Please forgive me for the tone that this post takes. It does sound like a rant, but maybe--just maybe--it is a rant worth ranting about.
My journey has been a tough one for the past three years. I've been studying God's Word deeply, and also fighting against my tendency to fall toward legalism. I am, by nature of my personality, a rule-follower. So, yes, it is easy for me to read a rule, a law, or a command in Scripture and think, "I just have to do it."
The truth is--I do just have to do it. But I do not believe that "just do it" is the heart of the command. The heart of the command is more than just doing what God wants, but that it is for the good of all of God's people.
We do it because we love God, but we do it because we love our neighbor as our self, too.
So many times in the past few years, as I've shared things I'm learning from His Word, I have gotten the same response, "But I'm FREE!", as the reason for someone to NOT choose to do what that scripture says. I have spent a significant portion of my study time learning what it means to be "free"....and finding that it does not mean what so many think it means.
I do not dispute that we are "free in Christ"! After all, "It was for freedom that Christ set us free!" (Galatians 5:1) We are no longer bound by law, but bound by grace to Him. We are not chained to God or to His laws, but we are free to choose Him and His laws.
However.....I do not believe that this freedom means that we can live however we want, or that we have license to do or not do according to our own desires. In fact, scripture tells us quite the opposite!
First, we have been made free from the penalty of sin. This is the freedom everyone wants. We all want the reward of heaven, and we all do not want the punishment of hell.
But then there's freedom from the power of sin over our lives. This is one that not everyone wants. If we accept that we have the power to NOT sin, then we will have to not sin. Right? How quickly we forget that Jesus lives in us!
I know I'm only touching the surface here...we are free from the penalty and free from the power sin takes over our lives. But these freedoms do not at all mean that we are free to do whatever we want. We are made free from the "have to", and then we will "want to"! To man's eye, they look the same--but God, who sees our hearts, works in us "both to will and to do His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). He will not just make us "do" it, but we will WANT to do His will.
Here is a real-life analogy: Someone whose life is on the line HAS TO make choices to fix their health, be it a required diet, exercise, or medication. They risk losing their life if they do not do these things. So they do them because they have to. But the person whose health is not on the line, but is already healthy, does these things to keep themselves healthy because they know how it feels to be healthy, and they want to keep it that way.
I see this all the time! People who are unhealthy (many times obese) do what they have to do to lose weight....but when they get to their goal weight, they no longer have to do all that they did to lose it, they simply refrain from the habits and behaviors that got them to that point in the first place. They choose a new lifestyle.
Spiritually, we are all sinners who deserve the penalty, and are on our way to death before we come to faith in Jesus. But then we "get healthy"--or "get saved"--by believing in Him as our Savior. He makes us healthy--we did not have to do anything to "get healthy".
Once we realize that He has given us this health (salvation), then we want to maintain this health by not indulging in that which we once indulged.
We have been made clean by Jesus' sacrifice! There is no boasting in anything but the cross where He paid the price! But after that, we choose to live as if we have been made pure! We are not pure, and are not saved, by what we do--but by what He did for us. But then the call is to live as the saved! "Follow Me" doesn't just mean to get the reward He has to give...it also means live as He lived! He lived a sinless life from birth to death, defended and taught God's Word, and loved all.
Jesus told the woman to "go and sin no more" and He told the man "Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you" after healing him.
When I hear the words, "But I'm free!", I hear selfishness speaking. Jesus never once said, "But I'm Jesus!" He laid down His whole life for us, subjecting Himself to torture and death, because He loved us. We quote this verse all the time:
"Greater love hath no man than this, than to lay down his life for his friends."
What if that means we lay down how we talk, how we dress, how we live, and how we eat or drink...and we make choices that are not based on a "right" or a "freedom" of our own, but based on a responsibility to choose according to what is best for everyone else around us?...even if it is the opposite of what we have the right to choose?
What if we speak so that others are encouraged to do God's will, not just made to feel good about their poor choices that do not line up with His will at all? What if we dress so that no one is tempted, rather than how we will look or how trendy the outfit is? What if we eat or drink--or do not eat and drink--so that no one else is tempted to eat and drink the same, if it tempts them to not follow their own convictions?
An interesting passage of Scripture is about eating meat. Again, we are free to eat meat--God said so. But what if one of our brothers or sisters in Christ is convicted that eating meat is not okay? Do we show love to him or her by saying, "I can eat meat because I'm free!" Or do we respond as Paul did here:
"Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin,
I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall."
1 Corinthians 8:13
Now THAT is loving someone else the way Christ loved us!
Imagine making our choices based on whether our brother or sister is tempted, rather than making them based on our own liberty! THAT is love...and a true laying down one's life for her friends.
I believe that all of God's Word teaches us how to live in obedience to the Lord AND how to best live showing love to our brethren and the world! They are not "have to's", but they certainly should be "want to's"! They are also "you will's" if you love the Lord!
"If ye love Me, ye will keep My commandments."
I'm still digging on some of these things...and I'm sure there will be more to come. In the meantime, care to share your thoughts? Put them in the comments!