Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Free in Christ


As our nation celebrates her freedom I cannot help but to stop and think about my freedom in Christ. That is an expression we might hear in our churches—freedom in Christ—but I hope we understand what it means.

For over a hundred and fifty years the United States of America understood what freedom meant. Free speech meant that no person could be censored by the government for talking to or about God. Free exercise meant that government could not force a single religion or denomination onto the people, and that the people were free to worship as they saw fit. Freedom in general was understood to be God-given, and therefore used to be God-honoring.

But beginning in the ‘60’s, thanks in no small part to the very liberal Warren Court, our nation began to redefine freedom. Freedom of speech changed to mean that we can say or do the most immoral or perverted things, but we dare not pray to or talk about Jesus. The only exceptions would be to take His name in vain or to insult Him. Free exercise began to change into a legend called “separation of church and state,” which has no Constitutional bearing. Under this new freedom, Christian principles like prayer or Bible reading in public are a violation, while a Muslim can miss work to pray, an atheist can demand the removal of nativity scenes, and the media industry can roast Christianity on any given channel each day.

Freedom in Christ has been redefined in the same way. For centuries the church understood that Christ came to give us freedom from the power of sin, but in recent years we are seeing that brought into question. For many, freedom in Christ means freedom to sin, not freedom from it. As America can embrace any immorality and call it free expression, so the church is embracing immorality and calling it grace, freedom, tolerance, and acceptance.

Jesus wants us to be free. That is why He said “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).” Here is what He did not say would make us free:

You shall be sincere, and your sincerity shall make you free.
You shall be on a journey, and this journeying shall make you free.
You shall probe and question, and this probing shall set you free.

Jesus was clear: knowing the truth will make us free. And the definition of the word for free is “free from sin’s dominion.” How can we know the truth?

One of the new “in things” in the emergent church is the idea that the gospel is a mystery. I have read extensively the writings of the emergent church leaders, and book after book comes down to the idea of this gospel being a mystery to us. They cite Pauline expressions about this mystery and, like all good emergent leaders, fail to actually study what it really means.

In Romans 11:25 Paul said he did not want the church to be ignorant of the mystery.
In Romans 16:25 Paul said the mystery was revealed unto them.
In Ephesians 1:9 he said that Jesus made the mystery known unto us.
In Ephesians 3:3 he said that Jesus made the mystery known unto him.
In Ephesians 6:19 he said he was going to make the mystery known with boldness.
In Mark 4:11 Jesus Himself said the disciples could know the mystery of God.

I could go on and on here, but suffice it to say that the mystery has been revealed. In I Corinthians 1:26 Paul says that the mystery that had been hidden was now being revealed. The gospel was primarily accepted by the Jews, but Paul was revealing the mystery to us Gentiles, who could not understand it until the Spirit of God came (I Corinthians 2).

The gospel is not some big, clouded mystery. And yet I am so often criticized for claiming to know the Word of God with certainty. Now I realize that there are some things that I will never understand, like the actual working concept of the Trinity, or some of the imagery of the Revelation. But to not understand the black and white nature of sin or what the Bible says about the need to forgive, well that is simply from a lack of Bible study. Those things are written therein, and they are not mysterious.

So it baffles me when someone gets bent out of shape when I make an absolute truth claim. “You just think you’re right!”

Uhhhmm. Yeah. If I didn’t, then I would make some changes. And once I did, then I would think I was right again. What is wrong with that?

That line of reasoning doesn’t work anywhere else. Tell that to your doctor when he writes you a prescription for life saving medication. You just think you’re right. His response would probably be, “I’ve just studied this.”

Bingo.

So it is no wonder that we think freedom in Christ means we can live however we want to while Jesus sits back in heaven and says, “That’s why I died. So they can live however they want to.” We think that is what freedom in Christ is because we hide behind the mystery of the gospel, and brag about not having it all figured out.

Hey man, we’re all just on a journey.
We just need to probe and question and push back.
We’re just trying to be sincere, and we have to tolerate and accept all opinions.
What’s true for you is not necessarily true for me.

If you want to be sincere, do what Jesus sincerely said. In that same passage where Jesus said knowing truth can make us free, He continued: He that sins is a servant of sin, and the servant does not abide in the house (v.34-35).

So then freedom is freedom from the power of sin. But as long as we are still committing those sins we are not free in Christ. We are not even abiding in the house!

In America we are actually losing our freedom when we are told that we cannot pray in schools, mention Jesus in public settings, or say “under God” in our pledge. In the same way, Christians are losing their freedom when they embrace sin in the name of grace; they are becoming slaves to sin and excusing themselves from the house.

If you have really been set free in Christ, then you are free indeed! Don’t forfeit your freedom for the sin that is only fun for a season. Be free!

(Related post: Can We Be Americans and Christians?)