I didn’t say it, Jesus did: “‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free….So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’” (John 8:31-32,36). Freedom is a gift from the Son of God. If he says I’m free, that ought to settle it for me. And he does say it. So I dare anyone to say otherwise.
What does it mean to be radically free in Christ? It means we are free from the rules we thought bound us to God. It means we are free from the manipulation other Christians use to make us like them—free from having to fit into the world’s mold, free to be different.
We are free from the slavery of religion and from the fear of rejection, alienation and guilt. We are free from the fear of death. We are free from masks, free from pretense, free to doubt, free to risk, free to question. It means we are free to live every moment. But, most of all, we are radically free to follow Christ, not because we have to but because we want to.
The reason so many Christians (maybe even you) are still bound by the law is because their focus is wrong. Let’s talk about it.
We can lose our freedom by focusing on results rather than on relationship.
In our presentation of the Gospel we often focus on what Jesus can do for us. Now don’t get me wrong. Jesus does a lot for us. He forgives us, reconciles us with God, and gives us meaning and eternal life. But the most important thing about Jesus is he gives us himself.
We have so emphasized the rewards of following Christ that we have forgotten that following him, being with him, knowing him, and calling him “Friend” and “Elder Brother” are far more wonderful and important than anything else.
“If you are with Jesus you will get all kinds of gifts,” we tell people when we present Christ. We think if we can get a drunk to Jesus, he will stop drinking—and he probably will. If we can get a mean man or woman to Jesus, Jesus will gentle them—and he probably will. If we can lead sinners to Jesus, he will change them and make them stop sinning—and, in fact, he does work on that. The problem is that we start to focus on the change rather than on the Changer. Unfortunately, by doing that, we establish Jesus as a magician who does tricks for his people.
There is nothing wrong with results. But when you start to expect those results, you can destroy the freedom Jesus gives. It’s a wonderful and freeing experience to go to Christ and say, “I’m not here to get anything. I just wanted to be with you. That’s enough.”
We can lose our freedom by focusing on particulars rather than on principles.
Jesus got ticked at people who put particulars over principles. Listen to his anger: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees [Pastors, Elders and Deacons?], hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves….Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:15, 23).
Read the Bible every morning. Make sure you have a prayer list. Go to church three times a week. Witness to your non-Christian friends. Serve your church faithfully. Don’t drink, smoke, or curse, and don’t associate with those who drink, smoke, or curse. Make sure you know doctrine. Volunteer for every project that calls itself Christian. And then, in your spare time, smile a lot; because if you don’t, you will hurt your witness.
Don’t you get tired of it? I do. Forget it. Forget it all. Just work out the principles of faithfulness, love, patience, and kindness—and then do what comes naturally. I’m not saying that the things I mentioned aren’t important. It’s just a matter of focus.
We can lose our freedom by focusing on law rather than on love.
One of the most astounding statements Jesus ever made is found in Luke 7. Jesus is having dinner in the home of a religious leader when a prostitute breaks in on the party. She anoints Jesus and falls at his feet, washing them with her tears. The religious leaders are shocked and indignant. (Seems we are always shocked and indignant about something.) And then Jesus, rather than putting their minds at rest, shocks them even more: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (vs.47).
Are laws important? Of course, they are. But it’s a matter of focus. If I have time to tell people either how to be good or how to love Jesus, I don’t even question which to say. If they love him and mess up everything else, it’s no great loss. If they don’t love him and do everything else right, they can lose eternity.
We can lose our freedom by focusing on judgment rather than on Jesus.
I love Jesus’ words concerning tax collectors. When he was criticized for spending time with such riffraff, he responded, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13).
If we spend a lot of time telling people about their sin—how they have failed and how they could do better—they are going to become discouraged. Not only that, they will continue to fail, and they will refuse to get better. Besides, most people are already painfully aware of their sin, of how they have failed and how they ought to get better.
Just tell people about forgiveness and then get out of the way. The devil will take the hindmost and God will continue the process. The results will be far better than you would ever believe.
Am I saying we should not tell people about the horror of sin? Of course not. Am I saying we should not teach biblical methodologies of getting better? No way. Am I saying we should encourage failure? Are you kidding? All I’m saying is that it’s a matter of focus.
Certain things about the Christian life are important and certain other things are far more important than the ones that are important. If we focus on the less important, we will build a prison for ourselves and for others that will rob us of our freedom. You can focus on rules, regulations, propriety, and programs for righteousness; or you can focus on Christ and your relationship with him.
You can hardly do both.