Sunday, July 22, 2007

Walking in Freedom

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1-2

The captain eased the bow into the harbor and finally brought the ship to a rest. A feeling of excitement and restlessness crept into the air as passengers readied themselves to disembark.

In Cabin 404A, a young mom, who was away from her eight month old daughter for the first time, sat on her bed, indecisive. Her best friend had convinced her they needed to come on this cruise for some mandatory rest and relaxation, but so far she had spent the entire time worrying about her family and feeling guilty for being so selfish to come. While she was excited about the idea of exploring this new port, the burden of guilt weighed on her too heavily to go out. She decided to stay on the ship this time, and maybe get off at the next port if she was able to connect with her husband to see how things were going...

In the main dining room, an older gentleman dressed in khakis and a neatly pressed pale blue button down shirt, sat reading the morning paper, unaffected by the bustle all around him. He enjoyed traveling around the world, but he felt more comfortable on the ship. He liked the routine and the comfort of knowing what to expect. Sure, he was curious about the places they stopped, but not enough to make him venture out into the unknown...

Down in the gym, a middle-aged woman checked her pulse, having just completed three miles on the treadmill. She considered taking a quick shower and venturing off the ship to explore the latest port city, but dismissed the idea when she thought of her messy cabin upstairs. She couldn’t possibly go out frolicking, leaving her mess for someone else to pick up. Besides, she hadn’t read anything in the travel guide about the city, so she wouldn’t even know where to begin or how to properly appreciate what was there. Next time she’d be sure to take care of those things in advance so she would really be ready to go out. She picked up the pace on the treadmill to run the last two miles to burn off that extra dessert she’d eaten at dinner...

It seems ridiculous to travel the whole world, and not really see any of it. Would you be content to arrive at a totally new and fascinating place, but never set foot on it, merely observing from a distance? And yet, when it comes to our freedom in Christ, we are often like these passengers. We have the opportunity to explore so much more than the inside of the ship, but we never venture out.

Perhaps we don’t believe we deserve that much freedom. Often we feel defeated and figure we can never really overcome our past history or our propensity toward specific sins. Despite our best intentions to accept God’s truth, deep down, the guilt and shame persist, and we begin to question whether that freedom is really meant for us, or just those who are less messed up. We wonder if God really could love people like us. And the prison door slams shut and the click of the lock echoes in our hearts.

Or maybe we’re too comfortable with our rules and regulations, and a little bit afraid of this unknown experience of liberation. We don’t know what “freedom in Christ” is suppose to look like, and we don’t quite trust ourselves to stay on the straight and narrow without the Law. We prefer to just be told what to do, and we’ll follow that, rather than simply following Christ. That just seems too esoteric, and a little bit scary.

Many times we’re still trying to earn our salvation. We think we need to get our acts together before we allow ourselves to encounter freedom. We slowly begin adding words to the Gospel message. The simple truth that should guide and permeate our lives becomes a complex set of rules. With good intentions, we implement an additional rule or requirement here and there to help us be “better Christians,” without realizing we are reverting to the Law to save us. Ever so slowly we erect bars around us, until one day we look up and realize that we are imprisoned again.

We were once enslaved to the Law, bound to fulfill every word or suffer the consequence of death. The purpose of Christ’s death on the cross was to purchase our freedom. We are now free to live a life that was once impossible; we are free to live a life of righteousness. We are free to follow our Savior, rather than being confined to the demands of our society or even of our “religion.” But when we ignore or refuse to accept that freedom, and continue to live under the yoke of the Law (or even sin!), then His death was in vain (Gal 2:21). He wants so much more for us than to just travel around on a ship; He wants us to get off and experience the freedom he purchased.

We must embrace our freedom, not to ignore the Law and live however we desire, but to pursue Christ and live in his abundance. This requires us to delight in Him and ask Him to give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). We accept that He has already given us everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), and we unload the burden of the past. We replace the shame and guilt with grace, extending to ourselves the grace that He has already freely given. When we fix our gaze upon Him, we can venture out of the boat without fear. For although we are in unknown territory and feel overwhelmed - or may even falter - we know that He is right there with us, granting wisdom to all who ask (James 1:5). If we abide in Him, then we will bear much fruit (John 15:5). We don’t need more rules and regulations because obedience comes naturally, out of our overwhelming love for who He is and our desire to please Him.

On deck, a young woman nervously smoothed her sun dress while waiting to disembark. It was the first time she ever left her hometown, much less the country. She had known there was so much more outside of the city limits, and she longed to see and experience other places. And she finally summoned up the courage to purchase the cruise ticket. So far, it had been an exciting, albeit sometimes nerve-wracking, adventure for her. She ate amazing dishes she had never even heard of before. She had danced like no one was watching to music she didn’t recognize. Now she was going to venture off the boat and explore a new place and culture she’d only read about in books. Adrenaline coursed through her body, and she didn’t know whether she wanted to run off the boat or back into her room. The crowd began to move forward. She took a deep breath, and stepped off the ship.

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