It isn’t that we aren’t doing things right, that we aren’t trying, that we don’t care. It isn’t that we have ignored God’s commandments or been unfaithful to Christ; it isn’t that we have become apostate. I spend a considerable portion of my time traveling around the country and for the most part God’s people, with, of course, some significant and noteworthy exceptions, are doing what they ought to do.
But something is still missing. It’s missing from our conferences, our churches, and, most tragic, it is missing from our lives.
The older I get the more I realize that Jesus really did come to “set the prisoners free.” The more I think about and walk in that freedom, the more I have discovered the exquisite joy in following him. I am just a beggar telling other beggars where I found bread…and this beggar is still sometimes hungry but he, at least, knows where the bread is.
Of late I have found something most of us, myself included, have missed: the laughter which comes from the freedom Christ gives us…laughter for those whom the good news has not been very good news for a long time.
The Forgiven Laugh
Jesus died for our sin on a cross. He was the substitute for us, the sacrificial Lamb of God, bearing the penalty for our sin. “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:12-14).
You are covered and nobody is keeping score.
Early in my ministry I counseled a woman who, some twenty years before, was unfaithful to her husband. For years that sin haunted her. I was the first person she had ever told about it. After we talked and prayed for a long time, I recommended she tell her husband. (That, by the way, isn’t always the advice I give. In this case, I knew the woman’s husband and knew that her revelation, after the initial shock, would probably strengthen their marriage.) It wasn’t easy for her, but she promised she would tell him. “Pastor,” she said, “I trust you enough to do what you ask, but if my marriage falls apart as a result, I want you to know that I’m going to blame you.” She didn’t smile when she said that either.
That’s when I commenced to pray with a high degree of seriousness. (I pray best when I’m scared.) “Father,” I prayed, “if I gave her dumb advice, forgive me and clean up my mess.”
I saw her the next day, and she looked fifteen years younger. “What happened?” I asked. “When I told him,” she exclaimed, “he replied that he had known about the incident for twenty years and was just waiting for me to tell him so he could tell me how much he loved me!” And then she started to laugh. “He forgave me twenty years ago, and I’ve been needlessly carrying all this guilt for all these years!”
Perhaps you are like the woman who had been forgiven and didn’t know it. Go to the Father and tell him your sin. You will hear what he has said to so many others: “Child, didn’t you know that I already forgave you?” The laughter you hear comes from God’s people who have been forgiven.
The Motivated Laugh
You may not believe this, but with all my heart I want to be a good and faithful servant of Christ. I’ll bet you do too. After many years as a Bible teacher I have found that the problem in the church is not that people don’t want to be good, but that they want to be good and can’t.
When I talk about freedom and grace and how God has destroyed the curse of the law, people tell me I’m treading on dangerous ground. “Steve,” they admonish, “if you keep talking like that, Christians are going to go out and do what they want.” Good. I still maintain that most Christians, if they did what they wanted, would be faithful. I have never heard a single Christian say, “Now that I’m forgiven I can be as bad as I want.” (Of course, that kind of Christian may be somewhere. I’ve read about them in a lot of books and heard about them in a lot of sermons. I just can’t find them. Perhaps there is one Christian like that. If any of you can find him, please tell him to stop. He’s doing a lot of damage.)
When St. Augustine said, “Love God, and do as you please,” he was getting close to God’s secret of living the Christian life. At the risk of correcting Augustine (which is highly presumptuous) let me say he got it wrong. He should have said, “Let God love you deeply and completely, and then do as you please.”
The problem is not “what we please.” Because he has loved us so deeply and completely, Christians really do please to please God. The problem is that we so often fail in our efforts to please him. Isn’t that bad?
No. That’s good! Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6).
Let me give you a principle: anticipating a promised reality is grounds for rejoicing in that reality. Jesus has promised that if you have a hunger and thirst for goodness, you will at some point be good. Because he promised, and because all his promises are fulfilled, you can rejoice as if you had already become good. If you know you’re going to get something, you can rejoice almost as much as if you had it.
If you know you’re going to get something, you can rejoice almost as much as if you had it.
Evangelical Christians debate about how we can be assured of salvation. Some say the only way we can be assured of our salvation is to persevere in obedience, and as we obey, we will know we belong to Christ. (Detractors of this particular view call it works salvation.) Others say we can rest on the promise Jesus gave when we were saved; that is, “I accepted the gift of salvation when it was freely offered, and God doesn’t lie. Therefore, I am saved.” (Detractors of this view call it easy believism.) Still others say we can’t know we have salvation—all we can do is hope and keep on trucking. When the game is over God will tell us whether or not we are saved. (Detractors of this view call it daisy salvation: he loves me, he loves me not; he loves me, he loves me not.)
Now, with as much humility as I can possibly muster, I’m going to settle the arguments: The way we are assured of salvation is to check and see if we desire to obey God. Please note: I did not say that you had to obey God one hundred percent of the time—only that you have to want to. If you want obedience, you’ve got salvation. Scripture says, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
The confirmation of your salvation is not in your being like Jesus now but in the hope you have of being like Jesus in heaven. When John gives us a future promise of being like Jesus (i.e., obedient) our desire for the fulfillment of that promise is not only the assurance of our salvation, it is the motivation (i.e., purifies himself) toward the fulfillment of the reality.
The laughter we hear is the laughter of those who have been motivated to goodness. You see, just as hunger presupposes food, and thirst presupposes water, a desire for goodness presupposes its reality.
The Successful Laugh
In your Christian life, have you ever felt like you tried—you really tried—but in the end you failed? You really wanted to do better, but you only did worse and you didn’t know how to fix it. Maybe you considered giving up completely. You said to yourself, I’ll never get it right. I’m probably not a Christian at all.
Rules and regulations are Satan’s way of reminding Christians that they have failed. But even worse, rules and regulations are the reason we do fail.
Let me give you a wonderful secret: when success isn’t the issue, success becomes the reality. In other words, success is always a side benefit of something else. You can apply that principle to lots of life’s desires, but let me show you how it works with freedom.
Holiness and righteousness are the desire of every Christian. Many Christians say, “I’m going to be holy and righteous even if it kills me.” And it usually does. But, and here is the exciting thing: holiness and righteousness have already been achieved for you by Christ. When you stand before the Father, he sees you as holy and righteous because of the blood of his Son. You are, in fact, justified before God because of the cross.
That is a cold hard fact. You don’t have to try so much anymore to be holy and righteous. You are now free to fail and, more importantly, free to allow him to love you and to love him back. You enter a relationship, not between a criminal and a policeman, but between a loving Father and his child. When you enjoy that relationship something wonderful happens: you find holiness and righteousness come tagging along behind. You find that you, almost without knowing it, are in a process that makes you increasingly more holy and righteous.
This is the message. Obedience doesn’t lead to freedom. Freedom leads to obedience. If that is backwards you lose both your freedom and eventually your obedience.
It’s all about freedom. It’s not about a system—it’s about the person of Jesus, who said, “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
If you listen to God’s people, you can hear them laugh the laughter of freedom, the laughter of the redeemed.
Taken from Steve’s book, When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough.