices?!
See what happens? I’ve said this verse countless times to myself, to others, but seldom have I ever really talked out and explained clearly what that actually means. And I’m somewhat confident that it’s the same way for a lot of Christians. “Yeah man, if Christ has set you free, dude you’re like . . . really free!” And we say it over and over, kind of knowing what it means in a very theological way, but never quite understanding what that means for us when the fresh pan of rice crispy treats is sitting in the kitchen, and you’re the only . . . one . . . home.
What is our freedom in those moments? Sure, we have the freedom to NOT eat; to NOT get drunk; to NOT look at porn; to NOT gossip; to NOT sin in our anger. But what is our freedom TO? Framing freedom with a bunch of NOT’s, while theologically correct, is experientially, practically dumb. But that is the symptom of evangelicalism: we’re known for our NOTs. We will NOT eat at, shop at, do business with, watch movies with, listen to music with, hang around, spend money on, well, the list goes on and on. And then we dare to speak of freedom?
“I have spent much of my life with my back to His work and my face to my work.” Pastor Judah Smith
Don’t crucify me yet. I totally understand the reasons and rationale behind most of the NOTs. But let me tell you as gently as I know how; you’ve got your face pointed in the wrong direction. Freedom is not found in the NOTs. “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3) Pastor Judah Smith made a profound confession at the Passion 2014 Conference in Houston. He said, “I have spent much of my life with my back to His work and my face to my work.” What a life-altering confession! Herein is the freedom of which Jesus spoke.
My freedom doesn’t come from analyzing me; it comes from analyzing Jesus. The way my new desires win the battle against the old desires is directly proportional to how much I have fixed my eyes on Jesus as not only the author of my faith, but also the finisher. His death on the cross has completely set me free from having to perform in order to gain favor with God. My salvation isn’t based on how complete my works are, but instead on the completeness of Christ’s work on the cross. Understanding how much burden has been lifted from our shoulders through Christ’s work is freeing and cultivates gratefulness that overflows into, enlarges and strengthens our new desires! You know what that means? The primary responsibility of Christians is to learn of, look to, fellowship with Jesus Christ; and this will win our daily battles!
The primary responsibility of Christians is to learn of, look to, fellowship with Jesus Christ; and this will win our daily battles!
Fortunately, this also means one other thing. Christ sets me free from harsh expectations on others. In evangelicalism, there is a poisonous culture of harsh judgment between believers. By this, I do not mean that there should be absolutely no judging among believers. Believers are mandated by the Word of God to hold each other accountable and to make righteous judgments about each other’s behavior when we see a brother or sister stumbling (Matthew 18:15-20, Galatians 6:1). And these judgments are to be made only after a season of self-examination (Matthew 7:5).
These are the issues that Christians commit murder over every day.
What I do mean is the self-righteous judgments that Christians make on other Christians when they don’t see eye to eye on various subjects. The issues are many: public school or private school or homeschool? Rated G movies only, or maybe PG if it isn’t too risky? No TV, TV with Roku, or TV with a full cable package? Only Christian music, or any music that isn’t explicit, or just psalms and hymns? Smoking or non-smoking? To drink or not to drink? Republican or Democrat or Libertarian? These are the issues that Christians commit murder over every day. Huh? Seriously?
Christ has set us free from harsh expectations for myself, AND for others! You have children in public school? Awesome, teach them to be a light in that dark place. You homeschool your kids? Excellent! Train them up to survive in the world and spread the Gospel as they go. You’re a Christian and you smoke? Not healthy, but not sending you to hell either. If you have peace with God about your cigarettes, who am I to judge? You watched a PG-13 movie this weekend? Hope you enjoyed it and I hope it didn’t cause you to stumble! Do I agree with all these choices? Maybe not, but I’m not going to harshly judge over them! I’m free to disagree and keep loving them!
If I disagree, I’ll keep my mouth shut because their faith on debatable matters is not my responsibility. “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.” (Romans 14:22) Instead, I will opt for peaceful coexistence with my brother or sister that overlooks our differences. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18) If there is opportunity to share wisdom, share it, but do it with a heart that is full of grace and has room for disagreement.
How can you be harsh with someone over debatable things when you’ve been forgiven so much?
“Wait a second! This sound awfully libertine.” I wouldn’t call it that. I would call it living a grace filled life that is constantly filled from the grace that I receive every waking day. It’s called letting love cover over all of those debatable differences. How can you be harsh with someone over debatable things when you’ve been forgiven so much? Christ died once for all. Grace is freely given to anyone who calls on Jesus.
If Christ has set me free, then I am free indeed. Yes, free from the bondage of sin, and free to live a life that is full of grace toward others. I’m free to not sweat the small stuff and reserve graceful judgment for the bigger issues that are actually in the Word. I’m free to let others come to their own decisions about debatable issues. And I’m free to come to my own. I’m free to look to the work of Jesus Christ instead of worrying about whether my work is measuring up (it’s not so keep looking at Jesus!). The gaze toward Christ is the source of all my freedoms because my focus is not on me, not on other people, but on the One who redeems my life every day.