What is true freedom?

          It is the month of July and at the beginning of the month the focus was on celebrating the forming of the United States of America. The essential element that is celebrated is that of freedom or liberty. We revel in the freedoms of being a citizen of the United States of America. Often times the concept of freedom and liberty is heralded as a foundational element rooted in Christianity. Now the intent of this article is not to dig into all the philosophical foundations of the United States or event that of Liberty and Freedom. Rather, it is to grasp the difference between what is true, freedom found in God and what is the liberty that leads to bondage.
          Now if you examine any philosophical or political writings on liberty you will find reference to two types of liberty, positive and negative liberty. Positive liberty is the freedom to reach your full potential. Negative liberty is the freedom from restraint. The core of both types of liberty is the focus on the individual. It is in essence about self-determination. Being able to fully develop your self and be all that you can be and be free from anything that may restrain. However, liberty in practice recognizes that there needs to be some order, some agreed principles of restraint for there are a wide variety of wills. Thus systems of government were devised with the end result ultimately being establishing the system of government that allows for the choice of the individual coming to a societal consensus. It is the liberty of self-determination impacting society through an agreed social contract established by representation. Granted, the system of government developed in response to corruption, tyranny, and greed of what had gone before. It is a system that has benefited many, but is the core really a biblical concept?
          The liberty of self-determination and social contract are not biblical concepts at all. Perhaps some might argue that concepts of grace and being free from the condemnation of the law are the concepts tied to this concept of liberty. However, the bible does stand against the concept of self-determination. Note it was self-determination that was central to the fall and the twisting of all of creation. Eve and Adam in consuming the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil entered into the ability to self-determine what is right and wrong and move away from dependence on God. They chose to be free of being told what to do by God. Saul got in trouble for doing what he thought was right and going against what God said. Moses got in trouble for his own self-willed and self-determined response of hitting the rock when told to speak. Israel, in the time of the judges, “did what was right in their own eyes” and turned away from God’s ways. One thing that always happened when one chose the way of self over the way of God was consequences. And it is important to note that consequences always impacted more than self, our choices impact others. The Bible is filled with self-determined actions, even for the good of society, which result in consequences that lead to pain, destruction, and suffering.
           So what is the biblical view of freedom? Well everything in the Bible starts and ends with Jesus. Jesus stated “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36 (ESV). According to Isaiah 61 part of Jesus mission was to proclaim liberty to the captives. So the question is, what does the Son set us free from? Before the already mentioned statement Jesus is quite clear what people are saved from. John 8:34 (ESV) Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”  Jesus is identifying himself as the source of freedom from sin. However, it is not just freedom from sin but also freedom from death. Romans 8:22 (ESV) state “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”

         Sin and death go hand in hand. Sin is falling short and missing the mark of what God desires. Sin is elevation of self. Sin has consequences. The biblical picture of sin is that to which we are enslaved. It usually does not start that way, but sin does end up in control. Take the nation Israel and there time in Egypt for example. Something that was a source of provision became slavery; very cruel and destructive slavery. Now what Jesus accomplished by being an innocent sacrifice is the potential for anyone to become free from sin. It is all a matter of what we turn to and surrender to. Do we strive to maintain our own life and focus on the elevation of self, or do we surrender to Jesus, who did what was required to purchase freedom from sin. What Jesus did was essentially a contract moving ownership from that of the sin of self back to being realigned with the creator of the universe.

         The transaction of Jesus sacrifice also resulted in allowing for the freedom from death. Jesus defeated death. Death and suffering are direct consequences of acting out of alignment with God’s intent. God proclaimed that disobeying Him brings death. The death meant a lack of fellowship with the creator, a separation from that for which we were created. True freedom brought by the cross brings ultimate freedom from the ultimate consequence of sin. It also gives us a chance to move beyond the consequences of our own sin and the effects and cross the bridge away from death to life. Since God is the creator and author of life, when disconnected from the creator there is death. Jesus provided for us the ability to reconnect to the author of life by taking all consequences of sin upon Him for us, bringing cleansing and freedom by establishing the bridge so that we can access life. Freedom from death means really the ability to truly experience life. The life is not about things for self, but living in harmony with how God created us and surrendering to Him.
There is one more element of what true freedom sets us free from but often misunderstood. The focus of many has become about there being a freedom from the law, yet the concept has become such for many that means we are free to do what we want, as Jesus sacrifice covers all sins. And while, that is true, Jesus himself said he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. He met the conditions of the contract by which all can be clean before God and he filled up every piece of the contract with meaning. Jesus is what the law is about. So the real freedom is about being established as having freedom in Christ. This freedom is not about self-determining reality, or picking and choosing what is right. Rather, it is about being in right relationship with God. Because of Jesus we no longer have to live up to a set of negotiated instructions that quickly fade from memory. It is about living a relationship and having fellowship with God. The freedom in Christ means that because we are clean, we can have God with us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And since we have the Holy Spirit and active relationship, we do not need an instruction manual or external list, we have God himself to guide us and even show us what those instructions really mean. The freedom really is moving from an interaction that is dictated by a negotiated contract to a relationship dynamic.
         The dynamic is really defined by how the freedom enables us. First we are free to live in truth. When something operates the way it was intended to operate, that is true freedom. Who is freer? Someone wandering about trying to sort out for self what is true or someone who knows by instruction what is the right way? The bible points out in John 8:31-32 (ESV)  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The passage really points to those that are intimate with what is true, they are the ones who are truly free and liberated. We live in a world where lies are the rule of the day. We are saturated with deception, propaganda, and untruths. It is difficult to live in correspondence with truth, but living in truth is true freedom. If people try and hide or run from the truth, it impacts them. Working in the mental health field, there are all sorts of ways people embrace lies or hide from truth. The lies or hiding from painful truths results in much emotional discomfort and even disconnecting from true emotions is a significant issue. Yet, when people recognize what is true and able to identify lies and understand the truth, there is healing and freedom. The world outside life in Christ and life in truth will embrace whatever gets through the day, whatever feels best at moment. Rather than being free, it often results in further and further constriction as patterns replay over and over. When you know what is right, what is true, and what is beneficial you are able to grow and expand and live free. Even in the country of purported freedom, The United States, there are restrictions in order to facilitate everyone freedom. There is recognition that true freedom does involve boundaries, the establishing of what is the correct manner. Here is the greatest deal of the freedom in Christ. When we falter, fail, and fall short of the truth we can start over and learn. What Jesus did allows us to continue to grow and learn, to be more and more aligned with God’s truth. Walking in truth does not just impact us but those around us as well and enables the freedom to walk in love.
          The freedom in Christ also enable us that freedom to walk in love. Love is a misunderstood and distorted concept. In this day and age the concept of love is centered on how others make us feel. Love today is a self-driven quest for satisfaction. Loving relationships and procreation take the highest value in society. Yet, the self-driven love is easily fractured. Ultimately, real, deep, abiding love is not about self-satisfaction. True love is about moving beyond self and building up of others. Now the Bible indicates that the apex of love is giving of your self to the point of death. It involves no care for self at all. True love starts with being in right relationship with truth. True love involves surrendering and pouring all of self to God which in turns frees us to love others completely. It is not just giving without concern for what is returned it is even giving at expense of self. Now you want to know an amazing thing about love. Each of us reflect and give in correspondence with what has been given with us. If our experience of love is limited, our ability to love is limited. Sure, people are able to transcend past their limits at times, but in general, people are able to love others in correspondence with how they have been loved. Now the amazing thing about the Freedom that is in Christ is that there is no greater love. We are able to love others greatly, because we have been loved greatly. We can give of others at expense of self because Jesus loved us so much he died in our place. A great love at a great expense. When you know and experience that love, there are no limits. And our walking in both truth and love are a response to that deep love at great cost. Ever notice that some of the greatest and most moving stories are the ones that show love at great cost. O. Henry’s story “The Gift of the Magi” is a prime example. And it is because of the freedom found in Christ’s love that we are able to give at cost to self.
           In this day and age, love often comes at expense of truth. It is a focus on either building of connected relationships or finding ways of alleviating suffering. Now caring for others and looking out for those in great suffering are part of love, but often is focused on at expense of truth. We can do acts of service even at expense of self, but love without truth is fleeting. We can also point and talk truth but if we have not love in doing so, we become a cutting wedge. No one can truly walk in truth and love without the Freedom of Christ and being right with the Creator. For without being in that right relationship, ultimately everything becomes about satisfying self in one way or another.
           Ultimately, the heart of the matter is true freedom really only comes and surrender of self. Now it is very alluring to seek after the freedom of self-determination. We all want to feel like we have control and ability to shape our lives and meet what we desire. However, ultimately there are only two choices. One choice is that of doing what we self-determine to be right for self. It is a tempting trap, but walking in self-determination is at its very nature the spirit of lawlessness. One the other hand, walking hand in hand with God’s truth in surrender of self, seems tough, difficult and at cost. But such surrender brings great freedom and joy as one is allowed relationship with the creator and grows in living in correspondence with God’s truth and love in our own lives today. This comes down to a choice, serve self or serve the Creator.

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Reflections 8 years after 9-11-2001

 

Well it has been eight years since the collapse of the twin towers in New York City. September 11, 2001 is a day that is now infamous. In terms of reflecting on what to write given this date my mind has been thinking about trials and spiritual warfare. Certainly the content on the blog reflects the reality that trials and ongoing awareness of spiritual warfare and spiritual battles. Certainly like on September 11, 2001 things can come unexpectedly and we can ignore the warning signs of trouble in denial. However, in praying about what to share as a reflection I believe it is time to share what was going on with me and my wife at that point in time. So enjoy this reflective testimonial story.

For us September 11, 2001 was a day not unlike any other day. The wife had called into work sick with a headache. She was still sleeping. I had gotten up and was going through my routine of searching the internet. Generally I was home during the day because I worked evening shifts. I was perusing the free for all section of www.footballguys.net forum. I had noticed there was a thread talking about collapse of two towers. MY first thought was it was a thread related to something to do with basketball. Eventually my curiosity became peaked and I opened that thread and learned of the attack on the Twin Towers and subsequent collapse. I woke my wife and turned on the television and saw the replays of collapse. My wife was filled with a sense of fear and ongoing darkness. Also at the top of our minds was what did God have ahead, would be able to have and raise children. A strong desire we both have to this day.

Well, I worked with finding ways to calm and comfort my wife and suggested we pray over the events and fears and sense of darkness. It was a battle. We sought God and asked him to reveal His love and truth, to perhaps give my wife a picture of God’s love and purpose. I don’t remember how long I prayed with her and over her and sought God. I know there was a deep sense of darkness that the wife couldn’t get through. Well God answered her prayer and gave her a vision. Now I will reveal what I remember of the wife’s report of the vision. Certainly details may be missing because neither of us wrote it down. I know the prayer over and over was to ask God to show her the light, to bring the light.

As praying this the wife said at first she just closed eyes and saw darkness, but eventually she saw light and Jesus came to her with the light. Jesus then took her away from the darkness to a place of light and rest. Most of our family was also there in that safe place of light. I think Jesus gave her direction of just calling on him to bring her to the safe place of light at anytime, but not certain of that as part of the vision at the time. The family that was in the vision included two children, the wife believes they were girls, but it was definitely two children. Then Jesus showed her the people in darkness. The darkness was deep and people were stuck in the darkness. I don’t recall if there were chains or not. I think there was but am uncertain. What there definitely was within the darkness was serpents speaking lies to people. All throughout the darkness were serpents speaking lies. There was directive to bring the light of truth to people. Now there may have been more details that I don’t recall but this was the essential point. The vision contained to things in my mind, a promise to us of two children., a directive that God’s safety and peace is just a prayer away, and that darkness is indeed foreboding and I believe even fueled by the deceptions of serpents in the dark.

We are at an ongoing war, there is always for believers the place of rest in Jesus and is accessed through him. Darkness seeks to engulf all but cannot extinguish the light, because the light is Jesus who can always bring us to a safe place and will take or burdens. Yes, trials come, towers fall, darkness spreads. Yes, evil is at work. Yes there is pain and suffering. Yet, there is not one thing in all that darkness that can overcome the light of the world and God’s love for us. He cares enough even in the midst of a dark time of great fear to give us a promise. Yet, God not only gave a promise but made clear the urgency for bringing the lost out of darkness.

A safe place of light

A safe place of light

Now eight years have passed since that time. We have not reached the point of having children yet and have had struggles and periods of darkness engulfing our marriage. Yet, God’s light remained faithful, even during our times of greatest struggle and darkness, Jesus was ready to bring us into His light. There is always hope in Jesus at the worst of times. The serpents in the dark seek to bring destruction and like Wormtongue in Lord of the Rings say things that blind us to the truth. Jesus cuts through all the fog of darkness with His light. All any need to do is turn to Him in surrender and ask to be brought out of darkness. Jesus is faithful and will gladly take any of us out of the darkness.

Now that does not mean suffering and trials and difficulties won’t happen. In fact they will, not only that but there is an enemy at work looking for any opportunity to bring destruction. We need to not be caught sleeping and ignoring warning signs. The enemy will use whatever weakness we have to bait and entrap and seek to gets us trapped in the dark and off of God’s path. Yet, no matter how deep of darkness we get Jesus can and will bring us back to the light. In fact, as a pastor from my childhood used to say, God sends his sheepdogs after us to bring us back.