Freedom, Joy…and Dancing
SEPTEMBER 13, 2017
Somewhere we have missed something very important about the Christian faith. What we believe is called the “gospel,” and that means “good news.” It has to do with an elusive thing called joy, and somewhere in our efforts to be good and to make others good, to be faithful, and to be holy, we have lost the joy.
For what it’s worth, I want to tell you some things I’ve discovered. It’s about the Holy Spirit, and believe it or not, it’s about joy and freedom.
Listen to what the Bible says: “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:15-17).
In Ephesians 1:13, the Bible says, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” The Holy Spirit calls you to Christ, confirms your place there, and seals you in that place. The Greek word for sealed concerns the guarantee of the Holy Spirit. It is a commercial word that refers to part of the price of a product, which is paid in advance as a guarantee that the rest of the price will be forthcoming.
Now if the Holy Spirit seals you and guarantees your place in the kingdom, who can change the seal or withdraw the guarantee? Let me give you a principle. What God begins, he always completes, and the beginning of it is the promise of its completion (Philippians 1:6).
One other verse before we continue: “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty…” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
Now let’s put it together.
Most Christians live in fear.
The reason we get so angry with other sinners is because we are afraid. The reason we don’t experience joy and freedom is because we are afraid. We are afraid that we are going to do it wrong, afraid that others will think we aren’t “good Christians,” afraid that God will get angry and take away the relationship we have with him, afraid that we will get out of control, afraid that we will make a mistake and God will strike us with lightning, and afraid that if we aren’t faithful, obedient, and holy, it will cause our brothers and sisters to stumble, and we will then be responsible.
There are some places where being alert, being careful, and being in control are very important; but there is one place where it just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work when you are dancing.
We use a lot of metaphors for our faith. But one metaphor we ought to use more often is that of the dance. The psalmist praises God because he has “turned for me my mourning into dancing” (Psalm 30:11). Again the psalmist says, “Let them praise His name with the dance” (Psalm 149:3).
It seems to me that wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty and freedom—and one of the best metaphors for liberty and freedom (what the Holy Spirit gives the Christian) is dancing. Our Lord, the Holy Spirit, invites us to the dance. Let me show you.
In what follows I’m going to give you a dancing lesson.
You can’t dance without being secure with your dance partner.
Please note, Paul says that the Holy Spirit is given to us and enables us to cry “Abba, Father”; he witnesses with our spirit that we are the children of God. The point I’m making is that if your experience with God’s Spirit causes you to live in fear, to be bound, to be afraid that he will kick you out if you aren’t hard on yourself and others; then it isn’t God’s Spirit, it is some other spirit.
Jesus referred to his Father as Abba as he faced the cross. He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36). Paul uses the word one other place besides Romans, and it is the same idea: “And because you are sons [and daughters], God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Galatians 4:6).
The word Abba is an Aramaic word that corresponds to the English words “Daddy” or “Papa.” When it is used in the Bible, it is talking about intimacy and love. If I had a distant, formal, cold relationship with my father, I wouldn’t call him “daddy.” A father can provide for your needs, give you instruction, correct you when you are out of line, and protect you. But only a “daddy” can hug you.
The “job description” of the Holy Spirit is to remind you often, to impress on you, to reemphasize to you over and over about your Daddy. He works in the hearts of believers to confirm what we hardly dared even hope—that the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient
Ruler, Creator, and Sustainer of the universe is our Daddy.
When people suggest that God doesn’t love me because I don’t conform to their standards, it’s the Holy Spirit who makes me rebel against even their suggestion. When I’m depressed and afraid, it’s the Holy Spirit who whispers in the back of my mind about my Daddy. When I’m with Christians who are condemning, critical, and angry with me, there is something that causes me to not confuse those folks with God. That “something” is the Holy Spirit.
The problem with most of us is that we listen to our “religious culture” more than we do to the Holy Spirit.
Have you bought into the religion of “try harder” and “do more”? Sometimes I see people who are listening to those who would rob them of their joy in resting in the arms of their Daddy. I’m a religious type and don’t generally yell. But the Holy Spirit isn’t that religious, and if you will listen, he will yell, “Run in the opposite direction!”
I called my father “daddy” because that was exactly who he was. He was kind, gracious, unconditionally loving, and he rejoiced in the presence of his sons. You can call your heavenly Father “Daddy” because that is exactly what he is. He is kind, gracious, unconditionally loving, and rejoices in being in your presence. The Holy Spirit told me to tell you this and said that he would tell you too if you would listen.
You can’t dance while constantly looking at your feet.
When Paul says that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty, he is speaking something that is so freeing, important, and joyous that I can hardly wait to tell you about it.
One time Martin Luther went to his friend and colleague Philip Melanchthon, who was given to perfectionism, “Melanchthon, why don’t you go out and sin some so you have something about which to repent!” Was Martin Luther telling Melanchthon to “sin more that grace would increase?” Was he encouraging disobedience? Was he trying to lead him away from the narrow way to the broad path that leads to destruction? No. No. No. He was aware that a perfectionist can’t dance. He knew that Melanchthon, though a Christian, was missing the joy and freedom that was a part of his heritage. Martin Luther knew how to dance, and once you know how to dance, you want everyone to do it.
What does it mean to find liberty in the presence of our Lord, the Holy Spirit? It means that the Holy Spirit confirms in you that you are free, that you are loved, and that you can enjoy the dance without constantly looking at your feet to see if you are doing it right.
You can’t dance unless you’re aware that there is no utilitarian purpose in dancing.
Dancing hardly ever brings utilitarian rewards; you can’t eat it, you can’t spend it, you can’t drive it, and you can’t trade it. It is simply joy.
The trouble with most of us is that we think of the Christian faith in utilitarian ways. For instance, we think God needs our help in accomplishing his purposes in the world. That’s nonsense. He is self-sufficient and was doing fine before we came along. I suspect he will do fine long after we are gone. For instance, we think that the reason for the incarnation was that we make disciples. Nothing wrong with that, but as John said to the multitudes who were proud of their relationship to Abraham, “For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Luke 3:8). Do you really think that God can’t create believers without our help? Also, some think that the purpose of the Christian faith is to make us moral. If that is what this is all about, there may be other ways that are better. As a matter of fact, I can think of a number of people who aren’t Christians and yet who are quite moral.
So what is the Christian faith about? It is about a relationship. God delights in being in a relationship with us. Like dancing, it isn’t the utilitarian purpose that is important; it is the relationship and the joy in that relationship. All of these items (and a bunch more) sometimes are the result of the dance. However, if the utilitarian goals most religionists would say were important were never achieved, the fact of the dance would be enough.
It is interesting to note that the resurrected Christ, when he gave his final incarnational instructions to his disciples, did not set up a plan, institute a program, or even inspire action. He told his disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait. He said, “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). In Acts Jesus says, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
It is in waiting that witnessing becomes the reality. Why is that? Because it is the business of the Holy Spirit to invite us to the dance. Hermes called the Holy Spirit the “Happy Spirit.” He understood that the Christian faith is more a dance than it is a program, and he also understood that one can’t dance if one isn’t secure in the relationship one has with one’s partner in the dance. And one can’t dance if one doesn’t do it with great abandon—for the sheer joy of doing it.
When you are a Christian and your main concern in the dance is the approval of others, a need to be right, the desire to make others dance the way you dance, the desire to be a perfect dancer, the goals of dancing, or even the sinfulness of dancing itself, then what you are doing doesn’t have anything to do with the Holy Spirit. He invites you to dance.
Anything else isn’t dancing at all. It’s marching…to the beat of a drum.
Adapted from Steve’s book, Follow the Wind.