Can You Handle Your Freedom?
I had a friend named Jimmy who spent 18 years of his adult life in prison. He did a 13 year stint, got out and was arrested 11 months later. He did another 5 years and was released. The church I pastored at the time had a prison ministry that Jimmy was a part of during his incarceration so when he got out he came to us for help in getting resestablshed into society. Jimmy and I became good friends. He taught me a lot about prison life. What was most interesting was watching Jimmy handle his new found freedom. Or more correctly, how he couldn’t handle his new found freedom.
Jimmy told me on several occasions that while he was in prison all he had to do was choose whether or not he was going to eat that day. All other choices were made for him. Jimmy and I worked together for a while so I was able to see him on a daily basis and watch him progress from a prisoner with no freedom into a man with freedom to make decisions. Jimmy didn’t do well making decisions for himself. He did well when told what to do and how do it. He would do anything for anyone but he just couldn’t get his act together. He couldn’t handle his freedom because he had spent most of his life locked up.
Jimmy did pretty well staying sober for about 9 months after his release. Unfortunately he ended up getting with the wrong crowd and starting drinking again. Over the course of the next couple of years he was in and out of jail over 50 times for public intox. I lost track of Jimmy a few years back. I really hope that he got himself put together.
Jimmy reminds me of a lot of Christians. They don’t know how to handle their spiritual freedom. Galatians 5:1 tells us that it was for freedom that Christ came to set us free. Jesus wants all human beings to be free from the bondage of sin and legalistic religion. Salvation is about being set free from everything that enslaves us.
For some reason though it seems that we humans love rules. Many a Christian has been saved from the bondage of sin and addictions only to come under the slavery of religion and church rules.
In my city there are a couple of churches that I know of that are legalistic churches in the sense that they have a lot rules that one must follow in order to be a “good Christian” or a member in good standing. These churches are full of people, which amazes me. It seems that many people like following the rules in order to feel as if they are pleasing to God. But God isn’t into rules, He’s into relationships. He’s into freedom. He never intended to rule us by rules. It’s always been His desire that we be sons and daughters to Him relating to Him out of love not rules.
I personally believe that the Law would not have been necessary if the Israelites would have just agreed to follow the leading of the Lord and become a nation of priests. Instead they wanted Moses to be their mediator because they were afraid. People related to God prior to the Mosaic Law just fine. Enoch walked with God as did Abraham, both without the Law.
As Christians we are free people. We are free to relate to God without rules. We are free to relate to Him as sons and daughters. In the passage that talks about the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5) the last thing that it says about the fruit of the Spirit is that when we live by the fruit of the Spirit we need no law. In other words, when we allow the Holy Spirit to work within us, then we have no need of rules because we are governed by relationship.
Relationships are governed by love and freedom, not rules and regulations. Many Christians, myself included, have struggled with our freedom because we think that God is into rules. When we break the “rules” then we feel that God is disappointed and that we are not accepted. But we are free in Christ. We have the righteousness of Christ. We get to experience the relationship that Christ had with the Father. We are free to enjoy that relationship based on His love for us, not our keeping of the rules.
Our rule keeping does not impress God! Our response to His love is what impresses Him.
If we try to follow the rules, then we will be judged by the rules. The deal with that is that if we break one rule then we are guilty of breaking them all. However, when we live by love and act in love then when we do mess up we get treated with love and not judgment because we don’t live by rules.
As free people, we must learn to live in freedom. Just like my friend Jimmy, we have been incarcerated by sin. We couldn’t help ourselves because of our unregenerate nature. We were diseased by sin. But Jesus came along and freed us. He healed us from sin. We are no longer in a 10′ x 10′ prison cell being told what to do and when to do it. We are now freed people who can live in the joy of God’s glorious freedom. Let’s live as free people. We are now free to experience all the blessings of God. We are now free to love and be loved. We are free to forgive others when they mess up. We are free to enjoy life to it’s full. We are free to have fun!
It was for freedom that Christ as set us free!