Thursday, December 4, 2014

Bondage or Freedom?


I can think of dozens of time-wasting activities that vacuum up hours and days with very little return. Of course watching television is one of them. Another one is drifting through Pinterest or just aimlessly surfing the Internet. I can also use up many hours searching for new information to add to my family tree.

I’m not against TV, or looking at pictures, or gathering information, or even genealogical research, but I’ve learned these things are not the best focus for my free time – and if I do any of them very often, there is none of that left either!

Some Christians in the New Testament needed to watch out for the genealogy thing. They didn’t have ancestry.com back in those days, but some of them were hooked on something like it. Without the details, I will not speculate about what this means, but I do notice that Paul put it in the same category as false doctrine, myths and empty discussion! Obviously this pursuit was not good for them . . .

“As I urged you when I was leaving for Macedonia, stay on in Ephesus to instruct certain people not to spread false teachings, nor to occupy themselves with myths and interminable genealogies. Such things promote useless speculations rather than God’s redemptive plan that operates by faith. But the aim of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Some have strayed from these and turned away to empty discussion. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not understand what they are saying or the things they insist on so confidently. But we know that the law is good if someone uses it legitimately, realizing that law is not intended for a righteous person, but for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane . . . .” (1 Timothy 1:3–9, NET)

If Paul were writing today, he may have said something like this: “Tell false teachers to stop it, and to stop their preoccupation with stuff that doesn’t matter. It only gets them speculating about stuff that they cannot know or prove. Instead, their focus (and yours) should be on God’s plan of redemption through faith. This wonderful Gospel message promotes purity, a clear conscience, and genuine faith, all our goal for everyone. When any of you step away from goal into empty talk and vain ambition, you demonstrate that you don’t really know what the Gospel is all about. Not only that, false teachers become hung up on law-keeping the law without realizing its purpose. God gave it to convict those who are not saved. It needs to be used for that, not to put guilt trips on God’s people . . . .”

This is about freedom as well. Because Jesus set me free from the power of sin, my heart is now free to love others as God loves them. Also, my conscience is free from self-accusation and crippling guilt, and my faith is real, not pretense or hypocrisy. Freedom is not about doing what I want, or what pleases me. The only way I can be totally free is keeping my focus on God’s plan and what pleases Him.

To be realistic, the descriptions in that previous paragraph have a caveat. I cannot enjoy Gospel freedom if I choose the other kind that says freedom is living without self-discipline or restraint. Once I go there, I’ve lost my power over sin and all love for others. Before long, I’m feeling guilty about sin and wondering if God is even real. Such ‘freedom’ pulls the plug and true freedom goes down the drain.

True freedom means being filled with the Holy Spirit. Here is a list of what He produces and particularly notice the last item: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control . . .”

The passage goes on to say that when the Spirit governs my life, I do not need Law. Because I belong to Jesus Christ, I have crucified the old nature with its passions and desires and now live by the Spirit and God’s grace. Most important — I need to stay in step with the Spirit, not pull the plug and go back to being conceited, or to provoking people and envying them, losing my freedom to the bondage of sin. (Galatians 5:22–26)



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