So often, in churches today, we hear about the freedom we have in Christ, and so often, I hear this phrase taken out of context. "Freedom in Christ" has taken on many different meanings among Christians today.
On the more liberal end, freedom in Christ means that, since Jesus died for us all, we can all live how we choose and shall still be forgiven and welcomed into Heaven at the end of our lives without any repentance or change of heart and lifestyle.
On the more conservative side, freedom in Christ means that, because we live by faith and are free from the law, that it doesn't necessarily matter if someone doesn't follow a certain aspect of the bible, because we have been freed from the law.
Friends, both of these statements and everything in between are lies (that so many of us in the Christian community have bought into!). Freedom in Christ means that we have been freed from our sin. We are no longer slaves to our own fleshly desires.
In his letters to the Romans, Paul the apostle exclaims, "Should we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? Absolutely not!" [Romans 6:15 HCSB] Yet there are so many people who claim to be Christians still swimming in sin, or at least sticking their foot in to test the waters! As Paul says, "How can we who died to sin still live in it?" [Romans 6:2] Is the stink of sin still on us? Are you really saved?
Praise God for the liberty we have, but remember the words of Paul to the Galations, "Christ has liberated us into freedom. Therefore stand firm and don't submit again to a yoke of slavery! [...] I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other.."
If we are living out our faith in Christ, then we are automatically upholding the law, as Paul explains in Romans 3:31. "Do we then cancel the law through faith? Absolutely not! On the contrary, we uphold the law." You see, the law didn't become null and void once Jesus died for our sins. Jesus tells his followers, "The one who has My commands and keeps them is the one who loves Me [...]. If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with Him. The one who doesn't love Me will not keep My words."
As sinners, our flesh likes to find loopholes that allow us to fill our own desires. A while back, I was telling my children that, sometimes, we like to think some parts of life are gray area that are not really biblically clarified or defined, but the bible is very black and white on all subjects of our lives. My son piped up and said, "Yes! Black and white and red, too!"
"Red?" I questioned? "Where is it red?"
"Well," he repied, "in your bible, the words of Jesus are red."
So, in the words of my son, the bible is very black and white.. and red ... on what we should do and how we should act in all the areas of our lives, regardless of time and era. Even in these modern ages, biblical wisdom and direction still very much applies.
In I John 1, John repeats Jesus' words and sends the message home, "This is how we are sure that we have come to know Him: by keeping His commands. The one who says, 'I have come to know Him,' without keeping His commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly in him the love of God is perfected. This is how we know we are in Him: the one who says he remains in Him should walk just as He walked." In the fifth chapter [3-5], John explains, "This is what love for God is: to keep His commands. Now His commands are not a burden, because whatever has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith. And who is the one who conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the son of God?"
Don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting that we earn a place in heaven by following God's commands through our very own works. The bible says, "Now to the one who works, pay is not considered as a gift, but as something owed..." [Romans 4:4] Our service is not a payment towards our salvation (as if it were something on layaway!) but a gift of thanks and appreciation for the grace and salvation which we have already received. They are a result of our faith in and love for Christ. Grace is a gift that Jesus bestowed upon us- not because we deserve it, not because we worked for it, not because we're "good people"- but because He loves us. If we could earn our salvation, what would be the point of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross for our sin?
Yet the bible is clear that our works should be proof of who we serve, so to say that our works and deeds do not matter would be a lie.
God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him. If we say, "We have fellowship with Him," and walk in the darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say "We have no sin," we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [...] But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father - Jesus Christ the righteous One. He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.
[I John 1:5 - I John 2:2]
Romans 14 goes into detail about the Law of Liberty and the Law of Love. I do believe that God may convict us to be stricter than other people in some areas of our lives- maybe in what we eat, how we adorn our bodies, specific aspects of our family life, or observing certain days over others, and I believe that there will be some of these differences among us in our beliefs and in how we live our lives, but the main point is that we do (or don't do) these things unto God. "Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind. Whoever observes the day, observes it to the LORD. Whoever eats, eats to the LORD, since he gives thanks to God; and whoever does not eat, it is to the LORD that he does not eat, yet he thanks God. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. If we live, we live to the LORD; and if we die, we die to the LORD. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the LORD. [...] So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God." [HCSB]
Just as there is much conflict and debate about these issues today, there was then as well. Paul exhorted the people to "no longer criticize one another, but instead decide not to put a stumbling block or pitfall in your brother's way." [Romans 14:13] I think, so often, we get caught up in arguments about what holidays a Christian should celebrate (or how they should be celebrated, if they should be celebrated at all) or what is suitable dress and adornment for a person (mainly this argument is towards women's clothing, make-up, jewelry, and hair) or if there should be a day of rest and what day is it (Sunday? Saturday? Any day of the week? No day of the week?). There are arguments about whether it's okay to drink alcoholic beverages (and I can just hear some people exclaiming, "But Jesus turned water into wine!") and a million other little issues people love to pick apart..... but are we so busy arguing that we've neglected to "be about our Father's business"?
I think some of us get this idea in our head that God is this sweet old grandpa, and while He is loving and kind, he is not a big ol' pushover. God expects obedience- commands it- and punishes those who do not obey. God is a just God, and while some may think He is harsh, they are obviously blind to the blessings He has so generously shoveled into their lives. I think Jude sums up my point well when he writes a reminder to the people. "Now I want to remind you, though you know all these things: the LORD, having first of all saved a people out of Egypt, later destroyed those who did not believe; and He has kept, with eternal chains in darkness for the judgment of the great day, angels who did not keep their own position but deserted their proper dwelling. In the same way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them committed sexual immorality and practiced perversions, just as they did, and serve as an example by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire."
Think on Eli, a great man of God, who failed to properly raise and discipline his sons (I Sam 2-3), or David, specifically chosen by God in his youth as a man who would honor God, who allowed his fleshly desires to overcome him resulting in a chain of tragic events. Paul outlines the warnings from Israel's disobedient past in I Corinthians 10. There will be consequences for our disobedience. It may not be immediate, and it may take years and years, but there will be consequences (which will not only affect us, but those we love as well). Our disobedience could very well cost someone else their salvation.
Sometimes I look at my responsibility as a parent. It's a fearful and overwhelming responsibility, in case you haven't examined it lately. To be negligent or disobedient in this area of my life could seriously hinder my children in their walk with Christ, or prevent them from every taking that step.
Part of our obedience to Christ is fulfilling our God-given ministry. I've heard people say, "Not all of us are called into full-time ministry," but that couldn't be further from the truth. Our lives are to be a full-time ministry to others as we serve and glorify God. My ministry is based in the home but extends to my community. My husband's ministry is to his family and out in the work force. In order to fill this place of ministry, we need to be "pictures of Christ" to others, which means we cannot preach the gospel effectively if our own lives contradict Scripture.
Anyone who has ever had a garden knows that weeding is not a one-time event. It's part of maintaining a garden and has to be done regularly. Similarly, just because we turn our lives over to God doesn't mean that we won't ever have to deal with these little "weedy" issues in our lives. There will be times when we have to put on our gloves and get down in the dirt. The bible tells us to examine ourselves, and since we are sometimes too lenient, we should pray for God to search us and point out the weeds and thorns in our lives.
What are these weeds I speak of?
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar, about which I tell you in advance- as I told you before- that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
I think that's pretty clear there about what things should be "crucified" in our lives, and what sort of qualities should be blossoming in our lives if we are followers of Christ. Remember, it's not enough to have a mind belief of Jesus, because "even the demons believe and they shudder" [James 2:19]. Just looking at that list I can see a few of my own short comings!
Julie Chaddick, wife of Jerry Chaddick (pastor of Open Door Baptist Church in Moss Bluff, Louisiana), pointed out that we are all guilty of dabbling in every single one of these works of the flesh. Even if we have not been physically adulterous, we have all been spiritually unfaithful. While we may not bow down and worship golden statues, we are still very guilty of idolatry as we often put other people or things above Christ. In fact, we may even focus so heavily on one spiritual aspect of our service that it becomes our idol because the glory and the praise is distracted away from Christ.
We can see that Jesus was very loving and forgiving, but he didn't condone sin in any form. Paul tells the Romans that "although they know full well God's just sentence- that those who practice such things deserve to die- they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them."
Look within the church (and I mean, the body of believers), and you will see sin running rampant and wild while so many of us just sit by without a word. I really identified with a blog post by Robby at Clan & Covenant. He was writing about how sin is being permitted within the church. People who are obviously unrepentant and living in sin are allowed to take part in communion without as much as a blink of the eye (in many cases). Those within the church are not encouraged to "examine themselves" before partaking as Paul commands the Corinthian people to do. [I Corinthians 11:27-32]
I think we need a huge flashing wailing reminder that repentance is not optional. Just because we have accepted Christ and repented once, does not mean we, as believers in Christ, will not have to repent again. If we are honest with ourselves, we will find that we will have to repent daily due to private sinful thoughts or actions we have committed against Christ.
This is serious business here, and we are playing with fire if we think the right thing to do is to baby people by telling them they are "only human". God calls us to a higher standard, and we are walking dangerously close to the line of "applauding" their sin if we act like it's not a big deal.
I have much more to say on this issue, but I believe I'll have to save it for another post. This is already quite long! To be continued, my friends! For now, my prayer is that you would soar in the freedom that is Christ. If you are still walking in sin, examine your life and reach out to Christ!
[Thanks to ChristArt.com for the adorable and humorous graphics!]