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A couple times this weekend, the concept of freedom came up in conversation. It was in relation to the church, and life together as followers of Jesus. And really, it starts with life as an individual follower of Jesus.
When speaking with some friends who are equally saddened by the focus of the American church on numbers and programs and an institutional view of discipleship – and yet, who strangely feel the need to still be part of that social structure – we talked about freedom. One friend brought up the scripture where Jesus says he came to “set us free“. He said that it really helped him break out of the “need” – the obligation – to be at a worship service on Sunday mornings. He realized that he was not free. And God helped him realize that through that Scripture.
I think that’s true for a lot of people. And much beyond their attendance at weekly (or more frequent) worship gatherings. It does not mean that you are not free if you “go to church” on Sundays. It could, but it doesn’t inherently mean that. Where we lack freedom is in really understanding that God does not want us to live life out of obligations to him, but in relationship to him.
I was reading a little book to my boys that paraphrases scripture verses, and one we read last week was taken from the verse in Micah that says, “…and this is what he requires: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” The last part caught my attention this time. What God “requires” is that we walk (humbly) with him. He wants us to just follow him. To be with him. Every day.
God doesn’t want us to always do what’s right just because it’s right. He wants us to learn to be like him. To live in the freedom of not having to perform for him, to earn his love, or his favor – or to avoid the fires of Hell. What he wants is for us to love as we have been loved. (Love God, and love your neighbor.)
All of the above “requirements” were also written/said during a time when Jesus had not completed the restoration of our relationship with Father God! That’s so great! While people were toiling under this idea that sacrifices and following rules would somehow “gain favor” with God, God was telling them, no… just be fair, just, merciful, and follow humbly in his steps. Pretty cool.
Yet today, even though Jesus has once and for all abolished the code of law that restricted and even enslaved us, we still live as slaves to sin and the law. We do not experience the freedom of his grace, and his full and complete love. We don’t live as children but as slaves (as that linked passage above refers to). That permeates every bit of how we relate to our Father, and I’m learning more and more that it’s not how he wants it to be.
He wants us to walk with him. He calls us friends. He has adopted us as his children, full heirs of everything he has. And he is not a Father who demands strict obedience at the end of a punishing hand, but the Father of the prodigal son who allows us to choose to follow him, to humbly receive his love and live in his freedom.
I’m not sure how we can really break out of the cycle of feeling the need to please him, or even the obligation to “get it right”, but oh how I long for that in me, and in you. Shame is a powerful thing over us, and causes us to submit to God out of obligation and out of a perceived relational “debt”. But there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus. The Bible tells me so.
It also tells me this:
If the son has set you free, you are free indeed.