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.”

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Why Being Good Doesn’t Cut It

Segovia Castle, Segovia Spain
CC BY-NC, ktran_wz, Flickr

The following poignant words belong to Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his classic, The Cost of Discipleship. He details the believer’s righteousness:

The source of the disciple’s life lies exclusively in his fellowship with Jesus Christ. He possesses his righteousness only within that association, never outside it. That is why his righteousness can never become an objective criterion to be applied at will. He is a disciple not because he possesses a new standard, but only because of Jesus Christ, the Mediator and very Son of God. That is to say, his righteousness is hidden from himself in fellowship with Jesus. He cannot, as he could once, be a detached observer of himself and judge himself, for he can only see Jesus, and be seen by Him, judged by Him, and reprieved by Him. It is not an approved standard of righteous living that separates a follower of Christ from the unbeliever, but it is Christ who stands between them.

What I hope you gather from these words is the difference between salvation and human goodness. Expounding upon this quote in my “Reflections On Evangelism,” I stated and restate here, “This is why merely good people don’t get to Heaven. Our best efforts and supreme moral good is worthless to make any difference for our salvation (Isa. 64:6)—and so is a righteousness given by God should we ever try to divorce it from Jesus. The righteousness which is from God ceases to be when we try to take credit for it. Jesus is everything in the ongoing conversion process, for even our confession is by the Holy Spirit.”

Ascending the Hill of the Lord

The rich young ruler (Matt. 19) approached Jesus with an epithet—Good Teacher—and Jesus checked him on the spot. Jesus challenged his reference to him being good, the word used conveying essential goodness or goodness by nature and only in relation to God. “Why do you speak to me in glowing, divine terms but view me as a mere mortal?” Jesus wasn’t trying to vindicate his deity but reprove the man’s flattery and high-mindedness and underscore his need for simplicity.

The more sobering aspect of Jesus’s challenge and expressed humility is the glance we get at the incredibly steep climb to God’s righteousness. God is utterly right (morally pure) and distinct from every other thing (holy); his perfection is the ground of human morality and ethics. Objective moral values exist and they proceed from the character of God.

Furthermore, only God is intrinsically good and of inherent worth. Every other thing derives its value from him. He created the cosmos and deemed it good because it, as it could only be, proceeded from his plenitude of perfect goodness.

One who says “Well I’m a good person” and claims his or her goodness to be deserving of God’s favor…his Heaven…asserts a personal righteousness that even Jesus dared not avow—and he came to fulfill the law of God. In effect, these (prideful) people argue that they have breached the high walls of God’s moral standards, satisfy a compendium of requirements for humankind, and are so entitled to his fellowship.

Really? Just like that? People approach human royalty with some trepidation; God is infinitely beyond their worth. Is there no reverence? Even the angels terrify humans! God is holy. This position makes me think of insects flying into the zapper! Good people just don’t understand their moral trespass and God’s holiness.

You see, Jesus came to tell us that there is nothing we can do about our moral shortcoming. We simply won’t scale that wall, even with our best effort. But Jesus can get to God and get us to God—and make any goodness of ours a servant of God’s holiness.

This is about spiritual transformation, not degrees of right and wrong and ticking off our moral checklists. We have a sin problem and salvation is the answer. Salvation is the flood of God’s holiness and goodness—all that we lack—surging into us, renovating us body, soul, and spirit. Mere goodness cannot achieve that.