January 24: What Freedom Isn’t (part 1)

Yesterday we talked about the law of liberty and the important truth that without freedom there cannot be love. But before we move on in our journey together, I want us to stop and make sure that we understand what we are talking about when we talk about freedom, especially freedom in Christ.

The first thing we are NOT talking about is the modern cultural self identity narrative of the “freedom of the self.” Second, we are not talking about “American freedom.” Today let’s consider the first one first–

In this generation freedom has replaced right and wrong as the ethos of our culture. What makes your life significant is not whether you are doing good, but whether you are living in freedom. But this freedom that the world is selling is not the freedom of the garden or of the gospel. It is a freedom that says “I should be able to do whatever I want to do.”

Freedom is the new narrative of our time. This all encompassing narrative of freedom encourages us to privatize our lives and find fulfillment through personal choice. Here are some of the characteristics of this brand of freedom:

  • We are free to create our own identity- but this identity actually enslaves us.
  • We resist commitment and real relationships or authenticity for fear of losing freedom.
  • The freedom to choose to serve others or to deny the self is rejected.
  • We have become self sufficient, privatized, and “miniaturized”- we only relate to other people who are just like us.

Galatians 5:13. For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

The freedom that God offers to us in Christ is quite different:

  • Our freedom doesn’t come from self identification, but rather is imputed upon us by God himself.
  • True freedom is found in the giving of the self and in self control, empowered by forgiveness and grace.
  • Reconciliation replaces individual freedom. We give up our “freedom” to bring reconciliation to the world through Christ and in so doing find true freedom.

Paradoxically true freedom comes when we are willing to freely give up our freedom. This is what Christ himself did for us in his living and in his dying. This is the freedom and the life (and love) that he is offering for us today.

January 23: The Law of Liberty

We’ve been saying that life can only exist and thrive in an environment of love and liberty. Yesterday we looked at how all of life flows from love. God created life because he loves.

Today let’s look at liberty or freedom.

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For mankind to be able to genuinely love, there must be the freedom to love. In Genesis we see that God gave Adam and Eve the freedom needed for them to love. They had the freedom to choose, and therefore to choose to love God (or not).

Genesis 2:16-17. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Without liberty, love and life will erode. We will become shadows of what we are meant to be. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but we will see this when we look more closely at Genesis 3 and the fall of mankind.

This is one of God’s fundamental principles: love cannot exist apart from liberty. Don’t we know this to be true in our relationships? The more controlling and manipulating you become, the fewer liberties you give, the less that other person will love you.

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Galatians 5:1. For freedom Christ has set us free.

God is not about taking away our liberty, just like he is never about taking away love. In the life of Christ we actually gain full liberty and freedom. If “to live is Christ,” then to live is to live in freedom. The freedom to love genuinely, from the heart. The heart of Christ himself.

January 22: The Law of Love

We introduced this idea yesterday: the setting for life is an environment of love and liberty. Let’s continue exploring this as we focus on love a bit more.

John 1:1-2. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.

John 1:18. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

Before there was the creation of any life there was love. Before humanity existed The Trinity lived in perfect love. The verses above describe the intimate nature of Jesus and the Father. We can also see this eternal love described in Jesus’ “high priestly prayer” in John 17.

John 17:24. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 

Life is the aim of love. Because God loves, he created. And he created creatures (us) who could also genuinely love.

Colossians 1:17. And he [Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Jesus is the blueprint for all of creation. If the primary characteristic of Jesus (and God) is love, then the primary function of all creation is to love. God is giving, others centered, beneficial, sacrificial.

Romans 1:20. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

God’s divine attributes, like love, are seen in nature. The law of love rules all of creation. All of life. Think about the giving and sacrifice that you see all around you:

  • The water cycle – oceans give water to clouds, clouds give it back through rain. If a body of water is separated from the cycle it stagnates and dies.
  • Plants and animals give and receive oxygen and carbon dioxide.
  • Atoms share electrons. Electricity moves in a circuit.
  • Planets orbit the sun, the sun shares its energy.

The law of love as the expression of God’s character is the template for all of creation. Therefore it is the template for all of life. To live is to give. To live is to sacrifice. To live is Christ.

January 21: Life, Love, and Liberty

We’ve said a lot about what it means to be alive using the first couple chapters of Genesis. To be alive is to image God, to have his breath in us, to have impact and intimacy, to be a living soul full of desire.

Of course Genesis 3 will show us how we as human kind will lose this life. But before we tackle that fun topic, let’s set the stage a bit more.

Genesis 2:9. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

For there to be life, real life, not just biological life, but the life of God, there must be two things that characterize the setting: liberty and love. God himself lives from liberty and love. He is perfectly free and he is perfect love.

2 Corinthians 3:17. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 

1 John 4:8. God is love.

God had to place man in an environment that was not only perfect (like the Garden of Eden) but that also provided both love and liberty for the man and woman.

 

Genesis 2:15-17. The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

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Why would God allow mankind to make such a choice? Hasn’t this question plagued us for centuries? Maybe it’s plagued you. The problem of evil and suffering is quite possibly the biggest stumbling block to trusting God.

But if God made us to image him, to worship him, and become like him, wouldn’t it make sense that he would have to allow man to freely choose, and to freely choose to love?  We are not puppets that he manipulates in order to force us to love him. There were no robots in his creation.

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The trees in the center of the garden offered man a choice. A very serious choice- life or death. And this is the same choice being offered to us today.

To live is Christ. That’s the choice being offered today. Not fruit on a tree, but a person. A perfect life that will unite to your imperfect life and bring a changed soul that will always choose God over knowledge. But wait, we’re starting to get into Genesis chapter 3.

January 20: We Are Embodied Souls

Before we move on, let’s explore one more implication of the fact that we are living souls.

Genesis 2:7. Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person (soul). NLT.

We’ve been saying that God gave us a spirit and a body and when they come together a person becomes a soul, a nephesh, a human. What this means is that we must take a holistic view of man. We are body and spirit and soul. All three.

spirit soul and body

Our culture today seeks to separate the body and the person (or soul). We can see this in the society all around us:

  • Abortion: the fetus is a living body, but not yet a person.
  • Euthanasia: the person is not viable, so the body can be terminated.
  • Sexual liberation: intercourse is no big deal, while sexuality defines the person.
  • Homosexuality: the body is designed as one gender, but sexuality (the free person inside) is expressed as the opposite gender.
  • Transgenderism: “I’m trapped in the wrong body.” My true person is not determined by my biological sex.
  • Body obsession: My body is simply a tool I use to express my true person or to find my true identity.

Each of these takes a low view of the physical body. And each of these creates a divide between body and soul. All of this is not rooted in Genesis of course. It is rooted in history’s movement towards a “facts/values split.” Over the past couple hundred years we have adopted a fragmented worldview. Science is separated from theology. Then the objective is separated from the subjective. Then facts are separated from values. Finally the body is separated from the soul.

Jesus came to reveal to us the unity of the body, soul, and spirit. He is the incarnation of God. He came in the body to show us what Genesis said from the beginning– the body is good and animated by the spirit, and together the give a portal to the soul — the true person.

If “to live is Christ” then we must accept that the life of Christ in us will control not just our spirit, but also our body and our soul. He died for it all. We must submit it all to him.

Romans 12:1. I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. NLT.

For the deep thinkers out there, here is a conversation about embodied spirituality (including James. K. A. Smith whose book I used for yesterday’s blog).

For the rest of us, here’s a CCM classic about God using us body and soul.

I am indebted to Nancy Pearcey’s book Love Thy Body for many of today’s thoughts.

January 19: A New Narrative

You are a living soul. You have a spirit and you have a body, but you are a soul. You are desire. Therefore you become what you love. You become what you worship.

Here’s an example:

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And this:

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And how about this:

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Yes, I know these are all extremes (or are they?), but somewhere deep inside we know this to be true, that whatever we find glorious, beautiful, empowering, or fulfilling we will worship and thus we will become. In the Bible this is called idolatry. An idol is something that both takes the place of God, and removes humanity from its place of imaging God. A thing, or status, or feeling, or relationship becomes the image of God to us, but it was never intended to carry that weight. And ultimately it will fail and leave you heart broken.

The Source of  Life

God is the source of true fulfilling, beauty, glory, and power. Through Christ, God has written a narrative for us that fulfills these desires and motivates our worship. This narrative is written in the pages of scripture and written in our image bearing souls. It’s a story that we all find to be glorious and beautiful- the story of unconditional love and self sacrifice.

The Signs of Life

The new life inside of us, Christ’s life, must be the power for a new life story.  A new narrative arc if you will. Is your life story something like “I shop therefore I am?” Or is it “I find love through flirting?” Or something else?

Christ brings us a new narrative. A new story to be a part of. A new social imaginary. A new way of seeing all of life. Because we are souls we will worship. And because we are souls filled with the life of Christ, we can worship God in and through Christ. We can love what he loves.

So what do you worship each day? What do you pursue? Are you pursuing the love of Christ? Are you listening to the story of God’s loving pursuit of you, or are you listening to the stories of false loves, and unsatisfied dreams?

As you ponder these questions, here’s the new narrative as told by Jimmy Needham. Enjoy.

January 18: To Live is to Worship

 

To live is Christ. To live is to worship. To live is to desire. Therefore to live is to align my desires with Christ’s.

As we have seen from Genesis, man is a living soul. Man is desire. First and foremost this is what makes us human. This is image bearing – to desire and to desire God. What this means is that one of the most important questions that we must be asking every single day is “what do I desire?” Or in discipleship, “what do you desire?”

We have been told we are primarily thinking creations. “I think therefore I am.”

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But what if Rene Descartes was wrong? What if our thinking is influenced by something even deeper? Just think about all the times you have known something but acted differently (maybe like Paul’s self description in Romans 7). This is not to say that we need less knowledge. We need more. But we need to understand that love must precede knowledge if there is actually going to be life change.

Philippians 1:9-11. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Note Paul’s progression here. Love must abound first, before knowledge. Knowledge without love is actually dangerous. And knowledge alone can’t change anyone’s heart. But love can. Love is poured into us by God himself. It comes to us in the indwelling life of Christ. It is from this Spirit induced love that we then seek knowledge- knowledge that won’t be used to destroy but to build up. Knowledge used to increase and display the love that is inside of us.

We live to love. We live to worship. We are all seeking something. Something to worship. And we are seeking it all the time.

The question of life is not “do you long for something?” It is “what do you long for?” Jesus Christ and his gospel gives us an ultimate reality to long for. Ultimate love. Ultimate grace. Ultimate healing. Ultimate purpose. Ultimate glory. Ultimate life. To live is to worship, and worship (desire directed love) is what will keep us running towards Christ’s life.