Where Freedom Ends

CC BY-NC, srietzke, Flickr
CC BY-NC, srietzke, Flickr

Most of us know exactly where we’d be if we didn’t have the Lord in our lives. We like to act as if sin were so obscure and a bygone issue for us. You know—“there’s no telling” what or how many things we could be caught up in. I usually don’t buy that from people, however, because our flesh hasn’t forgotten the taste of sin and we repeatedly trip over certain indiscretions. Don’t feel bad about it.

It’s important to be aware of our relation to sin; it will make us watchful of vice and keep us relying on grace. It’s also good to know that our deprave nature doesn’t impinge on the work of Christ for us. We are free in him despite our sinful condition. I’ll explain by using an illustration.

My elementary school was three separate buildings. Outside the main building and field area was a fence. That fence protected the space and kids from a few things: a busy street, railroad tracks on the other side, and any possible bad person who could enter the schoolyard.

Children had the freedom to play within the yard safely as long as they remained on the yard, the protected space. Further, the fence granted everyone freedom to learn and play, even children who may have had curious or mischievous desires to run off, who were no less free for having those desires. But no such freedom (to learn and play) existed outside the fence.

The Choice to Stay Free

Galatians 5:13 expresses this concept perfectly: “It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom” (Message).

I’ll use myself as an example. I am no saint. (Surprise!) I love God with every part of me, except those unlovable parts that cannot love him—features of my person permeated with sin and craving of sins Michael fights. I’m okay acknowledging this, and it’s why I say we know where our hearts could lead us.

But just because I battle impulses averse to my calling in Christ and sometimes wish to venture beyond that “fence of grace,” it doesn’t negate the grace of God in my life, or in yours. It means that we have to teach ourselves how to walk in the Spirit in order not to gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).

Let me point out something from the illustration. We possess freedom only within the guidelines of holiness, for we have been freed to live for God. It is not ironic that Paul uses legal language and refers to the law of the Spirit of Christ freeing us from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2).

One’s freedom exists in obligation to the person or thing that frees. A government permits individual liberties according to the laws of the land. Ours is a holy obligation to our Savior to live with love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). But leaving the play area ends our freedom to enjoy these things.

Participating in sin doesn’t mean we cease belonging to God. His grace will still keep us in our sinfulness—as mercy—but why leave ourselves to the mercy of God and risk consequence?

Let’s fight to stay free. Let’s love our freedom too much to leave it for the briefest moment in which Satan can take advantage of us. Let us cease viewing the grace of God as barring us from something and instead see it as liberating us to relish all good things. Stop obsessing over the fence and what’s beyond it and enjoy the yard.

In your time of temptation and struggle, stop, think, and say aloud to yourself, “This is where my freedom ends.”

Deadly Admonitions

CC BY-NC, Thorius, Flickr

I stood in line in an office store behind three people in lively conversation. It was obvious from their speech that they were Christians and, upon listening closer, one of the two men there was a new Christian. I heard the woman convincingly tell this gentleman, “That’s the Lord’s way of keeping you saved.” What that meant I didn’t have a clue, but I was now interested to know. It became apparent that this man was trying to quit smoking. Then, the other man there, evidently a veteran Christian, advised his friend, amidst much that he said, “Well I always tell folk to smoke, drink, cuss…till you stop. You’ll get tired of it.”

The scenario was not unlike another a friend of mine related to me. He had a friend earlier in his life that was a philanderer. This young man had sought spiritual help during a church service when at some point an old church mother said to the gentleman, “Oh, you’re just being a man, baby.” May God have mercy upon these men and all like them just beginning the Christian life and even greater mercy upon the sincere ones who counsel them with error!

Let me offer some scriptural context for what I am about to say. It would be proper to claim that the holiness of God and his righteous standards are in judgment against all ungodliness. And to the extent that we side with righteousness, we judge indeed (1 Cor. 2:15). As Christians, however, we do not judge other people in a way that presumes our own innocence of sin or immunity from their sort of sin. This is Christ’s injunction in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:1-6).

The good that I find in these two accounts is persons who have clearly perceived an antagonizing trait working negatively in their lives and, to some degree, impeding their full fellowship with God. Their humility makes them ready to receive the grace of God for strength to overcome their struggle. But the great misfortune for souls like these is to become enjoined to well-meaning Christians and their counsel that is not only unscriptural, but is also simply not thought out.

What could these two young men possibly hear in the advice that was given to them? Perhaps, “Continue to have all the uncommitted sex you want. You’re a man and men are highly sexed creatures. You’re only doing what is natural to you and for your body. God doesn’t condemn you yet, baby.” And perhaps, “Smoking is a vice you must rid yourself of. But you’re a new Christian, so it’s understandable that it might not be so easy at first. Don’t worry too much about it. When the time comes you’ll get tired of it, and it’ll stop.”

I consider this advice godless and (unintentionally) deceptive. It is godless because it does not rely on the spiritual grace God provides to overcome sin and so effectually undermines the work of Christ. “You’re only doing what’s natural to you”—yet if it’s natural I should continue with it, but why am I conflicted and in turmoil about it? “When the time comes…”—you mean I can’t expect God’s active help in quitting this habit, but it will rid itself sometime in my future? What if that’s ten years down the road? The men would be justified responding this way.

Moreover, the advice is deceptive because the New Testament scriptures constantly explain the flesh, the lower, carnal nature and strong coercion in humans in constant battle against the Spirit of God, something the advisors surely understood. The reason why these men were calling on God is because they had become enslaved to their deeds; after a while people grow to hate the addictions that enslave them.

Now consider the ones who frolic in sin and enjoy it and haven’t yet discovered sin to be a hard taskmaster. How would they respond to this advice? “Cool! I can be a Christian and continue to score with every girl I want. God wouldn’t give me my sexual nature just to condemn me for it. It’s a wild buck right now, so I’m going to enjoy the ride while I can.” He will say, “Whew! I really didn’t want to give up my cigs. Quitting would be hell itself. Really, what does it hurt?” (And this indubitably raises the question about whether smoking is a sin or not, but this is not the topic. It is a sin for this man because his conscience tells him so, 1 Cor. 8:4-13.)

The advice given to this kind would send them back into a possibly worse form of their wrongdoing. And how do we defend these admonitions when the conduct becomes strong vice, broadly defined as inordinate sex, substance abuse, or no respect for life?

I need not go on. These two men were on a path to freedom (and hopefully still are) until meeting up with damnably bad advice. What God requires of us in our struggles is that we are always swimming against the current of sin, as tough as it may be. Where sin may be at work in our lives, he requires our utmost efforts to rid ourselves of it as we rely on his strong, supporting grace.