Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Freedom In Jesus - Heresy to Some

I just finished a book the other day, called A Scandalous Freedom – The Radical Nature of the Gospel. This, along with another book called, naturally enough, Wild at Heart, has helped re-shape how I think about Jesus, the Gospel, and the truth of the freedom we all, every Christian, has in Christ.

Funny thing is, it’s about some of the very things my dad has been telling me for years.

My dad hates “religion”. Thinks “religion” is one of the worst things mankind has ever created. He can’t stand all these hierarchies of beliefs and doctrines that churches create that we follow. Teachings about “holiness” and “sanctification”, about “penance” and “hell”, when to eat the wafer and drink the wine, when to sit or stand, doctrines of Wesleyans and Calvinism and Lutheranism, and how to approach God, and how to pray, and how to …. well, you get the idea.

He can’t stand religion, that man. Has absolutely no use for the human trappings of “the religious”. Oh, he goes to church, and sits quietly (sometimes sleeping) while the preacher has his say, but he didn’t come to hear the preacher.

My dad’s almost 80-years old: He says there’s not many sermons under the sun that he hasn’t already heard.

No, he can’t stand “religion”, but he comes to church to sit a spell with God. He gave his heart to Jesus as a young boy, and has walked with Him, sometimes closer than other times, his whole life. The point my dad was trying to make to me, of course, was that Jesus didn’t come to bring mankind a new or correct “religion”. He came to bring mankind a relationship with God, through Himself. My dad has said, anything mankind adds onto that, be it a book of doctrine, penance rites, Hail Mary’s…. whatever it is, is more than Jesus asked for.

All Jesus wants is a relationship with me. Period. And, by having that relationship, He’ll set me free.

That brings me back to the book, A Scandalous Freedom, and a few points it brought up that made me think – hard.

One of the points was this: God loves me, and is pleased with me. Period. I gave my heart to Jesus, accepted God’s gift of grace (forgiveness when I didn’t deserve it), and by that action I am now “a son of God”. God is pleased with me, and loves me.

Even when I screw up. Even when I (gasp!) commit a sin. Yeah, I sin, just like all of us. I sin big time, sometimes. Sometimes I even plan the sin, and then go do it! (So do you, dear reader, even if you are a life-long Christian. There IS no perfect Christian, so don’t get you panties in a bunch here. Being honest with ourselves is one of the first steps to true freedom.)

The freedom, for me, comes in knowing, truly KNOWING, that God is pleased with me, and loves me, no matter what I do. I have the assurance of eternal life that comes with knowing Jesus, even when I mess up. Admitting that I’m not perfect, that I screw up, AND that God still loves me, and not only loves me, but wants to sing over me and is genuinely pleased with me because I am His son, is freedom!

Paul talks all about this in Romans. I used to think Romans was a condemning book, telling Christians how difficult it is to live a Christian life, so you have to let God do it for you. In Romans 7, Paul struggles with his spirit wanting to do good, but having to watch his body do bad things. He agonizes and struggles with it. I used to think the message was, “submit, give yourself over, seek the Spirit, be spirit filled”, or “let go and let God”, and you’ll conquer your sin, or whatever. There’s no condemnation for those in Christ, but my Sunday school teacher sure didn’t make it sound that way.

Whatever.

I’m convinced now that Romans has a very different message for me. Much bolder, and much more dangerous.

I’m convinced that Paul was telling Christians, we can’t win out over our bodies. We can’t beat them into submission. We can’t control our feet or our hands or our tongues when it comes to sin. We can’t do anything to beat, train, torture, or contort our bodies into any form that will be acceptable to God. It’s not possible. We are fallen creatures, unacceptable to God by our own strength.

So stop trying. That’s right - stop trying.

If you’ve been a Christian for a long time, you’ve probably noticed that, at some point, it becomes difficult to “be a better Christian”. You get kinda stuck at a “goodness level” that you juts can’t get past. You pray and pray, but nothing seems to change.

So stop trying.

Like most Christians, there is probably something in your life, some hidden sin, some secret, jealously guarded guilty pleasure (or, if you’re like me, several of them), that your spirit would love to be free from, but no matter how hard to try, or how long you pray, your flesh just can’t seem to put it down.

You know what? Stop trying. Instead, just love Jesus, get into the word, and think about Him, and talk with him, and let him walk with you. He understands, trust me.

But WE have to stop the trying, because it’s fruitless and a waste of time. It’s not possible, by our efforts. It’s like, I can try to sprout wings and fly to the next county, but as hard as I try, it’s just not going to happen, because, for me, it’s just not possible. So I should stop trying.

One of my small fleshly addictions (that I’m will to discuss publicly) is cussing. I don’t cuss that much, because I make a bodily effort not to, but man, sometimes they just slip out and I feel so bad about it. I can’t completely control my tongue, as much as I try. But you know what I’ve learned? God loves me, even when I cuss, because He knows it’s my weak flesh, and not my God loving spirit, that’s cussing.

So, I stopped trying. And you know what happened?

Nothing. I still cuss everyone once in a while. But I don’t beat myself up over it, and lose precious spiritual energy in beating myself up over it. I tell Jesus “I’m sorry”, and Jesus tells me, “I understand. Don’t sweat it, it’s paid for.”

He knows it’s my weak flesh that’s doing (insert whatever you want to, here), and He loves me and is STILL pleased with me, as His son, because he knows my flesh is weak, and my God loving spirit isn’t always able to control this cursed flesh. So, since Jesus had already paid for that sin of mine, GOD STILL LOVES ME AND IS PLEASED WITH ME!

Paul is so clear when he says, in Romans 8:1-2, “For this cause those who are in Christ Jesus will not be judged as sinners. (Other translations say “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus). For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.”

Now, I’m not saying it’s ok to just go and sin all you want. Of course not, and Paul covers this clearly in Romans also. Romans 6:1-2, “What now, shall we continue is sin that grace (forgiveness) may abound? Of course not!! How can we who have died to sin still live in it?” Many other places Paul talks about not letting sin reign in our bodies, and let sin have no dominion over you, and present yourselves as instruments of righteousness before God.

But, the freedom comes in understanding and recognizing that God loves me, even when my heart wants to follow God, but my body just doesn’t want to right now.

Paul understood this, because he saw it at work in himself.

Peter understood this, and he denied Christ at his crucifixion.

David understood this, and he committed adultery and had his mistresses’ husband killed.

Abraham understood it, and he lied and told the Egyptians that Sarah was his sister; because Abraham was afraid they’d kill him and take his wife.

Moses understood it, and he killed an Egyptian and fled into the desert. Think about that: God used a murderer to bring his people to freedom!

The Bible is replete with far less-than-perfect people finding favor in God’s eyes because of their faith in Him. Because God looks into the heart, past the flesh, to the place where we long to do God’s will; to the place where God’s law is written on our hearts; to the place the Jesus has written “paid for’ in his blood.

In John 8, Jesus said “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…..I tell you for certain that anyone who sins is a slave of sin (the body is a slave)! And slaves don't stay in the family forever (the body), though the Son will always remain in the family. If the Son gives you (your spirit and soul) freedom, you are free!”

Gal, 4:6 says, “To show that you are his children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who cries out, "Father, my Father."

So, since I am a child of god, even though my body is yet a slave to sin, I am a part God’s family, and will remain so, always!

So, I think I know what my dad was driving at. Religion isn't the answer. Religions are man's attempts to put our own conditions on God's acceptence of us, when there's no need for it. In fact, there's no WAY for us to make God accept us. He provided the way in Jesus, and that's all that's needed.

I've heard it said, at it's best, Christianity isn't a religion, it's a relationship. I think that is an absolutely true statement, and I'm learning more and more what that means. It means, God loves me, and is pleased with me!

To me, that's freedom, indeed!

7 comments:

Clarence said...

I think your dad and you are both correct. He's also very wise. He doesn't need to do all that explaining of what he means. He just says "He doesn't care for religion." I don't care for it either.

Ed Abbey said...

I think I like your dad and his view on religion.

As for the rest of your post, it is just a little too deep for me right this minute. I'll have to come back and read it later when I'm in a better frame of mind.

sage said...

You have a very good sermon here! I enjoyed it and it sounds like yo have a wonderful Dad.

Mike J. said...

Thanks Sage! My dad IS a neat guy. I'm glad I've had the chance to get to know him, as an adult, as I have.

Bstermyster said...

Dude mike, I love reading about your dad. Amen to the RELATIONSHIP statement.

Nic said...

Mike, what a powerful, truthful, inspirational post. Your dad is one smart man! Do you mind if I borrow this to put on my site this weekend (I'll put a link up to you)? This is just such a great post that I'd like more people to read it!

Mike J. said...

Sure Nic, no problem at all. I'm flattered and glad that someone finds it interesting or helpful!