Alone in Christ, True Freedom

To our natural selves, it seems to make a lot of good sense to pursue pleasure and the desires of the senses. Even our own bodies reward this pursuit. Eating good food, playing video games, having sex, and engaging in other pleasurable experiences have been shown to cause increases in the reward chemicals in our bodies.

A lot of people also think of pursuing pleasure as the pathway to freedom. That would seem to make some sense too. After all, isn’t the very definition of freedom that I can do whatever I want?

Unfortunately, what many people fail to do is take the long view. Pursuing pleasure tends to be an “immediate gratification” sort of thing. So, thoughts of where all this might eventually lead tend to be banished because of the overwhelming nature of the reward in the short term.

This is why we need God. Because what often occurs is that the pursuit of pleasure winds up leaving us in slavery to that pursuit, whatever it might be. What began as a journey toward perceived freedom ends up to be nothing more than a mirage and a lie — and a very dangerous, self-destructive mirage at that.

Talk to someone who has been caught up in an addiction and you’ll find they relate well to the terms “foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved.”

But take note. Paul tells Titus that God loves us even while we’re enslaved by pleasure. In fact, he wants to deliver us from our slavery, and that’s the very reason he sent Jesus for us. He even points out that we don’t have to do anything good to earn or win this deliverance. Deliverance doesn’t come about because we’re such good people. It comes about because God is such a merciful God.

The beauty is that with the Holy Spirit living in our hearts through faith, we learn not to take created pleasures and turn them into ultimate things. When Jesus remains on the throne of our hearts, we begin to enjoy earthly pleasures without needing them for peace, fulfillment or identity. Because Jesus is our peace, fulfillment and identity, we can enjoy games, food, sex and other pleasures within God-pleasing boundaries. And that allows us to enjoy them without being enslaved by them.

What has got you trapped and enslaved right now? God has delivered you already. I know, it’s impossible for you to believe that. But it’s true. Jesus died for you. Jesus rose for you. The price of your freedom has been paid in full. Through baptism, you are released and set free from foolishness, disobedience, deception and slavery.

With the Spirit’s help, believe this. And walk out into your true freedom!

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7, NIV).

Lord, thank you for your deliverance, your forgiveness and your kindness. By your mercy, you sent me a Savior from sin. Please forgive me for allowing myself to be enslaved by life’s pleasures and desires. Give me the faith, the courage and the strength to step into the freedom you have already won for me in Christ.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, October 28, is Lamentations 1:1 – 2:6, Titus 3:1-15 and Psalm 119:113-120.

Header image based on "Freedom Alone" by Martin Burns, CC By 2.0

Tangible vs. Intangible

As human beings we are so attached to the tangible. Because of that we tend to want to turn the practice of our faith toward physical things — things we can see, taste, hear, touch.

For the Christians in first-century Rome this became a thing about what food believers should eat, and what food they shouldn’t eat.

Over the years, there have been various manifestations of this same debate, all of them involving things that God gives us complete freedom to choose. I’m talking about things like…

  • What Christians should wear
  • How Christians should have fun
  • What music Christians should listen to
  • What are the only “correct” worship practices for Christians
  • What habits should Christians have
  • What jewelry Christians should wear

Paul instructs the Romans that God has left certain things in the area of Christian freedom. He’s left it up to us to make choices, and we are completely free to make our choices. Choose to eat, or not to eat. Choose to wear it, or don’t choose to wear it. There’s no commandment from God on this particular aspect of life, so it’s up to you.

The only check on our choices is that we would make loving choices, taking into account the consciences of others, and not going out of our way to trip others up in their faith.

Where Paul wants our focus to be is on the intangibles. He mentions the important ones specifically.

  • Righteousness
  • Peace
  • Joy

Pursuing these is what pleases God. Pursuing these is what builds faith. Pursuing these will often, Paul notes, even lead to the admiration and respect of those around us.

Interestingly, pursuing righteousness, peace and joy — in God’s way of working things — really means not running away from them. Because in reality, we’re not the ones pursuing God. God is the one pursuing us, and he is the one who wants to give us righteousness, peace and joy.

How does he pursue us with these gifts? He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior. Jesus pursued us through living a perfect life in our place, by going to the cross for us, and most of all, by rising from the tomb. He did this all so he could give us his divine, perfect righteousness, peace and joy.

And he still pursues us with these gifts. Today he pursues us by sending the Holy Spirit, which he promises to do when we read and listen to the Bible, or when we have the waters of baptism poured on us, or when we eat and drink Christ’s body and blood in communion.

And where do we get these things? Most of us find them at church.

So, what are you waiting for? Get yourself down there!

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval” (Romans 14:17-18, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, July 31, 1 Chronicles 9:1 – 10:14, Romans 14:1-18 and Proverbs 18:17 – 19:2.

Lord, help me to enjoy my Christian freedom in the areas where you have left things open to my judgment. Most of all, help me keep my eyes and my heart focused on the pursuit of your righteousness, peace and joy, which I find in my Savior Jesus.

Header image based on "Roadside Church" by Nicholas A. Tonelli, CC By 2.0

Baptism, A Welcome Death

Baptism is a death. We don’t often look at it this way, because we like to focus on the “new life” aspect of baptism. Rightfully so!

But we shouldn’t miss what Paul tells us here in Romans chapter 6. Paul states that we were buried with Christ through baptism. And he tells us this in answering a question about grace.

People were wondering, “If, as Paul teaches, the more we sin, the more grace increases, then what’s the downside to sin? Why not just keep on sinning? That way, we really put the grace of God on a pedestal!”

Paul responds to this line of thinking by simply saying, “That’s the logic of the old of way of life. We don’t think that way anymore and we don’t live that way any more, because we’ve died to all that.”

He goes on to reassure us that we have also been given a new life. Our old sinful self has been crucified with Christ. Our bodies are no longer ruled by sin. We are no longer slaves to sin. We’ve been set free.

What does this look like in daily life? Paul is not suggesting that we will live a sinless life from baptism on. You can check Romans chapter 7 for more detail on that.

But he is saying that — for those who follow Christ — a life of being a slave to sin is over. A life invested in the single-minded, ruthless and unscrupulous pursuit of sin no longer has any meaning or purpose for us. A life spent in chasing the pleasures of lust, greed, power and wealth just doesn’t have the power over our hearts that it once did.

Our whole way of thinking, our entire purpose in life, has changed. We follow Christ.

We’ve been baptized!

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:4-7, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, July 20 is Hosea 1:1 – 2:23, Romans 6:1-14 and Psalm 87:1-7.

Lord, thank you for my baptism. I want to live in it ever day. Help me to enjoy my freedom. I am no longer a slave of sin. And while sin will always be present in my life, it can no longer control my life. That’s because you, Jesus, now control my life. You are the master and ruler of my heart. And what a fantastic new life that brings me!