Freedom is perhaps the most appealing idea imaginable. America was founded upon principles of freedom. The American Revolution, Lincoln’s fight against slavery, the end of the Holocaust, combating human trafficking; all proof that we value freedom, and are willing to fight for it.
In our hearts we know freedom is a high priority, something every human should experience. When our freedom is endangered our desire for justice is called to the surface and everything within us sounds the alarm: something must change!
We were born for freedom.
Galatians 5:1 declares this truth: it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
Unfortunately, we also seek control. A scary belief, part of our old nature, expects our freedom to depend on everyone around us. Or even more prevalent: “What threatens my freedom must also threaten yours, so we must completely eliminate the threat.” How?
Rules. Control. Doctrine?
St. Augustine, the highly respected church father, accomplished much for a very young church. It was Augustine who first put into words the ideas surrounding original sin, something John Calvin later called total depravity. The problem, upon further examination of Augustine’s well-known work Confessions, would reveal his motive was based on his own struggles with sexual sin, rather than a firm biblical stance on the issue. Augustine began believing a lie: all sexual activity is sinful, childbearing being a necessary evil. Therefore a child, a result of sex, is born out of a sinful act.
St. Augustine’s lack of personal victory in this arena led to developing a doctrine regarding the entire world’s birth into a sinful state. We live in a world that is fallen, true, but how willingly do we accept being born into sin? Is this biblically solid? Or was Augustine unable to control the battle within himself, leading him to believe that no one is capable of controlling this battle? Therefore everyone needs rules, or doctrine, to govern them.
You’ll never become free by curbing your own lack of control with rules everyone else has to follow.
Especially if those rules have shallow, skewed biblical foundations.
Rules + Control will never equal freedom.
How many rules does it take to secure freedom? The Old Testament would boldly declare 613. What did man prove? It’s not possible to live free by following rules. Why? Because God is not controlling. Adam and Eve put Him in the position, choosing to walk in bondage. And He immediately went to work to give us back our freedom. Mankind’s response? Proving our incapacity to live free.
Let’s be honest. We’re scared of choices. On one hand, we need to understand that freedom from rules does not mean a lack of consequences. Conversely, it does not mean we should walk in fear.
We believe we will choose wrong every time. And since I choose wrong, everyone else chooses wrong. So let’s control everyone! By doing so, I’ll have no choice but to control myself…I hope.
If all alcohol consumption is wrong, I never have to make a choice of when enough is enough. This should apply to everyone. Let’s put that in our rules for church membership.
If I can’t control my sexuality, I make a whole bunch of rules about sexuality that will either label me pure or sinful, in any given situation. I’m incapable of honoring women, so I have to avoid those I find attractive.
If we believe encounters with God are still possible for believers, then we might end up with some wackos who create heresy. So let’s completely eliminate the possibility of experiencing God outside of the written Word. Put that in our statement of beliefs.
The moment I create rule books, I also create systems of judgment. Because I have rules to be broken, I now carry a gavel with me. Freedom is not the priority, bringing people back into line with the rules is. You begin hearing things in church like, “We need to preach sin!” When freedom is not the priority, condemnation will always take center stage.
When freedom is the priority, I realize my choices affect my freedom. As do yours.
I believe there are two responses to this issue, and we would all do well to take them into account as we pursue the Kingdom; for our sake, and the sake of others.
First we must learn from Isaiah 6. Isaiah found Himself in heaven’s throne-room, and you don’t hear a single word from the Father - at first! You hear angels declaring His holiness, and the next moment you hear Isaiah turning himself in. No one said a word to Isaiah about his sin, no one began listing all the broken rules in Isaiah’s life. In the presence of God, Isaiah knew who he was, and he knew he was sinful. He began confessing it on his own. He even began confessing the sins of his people! Why? Because in the presence of God, sin has to find a way to escape. Jesus modeled this with so many He came into contact with; they fell at His feet, and began ratting themselves out!
Secondly, we must realize this same God overshadowing us for our sake, is overshadowing us for others. We no longer carry a gavel of condemnation, we carry the Presence of God. What would happen if the people we encountered daily were drawn to repentance, and inspired to freedom, because we carry the Presence? There would be no need to condemn, we would find ourselves declaring with Jesus, “Your sins are forgiven, go and sin no more.”
Freedom is about choice. It’s time to drop the rule book, and carry His Presence. Everyone wants to be free. The church should be made up of the most free people the world has ever seen. If we drop our need for control, picking up the mantle of freedom, the world will be running to see their own chains broken. This is the Gospel. It is for freedom Christ has set us free.
Shawn and Tenielle Niles are the founders of John 14:12 Ministries, an itinerate ministry based in Yakima, Washington. Their heart is to help everyone experience everything Jesus intended when He said, "Come follow Me." Shawn and Tenielle train, mainly, students to travel with them to churches nearby and beyond to "explain and demonstrate" the Kingdom (Acts 17:3).
Shawn Niles is also an established author. Check out his books, "Don't Fight The Battle - Win It", "You Make A Great You" (Children's book), and "Shut Up In Their Bones,". To connect with Shawn, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit his church’s website here, and their facebook here.