There are no sufficient words to explain the beauty and the terror of embracing real freedom. I’m not talking about embracing a theological concept. I am talking about the moment where you truly grasp that you are bound by nothing.
For most of us, that freedom is initially pretty terrifying. At least, I know it was for me.
At twenty-eight years old, I have been in some form of Church leadership for over thirteen years. That means that for almost half of my life, I have been serving the body of Jesus. Leading worship, preaching, leading small groups, making disciples, reaching the lost, writing Christian resources, raising leaders. For longer than I have even known who I am as a man, I have been pouring my life into the body of Jesus. And here I sit, examining my life and realizing how much I have missed. How much I was wrong about. How far I was from the point. It’s terrifying.
Maybe you grew up believing that you were living in freedom, but found yourself judging your spiritual depth and maturity on how well you adhered to the standards of leadership or the layout of your ministry. Not even realizing that your character, and your spirit, are developed by the indwelling presence of God, not by the guiding hand of your effort. Or, maybe you knew you were far from God’s picture of freedom, but you were so conditioned to believe that it was normal that you never realized there was a way out. Whatever the case, it is absolutely clear that Christianity and freedom have stopped being synonymous.
That moment where it’s all stripped away and you really see how enslaved you are to opinions and traditions and structures and EFFORT... the law... it’s terrifying. It’s heart breaking. And like a child who has been sheltered from living for their entire life, your first moment of freedom ends up being about an angry determination to rip down walls and standards and to demand the world sees you for who you are! Or, in terminology you may understand better… you throw a hissy fit.
I’ve been through it! So has everyone I know who has really grasped this concept of freedom. When you realize that you have spent years, decades for some, enslaved by tradition and opinion and selfish vision, you get a little angry. You don’t care whose fault it is. You don’t care if you should have seen it sooner. All you know is that you cannot live like that anymore and that you will do whatever is necessary to be free.
The NEXT moment is the one that matters.
When the dust settles and your river of tears has dried up, what does your freedom become?
A prideful decision that you are better than the rest of the Church because of this revelation they’ve missed?
An insistence on walking in a spiritual mysticism in an attempt to bond with the example of the early Church?
Hatred for the body of Jesus because you’ve allowed FREEDOM to become just another branch of the law in your heart?
I CHOOSE SURRENDER
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Romans 6:1-14 (ESV)
The law says I have no choice because God demands something, grace says I have no choice because I have become something.
In practice, this may not feel different. But in nature, it is a world apart. If my depth and righteousness and nearness to Christ depend on how successfully i manage to live a certain lifestyle, then our unity as a Church depends on us living similarly and behaving in a certain way. Like Israel, rules and structures must be put in place to keep us walking in a similar direction. Now, we may not write a book of rules, but we do live the same way. We just call it Pastoral vision. For the sake of unity, we erect leaders, like Israel before us, and we determine that we will protect Israel (my bad… the Church) from division by submitting ourselves to the vision and teaching and direction of a few particularly gifted individuals. Just like the law shaped the identity and behavior of Israel, the Pastoral Covering shapes the identity and behavior of the Church.
BUT, if our depth is not dependent on our lifestyle, but on a nature we naturally adopt when we are united with Christ in His death and resurrection, then we do not need rules and structures to unite us. Why? Because we are the same body.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (ESV)
Really let that sink in. When I came into Christ, I died and Christ came alive in me. When you came into Christ, you died and Christ came alive in you. In Christ, neither of us shape the story… there is only Jesus. Our righteousness is not achieved through effort, but through the death of our flesh and the life of His Spirit.
Here is what I am getting at: far too many of us embrace the concept of freedom and then turn around and run right back to a different manifestation of the same law that we so passionately broke free from. We make our depth about our spiritual giftedness, or our vision, or our revelation, or our superior theology, or our superior Church practice, or our freedom, or just our hatred of what we escaped from. We idolize our prophetic gifting or our reformed thinking or our miraculous faith. We make our freedom something to pride in. We take a free gift from God and decide that we somehow earned it, and that it makes us better than those who haven’t received it yet.
That is not freedom. That is the exact same abuse that we ran from.
Surrender means that I am dead to me and Christ lives in me, and you are dead to you and Christ lives in you, and when we walk together, Christ is seen in power. Unity exists only in a body where all of its members have embraced surrender. So please, take this as a challenge to not allow freedom to become your god. To not make God’s people the enemy. To not allow yourself to run from altars and pulpits only to build your own.
Surrender. That is where freedom matures into unity. That is where the death of the old thing actually becomes life for the finished thing.
Which means three things for us:
We cannot continue believing that we are the true Church and all of those who don't understand freedom are impostors. That is a dangerous teaching that runs rampart among Churches that have embraces freedom. Its not true. Understanding freedom does not make you free. Jesus does. If God has brought you into an understanding of freedom that the rest of the Church has not yet grasped, embrace it as a responsibility to bring that revelation to the body, not to use it as evidence that you are better than them.
We cannot continue to use freedom as an excuse to be irresponsible. Paul made it very clear in the above text that grace did not come to give me the right to be whatever i'd like to be. In fact, that concept of freedom more closely resembles the freedom the serpent introduced to eve than it does the freedom God introduced to us. Freedom, in Christ, means death from who I was so that I can become who I was designed to be. Which is completely, irrevocably, God's.
We cannot continue to capitalize on our freedom. We cannot take our gifts and consider them license to build our names and our platforms and to put ourselves in a position of honor. Unity means that we do this together. I am not above you. You are not above me. We are both dead to ourselves and have become a part of a single body. Our understanding of freedom has to be something that drives us towards surrender, not pride.
Going forward, I want to challenge you to not just chase freedom, but to chase a freedom that chooses love. Always.
I would love you hear your thoughts on this subject! Leave me a comment below or send me your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org