Freedom is not being double minded in your thoughts or your actions. Its doing what you want to do and choosing it wholeheartedly. True, we have the right to do things halfheartedly, but that’s not freedom.
Lately I’ve been hanging out with a lot of heathens, atheists, and sinners…at least that’s what half my Christian friends would call them. I tend to just call them by their names. My God, they are beautiful.
You know my favorite thing about them? They seem genuinely free. Some of them seem empty, shallow, broken, sure…but free. I think its because they aren’t trying to hold themselves to impossible standards that most faiths impose on people. If they want to do something, they do it. Sometimes they make really crappy choices, but they don’t call them “sin” or “mistakes” or a “struggle I’m trying to overcome.” They just call them choices. They own their junk. Then they continue to make choices based on the persons they are becoming. I love that. Their kind of freedom means that each choice is made by act of the will, not by the devil’s or God’s influence, and not because of the influence of some outside moral code they are trying to live up to. No, they actually choose, because they want to.
I keep thinking of what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans. That he had this struggle, because there was this moral code that he knew he should be living up to, but he kept falling short. He sounded pretty dang tormented to be honest. Then he says “who will save me from this body of death? Thanks be to Jesus Christ!” (Romans 7) then we come to possibly the most famous chapter in Paul’s writing, where he declares the freedom that comes by means of Christ and the Spirit.
This messes with me, because I still feel trapped in Romans 7. I still feel like there’s this code that I can’t live up to, and I’m a slave to it. My gay friends and my non-religious friends seem to have that freedom, but not me. So what am I missing?
I think it comes down to missing heart of the gospel really. When Jesus came, what did he offer his disciples? Freedom from trying to earn God’s favor by living up to a moral system, genuine love, friendship, community, hope, redemption, healing…the list goes on! What did he NOT offer them?
A bunch of new rules.
He did the opposite. He got everyone to stop looking at the rules and start looking at their hearts. He said adultery of the heart is just as bad as adultery of the body, and that every single commandment could be boiled down to loving God and people. He showed his disciples that it’s all about the heart. He didn’t come to get people to pray the sinners prayer, join his new religion, or start listening to only Christian music and go to a Sunday service every week. He came to give people love, and true life.
I used to think freedom was only found once someone crosses that line, says that magic prayer, starts following all the rules. I don’t really see that way anymore. I think that’s why Jesus said to make disciples, not converts. Because discipleship is really just loving people like they already belong. It’s knowing that the truth is true for everyone, and everyone is in the club, but some just don’t “believe” yet (that’s why they are called “unbelievers”). Christians should be the most free people in the world, because they aren’t offering a new system; they are offering the truth that already IS.
My non-Christian friends are teaching me about freedom, because freedom is a truth that belongs to God, and their choice to say or not say a prayer can’t change freedom. When we are free, we love because we WANT to, we follow God because we WANT to, and no one has to tell us which rules we need to follow, because obedience to the higher realities of God’s truth come by default to those that have fellowship with Him. Even my friends who claim no faith have found fellowship with the side of the Spirit of the Lord that is Freedom, which is why they can help me find it.
I think Paul got this. I think he knew that religion can poison us with rules and law, but that fellowship with what is real and true can set us free. He knew that owning our choices was the only way to ever choose God freely, and choosing Him freely was the only way to ever truly love Him. The Spirit of the Lord brings freedom, because without freedom there can be no love. My friends are free, even if they haven’t yet discovered the God who is Love, but many of my Christian friends are in a worse predicament.
They obey a religion, because the system is supposed to bring life, and it doesn’t. So they end up following something that enslaves them. They learn information about Love, but they never enter the freedom that would make it possible for them to actually live out the Love they are learning about. They don’t love because they want to out of their own will, but because they think they have to love. They think they have to obey the rules or they will burn in hell. So they obey, out of fear.
You may not think so, but listen closely to some of the conversation that Christians have after church. Watch how they react when someone tells a dirty joke or starts talking about evolution. Watch the insecurity and fear, as they squirm just a bit in their seats. What you are seeing is someone being brushed against the edges of their invisible fence. They have set up lines in their brains and hearts that must not be crossed, because it would break a rule, and even getting near the line causes them discomfort. They have to obey, and those thoughts aren’t allowed. So they become reactionary, because someone is threatening their system.
Jesus never did this, and neither do my atheist friends. When you know what reality is, and you don’t attempt to control your own little world, but just let what is BE what it is, then you become free to simply exist in that reality. Atheists wholeheartedly believe that there is no God, so someone saying they are going to go to hell doesn’t threaten them. Jesus wholeheartedly knows He is the truth, so someone trying to crucify him for blasphemy doesn’t threaten him. The free are not threatened by the ideas.
I’m not Jesus, and I’m not an atheist. So where does that leave me?
I guess I choose to live with an open mind, trusting that truth is true whether I believe it or not. Trusting that God is big enough to correct me when I get it wrong, and that it’s better to wholeheartedly make a wrong choice then to halfheartedly do what’s “right.” In some areas of my life, I might be totally failing right now, but at least I’m choosing and not making excuses. As I see freedom around me, I’m trying to live in that freedom. Because without Freedom, I’ll never Love.
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