February 18, 2007

Free indeed

An old song has a line that laments that freedom is when you “have nothing left to lose.” I can’t recall much of the rest of it, but that idea of freedom seems to be about having no responsibilities.

Christian freedom isn’t like that. Oh, some think it is. Because Christ died for my sin and everything I’ve ever done or ever will do is forgiven, I can do what I want. Not. The way I live affects the way I live. It affects others too, but if I go totally self-indulgent and do whatever I want, there is no greater emptiness. I’m in bondage to me.

Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” The Jews responded that they had never been in bondage to anyone, thinking He meant servitude, but Jesus explained, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.”

He is right. We are slaves of whatever we serve and sin is an awful taskmaster. Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way . . . .” In turning to our own way, we move away from God and wind up slaves, unable to make any other choices but selfish ones.

But Isaiah was not finished. He was writing about a future Messiah and adds, “ . . . And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

When Jesus bore my penalty for sin, He set me free from that awful tyranny of self. He also set me free from the tyranny of the idea that I could earn my salvation. Whether by keeping the impossible Old Testament law, or by “being good” I was beating my head against a rock. Being saved from sin means being free from the bondage of trying to do it myself. He is the Savior; I am not.

Jesus also works to deliver me from the power of sin. Now that I am forgiven, He wants me delivered from that self-centered, do-my-own-thing way of life. His Word has this to say about it: “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

Some might think that sounds like another ‘law’ or rule for living, another bondage. In fact, some Christians I know speak of love as a ‘must’ and a duty. For them, it is as if God demands all personal desires sacrificed and replaced by an obligation to care for everyone else.

I’m thinking this goes deeper. When God saved me, He gave me new life, the life of Christ who, by His Spirit, lives in me. That new life manifests itself by producing attitudes and characteristics that are not from me, but from Him. The New Testament calls them “the fruit of the Spirit” and the first one listed is love.

In other words, yes, I am free to do what I want to do, but because of Jesus, my wants are changed. His Spirit produces in me a desire to stop sinful self-indulgence and serve others. This is not a ‘duty’ imposed by a rule, but a freedom that flows out of my heart, out of that new life, His life.

Yesterday I spent the entire day serving others. I made brunch for a work crew, painted doors and door frames, up and down ladders, and so on. My body aches and my feet are impossibly sore. A couple times during the day I thought, I really don’t like the physical part of doing this, but I did enjoy the giving part. Freedom is abandoning the desire of the flesh (sit down and put my feet up), and yielding to the Lord—this time, by serving others.

I guess Christ’s freedom is a bit like that old song. He wants me to have nothing left to lose: nothing left of selfishness, nothing left of personal rights, nothing left of ‘poor-me’ thinking, nothing left of insisting on my own way. Instead, He wants me to experience the freedom of being totally abandoned to thinking His thoughts, doing His will, and serving Him. I’ve already figured out one key reason why that is true freedom—serving Him makes me a slave to the only Taskmaster who is not a tyrant!

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